Dear Sam: My son is 27 years old and has a B.A. degree in History. He also has Asperger's Syndrome which is a high-functioning form of autism. He is currently working as a janitor and, realizing he needed more marketable skills, he recently finish a six-month course as a medical office specialist. He is currently studying for his national certification. The positives of his condition are that he is very focused on completing his assigned tasks correctly and efficiently, he is always punctual, he can break down tasks and determine the most efficient way to accomplish them, and he is very proficient in all types of computer programs. His negatives are that he cannot look people in the eyes, he does not see the need for unnecessary conversation, and he cannot read nonverbal cues. Our question is how does a person with a disability such as his approach it in a résumé? – Concerned Mother
Dear Concerned Mother: Thank you for asking; that is a question I have heard quite often, particularly in my work with a local nonprofit which specializes in working with candidates with disabilities. The consensus in the industry tends to be not to address the disability in the résumé unless by not doing so you will catch the interviewer off guard. In your son’s case, I would say it would be prudent to provide a little insight into his condition prior to attending an interview where it sounds like he could struggle with eye contact and other key success strategies for interviewing. I would not address this in the résumé, however; I would do so in the cover letter.
I would first develop a rock-solid résumé that sells the experience and upcoming national credential he is completing. My goal would be to have the résumé get his foot in the door without the need for the cover letter. I would, however, use the cover letter as a tool to provide more of the narrative behind his candidacy. I would explain, just as you did to me, the strengths of his syndrome. To me, his strengths, given the environment he wishes to work in, are absolutely perfectly aligned to a job of that nature. His weaknesses, if I am assuming correctly that he would be doing medical administration and no patient interaction, would not necessarily impact his ability to perform and do an exceptional job.
Honesty is the best policy unless you could conceal a disability and it would not play a role in the ability to perform the role. For instance, my son has hearing loss, so when he looks for a job as a teenager or adult, I will advise him to not mention it on his résumé as he can hear just like any hearing person with the aid of his hearing devices. But, I have had clients in the past who have been vision and hearing impaired where it would be prudent to mention something in advance as they may need select, albeit sometimes very few, reasonable accommodations.
I think with a solid résumé and an explanation akin to what you provided to me, your son could actually be seen as quite the perfect employee for the field he is entering. I could not wish you more luck. Please let me know if I can provide more support. One of my favorite aspects of my job is to help those like your son (and my son) position themselves in the best possible light and see all they can achieve!
Dear Sam: I worked for the same company for 17 years and was recently let go. My problem is that I do not want to find another job in that industry, but I do not know what I want to do. I am struggling to get over the loss of my job and figure out how to apply my skills to something new. Any thoughts on how I can figure out a new career for myself? – Steve
Dear Steve: I often suggest a simple exercise to try and get an idea of what it is that interests you. Instead of searching the job boards by job title, try to search by functions you like or want to perform. Start tracking the results and you will likely see a pattern emerge. Next, print the positions and read carefully, highlighting words or phrases that appear repeatedly within the job descriptions or requirements. What will result is a list of keywords that will need to be used on your résumé to market you effectively. The next step is to identify which of these skills and requirements you possess, and in effect, personalize the list to match what you have to offer in relation to the position(s) of interest. When creating your résumé, refer to this list to ensure you are incorporating the skills and requirements sought in the positions to which you are applying, and to guide you when deciding what aspects of your 17-year career to highlight prominently.
This is a very informal and cost effective way to get an idea of what it is you are interested in, not to mention what jobs may be suited to your background. There are certainly other tools, evaluations, and instruments that exist to more formally define your skills and interests, but I find this is a great way to point someone in the right direction. I hope this simple exercise sheds some light on what you may find as your next career path and how to market yourself effectively for the career change. Best of luck.