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Reintegration & Recovery - Approaching Potential Employers

Tips on Approaching Potential Employers

Getting a meaningful job is one of the mainstays of reintegration. A good job provides a sense of belonging and identity, as well as a purpose outside of yourself.

For many persons suffering from mental illness, however, the prospect of searching for a job is frightening. Of course, this is also true for many persons without mental illness, as well. Approaching a potential employer is, in a very real sense, putting yourself on the line - the possibility of rejection is always present.

However, with a little upfront work and the right attitude, applying for a job need not be intimidating. As with most things, the better prepared you are the easier it will be - and the more success you are likely to have.

Here are some tips from the experts on things you can do to give yourself the best chance for success - and minimize the "butterflies" - as you approach potential employers:

"Know Thyself": Make an honest appraisal of both your strengths and your limitations (including any needs resulting from your mental illness). Select jobs to apply for that "fit", and in which you'll be happy.

Focus on Your Capabilities, Not Your Limitations: While you need to know your limitations, you don't have to dwell on them - or let them artificially hold you back. Develop a realistic sense of your talents and abilities, and make that the focus of your approach to potential employers.

Create an "Inventory" of Your Total Credentials: Be clear about your list of talents, skills, attitudes, positive character traits (including the courage, patience, and persistence involved in dealing with mental illness), education, and job experience. Don't forget to take into account any experiences in volunteer jobs, community service, or temporary work (such as through a Transitional Employment program).

Sell Yourself to the Potential Employer: Find out what the employer needs through the job description and as much information as you can gain about the company, and figure out in advance how you can meet those needs. Then communicate that to the potential employer. Essentially, you need to see yourself from the employer's point of view and make that "you" someone the employer can't afford not to hire.

Don't "Pad" Your Resume: While you must obviously put your best foot forward, do not falsify your credentials - it will inevitably come back to haunt you.

Develop a Plan to Offset Any Fear of Hiring You: This is the flip side of selling yourself. Be prepared to discuss (in case the subject arises) why your illness won't keep you from doing a great job for the employer, and how there will be no unduly expensive accommodations the employer will need to make. (NOTE: Under the ADA, employers cannot ask questions to elicit information on a mental illness until a conditional job offer has been made, and there is no compelling reason for you to bring it up yourself unless you feel morally obligated to do so.)

Respond Carefully to the Specifics of the Job Description: In your cover letter, "tailored" resume (see below), and job application, respond to every employer need that you can (as taken from the job description). Highlight every verb in the job description and address each one by stating how you will "make it happen" once you get the job.

Create Job-Specific Resumes: While most job seekers don't want to hear this because of the additional time it requires, a "tailored" resume will give you the best shot at getting the job you want. In essence, you should make a separate resume for each position you would like, making the resume fit that position as closely as possible by appropriately ordering your credentials and skills, highlighting related education, and so forth. Rather than producing a resume which is necessarily chronological, create one that is functional - with the "right" functions emphasized for each desired job.

Get Letters of Recommendation in Advance: Contact your strongest supporters and have them agree to provide a good reference for you in advance. You might want to have copies of these letters with you when you go to visit the potential employer. And remember: References can be valuable by confirming your traits and character, as well as your specific job skills.

Develop a Portfolio, if Appropriate: If you are applying for a job which will draw on work you've produced in the past - such as graphic art, photography, writing, etc. - have samples of your past work ready to show the potential employer. Or if you are applying for a sales job, have a formal record of your specific accomplishments in other sales positions. Anything that shows what you've achieved in the past will help you with potential future employers.

Supply Selected Evaluations from Previous Jobs: These can be included along with your resume as part of your total application package, as attachments to your cover letter. Create a Powerful Cover Letter: A good cover letter, while reasonably short, should amplify the main points from your resume. Note, however, that the cover letter must, at a minimum, address all requirements found in the job description. Again, locate all of the verbs in the job description and address each one individually.

Don't Look Just for Your "Dream" Job: What you really want is the chance to prove yourself, gain needed job skills, and create positive relationships with your employer and coworkers. You may need to take several jobs that build upon one another before ultimately getting that "dream" job.

With preparation and a positive outlook, approaching potential employers need not be a daunting prospect. While it may not ever be fun, it can easily be one of the best investments you can make in your own recovery and reintegration.


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