Solutions: Finding Work

  • Riffing on my friend Robin's blog entries titled "Choices," I'd like to start a series of blogs called "Solutions" geared to inspiring you to take action to live well with the schizophrenia. The first trio focuses on work.

     

    If you think what I'm writing is out of left field, consider this: about three years ago a personal finance magazine published an article about eating healthfully to stay well in your retirement. Such an offshoot about vitamins and minerals, and exercise and fitness, had everything to do with money. So I'd like to "cross-reference" information from multiple sources because I know some people are zooming in on the Connection web site almost exclusively for their specific needs.

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    The first blog entry in this series gives some pointers about finding a job. On Thursday, I'll write exclusively about going on job interviews: what to do before, during and after the meetings. After that, I'll give you, possibly in a list form, some ideas about how to be successful on the job and how to keep a job for the long-term.

     

    My contention is that I recovered because I found a full-time job in the career I love. I doubt I would've done so well if I didn't seek to be employed. I wanted to feel productive and part of the world around me. Indeed, as soon as I got out of the hospital, I set the clear goal of finding work.

     

    Some of the benefits of work include: interacting with people every day to develop social skills; distracting yourself from your symptoms by working on projects; saving money for a rainy day or for things a social security check can't buy; and increased self-esteem and confidence.

     

    Now, how do you find a job?

     

    The secret to success in finding a job is research and shoe leather, that is, preparing for the interview and pounding the pavement. Quintessential Careers has a great web site on "informational interviews" at http://www.quintcareers.com/information_interview.html. These are not interviews where you're looking for a job, but asking questions of someone working in the field you're interested in exploring, to get a feel for what it's like every day.

     

    Next, a good source of job search assistance is your local public library, where there will often be an education and job information outpost along with your neighborhood branches. The Brooklyn Public Library offers on their website links on writing resumes and cover letters at http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/explore_topic_detail.jsp?subjectpageid=2142 and on job hunting web sites that post positions at

    http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/explore_topic_detail.jsp?subjectpageid=111. Another good source is http://jobsearch.about.com/. It's a user-friendly website and best of all if you're shy or nervous, you'll find a wealth of information here to get you prepared to go on the interviews. The best thing about the information age is that the Internet is there for everyone, and if you're new to recovery and not yet able to travel out or do too much, you can "practice" by devouring the knowledge you find on these web sites, and then using it when the time comes to interview.

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    So how do you get interviews? If you have a mental illness, I recommend your first choice is a service like VESID, or whatever the state vocational rehabilitation agency is where you live, which offers job training and education for people with disabilities. Also, before or in tandem with that, I suggest starting with a goal-oriented IPRT (Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment) program such as FEGS, or working with counselors at a Clubhouse such as Fountain House that offers TEP jobs-temporary employment. When you build up a work history, or have done volunteer work, both things you can put on a resume, you'll be on your way to finding permanent work either part- or full-time.

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    The truth is if you're just starting out in recovery, you need the extra accommodations of a job search team that works specifically with people with disabilities. You could find work through the want ads, and I know people who have, but these type of ads shouldn't be used as the sole means of finding work. They get outdated quickly, someone might already have been hired, and often the want ad was taken out to get a pool of applicants so the company had a legal record of their hiring practices.

     

    Word-of-mouth is the best way to find a job, and certain things will bolster your chances with the people you know. First, cast your net wide by telling everyone you're looking for a job. A friend of a friend may know someone who knows someone who has a position available, and so on. Second, do strategic volunteer work. I currently sit on the board of a mental health agency, so I intend to put that on a resume when I transition into peer advocate work after I retire from the library.

     

    One disclaimer: I don't advocate using employment agencies like the ones you find in New York City that advertise in newspapers. If you have a thick skin and can keep your wits about you, perhaps you'll find a job this way. More power to you! However, I've found the recruiters are often ruthless and send you all over the city to firms with questionable reputations. One recruiter had two different first and last names depending on what applicant he was talking to. Another guy sent me to Great American for an interview, and the potential boss had no idea he was supposed to talk to me, so the meeting lasted fifteen minutes and then I was sent home.

     

    As you get your feet wet exploring options, and find ways to make your recovery work for you by finding work, I send you best wishes and good luck. I'm 100% in favor of getting out there and being active. The people I know who have mental illnesses and are employed full-time all attest to the psychological benefits they've gained and the emotional well being they have as a result.

     

    Next up, I'll write about interviewing: what you need to do before, during and after the meeting. This information will come from the public speaking I do with clients in IPRTs. The cliché is that knowledge is power and when you learn more, you earn more. I've always found this to be true.

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    Happy job hunting! 

Published On: October 09, 2007