"I FELT SO WORTHLESS I WANTED TO CRY"
BY JEANINE "J.T." O'DONNELL AND DALE DAUTEN
Dear J.T. & Dale: My son is a dyslexic/ADD college student. He's a hardworking young man with excellent grades who thinks outside the box (dyslexia is an asset there) -- but spelling, etc., will always be a problem. I am looking for advice regarding job interviews. Should he disclose his disability? If so, how? -- A Concerned Parent
J.T.: Yes, your son should disclose his disability, but within the flow of the interview. He most likely will be asked, "What is the most difficult challenge you've faced and how did you overcome it?" or "What do you see as your professional strengths/weaknesses?" Such questions provide an ideal opportunity to share his success. Clearly, your son has demonstrated some outstanding character in his life. Telling his story will demonstrate what a resourceful, determined and resilient employee he will be.
DALE: Yes, while it's a story he doesn't have to tell, it's one to tell proudly. But, but, BUT ... please urge him never to speak the word "disability." Employers hearing it will think of the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) and worry, "Will I have to make accommodations?" and "If he doesn't work out, is there going to be an issue letting him go?" Instead of a "disability," it was a "challenge." Encountering the former sounds scary; overcoming the latter sounds noble. It might seem like I'm nitpicking, but words guide thoughts -- in this case, one word leads to anxiety, the other to admiration.
Dear J.T. and Dale: I currently am working to obtain a bachelor's degree and have graduated from computer school. I have gone on numerous interviews for clerical and data-entry positions; however, the only job I have been hired for is as a cleaner through a cleaning company. One employer asked me why I even applied for their office clerk position because he said he could not imagine anyone hiring me without any office experience. I felt so worthless I wanted to cry. I feel so degraded working this cleaning job. I don't know what else to do. -- Emma
J.T.: From your e-mail I know that you are articulate and considerate, and that you aren't afraid to put personal time and energy into learning in order to advance your career. So, let me ask you this: Besides not having any direct experience in an office setting, why do you think hiring managers are failing to see your potential? Based on your final comments, I'm going to guess it's a confidence issue. Could you be presenting yourself (body language, eye contact, tone of voice) in a way that is being misinterpreted as weak, shy, unprepared or unenthusiastic?
DALE: That seems likely, and it will be compounded by the fact that employers stereotype people, especially by recent work history. The last time my company was hiring an office person, when it came time to discuss the candidates, someone started using their most recent jobs as a shorthand --so the young woman who'd worked at a bank was called "The Banker" while the young man who'd been a cashier at Mr. Submarine ended up getting stuck with "Mr. Sub." Thinking back on it, I'm sure those names colored how we thought of the applicants. So, recent jobs have an image multiplier. And you, Emma, are probably thinking, "If I could get a job to be proud of, then I wouldn't be wasting time writing to you." But wait, there's a solution: You're education is just what staffing/
temp agencies want, and people hiring temps won't be so concerned about your background, just your skills.
J.T.: True. Even one brief temp job will make a difference in your self-confidence and resume. Start there. Then, go to your current and previous school's placement offices and get a new start. Meanwhile, remember that no one is going to give you a chance if you don't give yourself one -- stay focused on what you've accomplished. Moreover, give yourself some credit for your determination and desire to move up. You've got skills and resources, just keep working them both until you get what you want!
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Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell.com. Dale Dauten's latest book is "(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success" (John Wiley & Sons). Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
(c) 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.