It’s National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month Now is a Superb Time for Disabled Jobseekers to Seek Federal Jobs

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As part of October’s tribute, President Obama has made a strong commitment to bringing more disabled people into the federal workforce. While the time is right to apply, disabled jobseekers with skills and experience need to bone up on the federal hiring processes to succeed

Ten Steps to a Federal Job, 2nd Ed.

“As a jobseeker, it’s your job to help a potential employer see your strong points,” says Kathryn Troutman, author of Ten Steps to a Federal Job. “Strengths should be highlighted throughout your campaign.”

National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month is a salute to the skills and talents disabled individuals have, and an acknowledgment of the importance of employment to their lives.

But more significant is the commitment President Obama has made to bringing more disabled people into the federal workforce. Figures from 2007 show they represent less than 1% of Uncle Sam’s employees. Some parties are calling for this number to at least be doubled.

“My administration is committed to ensuring people living with disabilities have fair access to jobs so they can contribute to our economy and realize their dreams,” avows President Obama.

To act on this opportunity, jobseekers with disabilities will need to bone up for the effort. They should begin by educating themselves on federal hiring processes, learning about employment for the disabled in particular.

Kathryn Troutman, author of Ten Steps to a Federal Job, notes that there are four ways disabled jobseekers can apply.

First, you can submit competitively for a position at http://www.usajobs.gov, and check off that you’re disabled.

Secondly, you can submit to USAJOBs without noting that you’re disabled.

Third, you can contact a hiring manager directly at a desired agency.

Fourth, you can contact the Selective Placement Program Coordinators about particular openings. These human resources specialists look for talented disabled jobseekers (See list of Coordinators: http://www.opm.gov/disability/SSPCoord.asp). (More on USAJOBS: http://www.usajobs.gov/individualswithdisabilities.asp.)

“I recommend you do all of this,” says Troutman. “For sure, it’s a lot of work. However, once you get in, you’re set. It just takes a lot to get in the door.”

In order to apply with the disabled status, jobseekers must obtain a Schedule A Letter. This letter, confirming the disability, should be signed by a medical professional or a state vocational rehabilitation department official. A sample Schedule A Letter is available at the last USAJOBs link above. The letter should be brief, and not go on and on about your disability.

As you’re job-searching, keep the following tips in mind:

1. Know and emphasize your strengths. “As a jobseeker, it’s your job to help a potential employer see your strong points,” Troutman says. “Strengths should be highlighted throughout your campaign.”

2. Study the job announcement and tailor your response to it. In working with a jobseeker just hired, resume writer Carla Waskiewicz expanded the applicant’s resume to include more announcement keywords. She also wrote a strong qualifications summary incorporating skills sought.

3. Network, network, network. “This is the most crucial part of the campaign,” says Chad Jones*, who was hired at the Department of Health & Human Services. “When I started, I didn’t know anyone at the division I targeted. But then I got an advocate. It just takes one.”

4. To find contacts, look online for a department’s organizational chart. Chad located and studied organizational charts and department descriptions for two agencies. Once you find a manager’s name on the chart, you may have to work with how the agency’s emails are formulated to get the email address, he says.

5. Collect references from key people familiar with your strengths and talents. Remember to include persons involved in your volunteer or internship activities. Dave Warner, now with the National Institutes of Health, found volunteer activities were instrumental in getting interviews and the job offer.

6. Stay cutting-edge with your skills and training. Especially if you’re unemployed, staying current will be important, reports Troutman.

7. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. “Applying to do things you cannot do won’t be good for you or the agency,” Troutman cautions. Still, know that “reasonable accommodations” are available. More on special accommodations at: http://www.usajobs.gov/ei/individualswithdisabilities.asp.

8. Consider hiring professionals to strengthen your resume and cover letter. On his own, Dave wasn’t getting any nibbles from federal employers. But after his resume was revamped by the Resume Place, he got a series of interviews and was hired.

9. Practice your interviewing skills. “It’s like playing a sport,” says Dave. “If you play the sport once, it won’t result in the same improvement as when you do it regularly.”

10. Have the Placement Program Coordinator work as an advocate to an interested manager. A manager who is considering hiring you may not fully understand Schedule A, Chad points out.

As you go after federal employment, you’ll need to be patient. Chad’s phone interview took place in the beginning of November 2009, but he didn’t receive the job offer until February 2010. He adds that you should also be “persistent and consistent.” After an interview, ask if you can email the contact once a month, he suggests. “The more your name is in front of the hiring manager, the more likely you’ll be hired. Follow up, and stay in touch with your contacts,” he advises. That’s good advice that can pay off.

For more info on the federal job search and a longer version of this release, go to http://www.resume-place.com.

*Names of the successful jobseekers have been changed.

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KATHRYN TROUTMAN
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