Employment Tips for Job-Seekers:
By Carl Blumenthal
How To Be Successful Whatever Stage You’re At
Since the age of 16, I've had 26 paying jobs, including full-time, part-time, and summer positions, lasting from one month to five years. Given I'm now 62, that's a lot of employment experience. Those jobs have varied from washing dishes and being a building porter to writing for a newspaper and running a merchants' association. And from 2002 to 2005, I was a job counselor for Network Plus, Baltic Street AEH's assisted competitive employment (ACE) program.
As someone living with bipolar disorder, I'm lucky that my hypo-mania has meant long periods of great energy on the job, and cursed that my depressions resulted in six or seven years of unemployment.
Currently, thanks to Network Plus, of which I'm a client in recovery after my latest blues, I'm a part-time peer advocate at Baltic Street AEH (Advocacy, Employment, and Housing). In other words, for the umpteenth time in my life, I'm starting over; something I never think I can do. This is an important part of my story and I hope it is of yours, too.
Here are my tips for getting hired:
1. The job market is tough enough to face alone, so get help. The Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies has just revised "The WORKbook: A Guide to New York City's Mental Health Employment Programs." Call 212-742-1600 for a copy, or find it online at www.coalitionny.org. The booklet provides information about services offered throughout the five boroughs. Baltic Street AEH's Network Plus, where I receive help, is one such program, with locations in downtown Brooklyn (718-797-2509) and Borough Park (718-377-8567).
Services at these programs usually include assessment of your readiness to work, and designing a personalized plan to identify employment goals and achieve them, including how to acquire necessary training or education. Support from staff or other consumers is often available for seeking a job that can run the gamut from volunteering and internships to various kinds of paid, part-time and full-time positions, either working with mental health peers, or in so-called "competitive" jobs.
Be advised that participation is not a quick fix. Don't be disappointed if it takes months rather than weeks to find something. Many unemployed people without mental illness have been looking for several years. But, as with everything else, persistence pays off. Then, these same programs can counsel you as you face challenges on the job.
2. Have a passion and follow through. Sure, there's drudgery on every job, and maybe I've been lucky with my choices, but I can honestly say I've loved every one of them, and worked like my life depended on it, which it does.
The question is always: "Well, what's realistic, say if I don't have much education or experience due to my illness or other extenuating circumstances?" Here's where it helps to create short-, mid-, and long-term goals.
For example, you like to grow things on your windowsill. First, you might learn more about new plants you could try. Then, about indoor plants in general. Next, join a community garden, learn from your neighbors how to plant veggies, and save yourself some money. Or try courses at one of the city's botanic gardens. They're more expensive, but have led many people to gainful employment.
Or maybe you're that compulsive person who likes to keep things neat and clean. Try hiring yourself out to relatives and friends as references for a cleaning company. Obviously, neither of these examples represents an overnight solution. But, how long have you been unemployed? You have to start somewhere to get somewhere.
3. It's what you know and who you know. Education, training, or on-the-job experience builds knowledge and skills. That goes without saying. However, knowing the people who either directly or indirectly know about job opportunities is still the best way to gain employment. This is how I've obtained almost all my jobs.
Unfortunately, many people these days spend countless, unsuccessful hours scouring the Internet for openings, and, if they're conscientious, tailoring their applications and resumes to those positions and the companies offering them. So, if you don't have much experience using the Internet for this or other purposes, you may not be at a great disadvantage. The above kind of employment services can help you learn more about the Internet.
Compile a list of everyone you know who is employed and talk to them about who they know who is in the know about job opportunities. Again, a job counselor can help you with this, but you need to do the legwork.
4. Looking for employment is a full-time job. How many times have you heard this? And who wants to hear it again when they're having symptoms of mental illness that interfere with their motivation, energy, concentration, or articulateness?
Here your treatment team (for both physical and mental health) and any peer support group are all-important. The other wellness dimensions are also key. While you're focusing on the occupational, financial, physical and emotional dimensions, don't forget the others: environmental (especially housing), intellectual and spiritual.
Performing your favorite activities can reinforce the energy needed to tackle the job search. And the more you're meeting people who engage in the same activities (that social dimension), the more likely you'll find someone who knows the right someone for a job.
If all this wellness talk sounds overwhelming, there are aids to help you, such as Mary Ellen Copeland's "Wellness Recovery Action Plan" (WRAP). Network Plus uses a wellness assessment during its initial intake and will make appropriate referrals to assist you.
5. Just as recovery from mental illness is a lifetime process, with many starts and stops, so employment can be here today, gone tomorrow. This is true for everyone, whatever obstacles they face in life. As I stated above, motivation and persistence are essential.
But, allow me to contradict myself a bit. You may try for a job, succeed in getting one, and decide that this job, or employment in general, is not for you. Please don't conclude this is your fate. Be honest, with yourself and your counselor, about what you liked and disliked during the process, so you can learn some lessons. Maybe devote yourself to other dimensions of wellness to boost your confidence for future job searches.
Most of all, don't give up on yourself, whatever you decide to do. I've done that too many times in my life and it made recovery all that much harder. I'm thrilled now to be part of that stream of humanity from my neighborhood heading to the subway every morning for work.