BY: Lisa Borchert BA., RVP. Vocational Rehab Consultant. Independence Incorporated
Why it is a difficult but mandatory tool to the return to work process
Remember the old expression – “if I had a nickel for every time I heard that” Well, I wish I had a nickel (or a loonie) for every time I heard a client say “I have no skills” or “I’m not good at anything” and “there’s no job out there for me….”
The return to work is difficult, often frightening and challenging on many levels. And that’s going back to the pre-disability job! A job where you know the people, the routines, the culture, the physical layout and you know your position and its expected outcomes. You have a coffee buddy, people smile and nod and say hello and know your name. You know where the bathrooms are. You know who rules the water cooler. You know what the company does and what your role is or has been. You know the bus route and where to park.
Now imagine going to a completely new job – different job different employer – doing work you’ve never done before, probably using skills you haven’t used extensively in your work history or using newly acquired skills. You know no one, can’t find the bathroom or the lunchroom without help, don’t really know what it is you are supposed to be doing and don’t know who to ask, or even if you can ask. New jobs are scary to some degree for everyone, whether you are a seasoned executive making a planned job change or an average guy getting hired at a new place. Every first day produces stress at some level. So imagine, if you will, that you’ve been injured, can’t do the only job you’ve ever done and you know in your heart your company isn’t going to take you back. Wouldn’t take you back / couldn’t take you back, doesn’t matter – there’s no place for you there and now you have to live through yet another potentially traumatic event – transitioning to a new job.
I’ve done it. Twice. It was hard each time. And what did I say the first time…”I’ll never get hired, no one will hire me, I have no skills”. What was it my friend said at the time, “No one wants to hire 40 year old women like us”…… wrong!
So now we come to the title of this little piece. The resume. The little tool that does it all, the true multitasker. Working with your return to work clients to create a resume can be so much more than simply creating a document for answering job ads. The resume is a clearly laid out statement of skills and abilities that spotlights what each individual client is good at. It doesn’t matter if it’s putting up drywall or programming firewalls every person has talent. As a voc rehab provider it’s my job to help each client recognize and identify those talents.
The resume process is at least as important and rewarding as the finished product. By moving the clients to the point where they recognize and believe that they have talent, skills and abilities they begin to believe that they are deserving of a new job; that they have something to offer, that someone might actually want to hire them and that they have not worked 20 years for nothing. I have seen it proven many times that the resume process can be a powerful shot in the arm for lagging confidence and low self-esteem.
What is the resume process? Simple and sometimes not so simple, it’s all communication. Sit down with your client, no time limit and be prepared to dig for information. I never let a client get away with things like ‘I did the morning mail’, ‘I assisted the manager’, I was responsible for’…no skill is identifiable in those phrases, there are no verbs. (Action words, I love them!) I dig for specific tasks; as I recently told a client the word ‘assisted’ could mean anything from ‘I brought coffee’ to ‘I did all the work and got none of the credit’. Probe for verbs, did your client research, proofread, build, program, lead, delegate, teach, measure….you get the picture. It’s an action film.
For many clients this process is difficult and very emotional. Routine jobs done over long periods of time with little or no recognition wear away self confidence and can make workers feel like they don’t have any skills any more. They just do the same thing every day, by rote and possibly with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their back. It is important to remind clients that while they see it as routine, potential employers see it as a desired skill. Being able to do it well with minimal training on the new job is a benefit for everyone – less training time for the employer and an easier, quicker transition for the client.
For clients who can no longer use long time skills and must seek alternate employment the resume process can be even more difficult. It is important to identify the transferable skills and identify how the client did their job, what professional traits do they exhibit on the workforce – patience, detailed, organized, efficient. What does the client do in their life or in volunteer activities? The resume can’t change a work history but it can highlight skills, talents and abilities that are relevant to where the client is going right now. And that is what a good resume does; it is a forward thinking document designed to get someone where they want to go, not keep them where they’ve been.
Some clients will fight you every step of the way. I think there are two main reasons.
- Lots of people think they are fabulous resume writers. They can use the template from MicroSoft Word. They have a friend or relative in HR or management and they get good advice. They don’t need you nor do they want to be part of the process. Definitely putting up barriers.
- Creating a resume is hard work. Emotionally. Not only does it demand thinking of oneself in a whole new light, but it also means that a job search is imminent. It is concrete evidence that they are leaving the past and moving to the future, the scary unknown future. When clients feel they are not ready to return to work the resume, or even the thought of the resume process becomes frightening and up go the roadblocks.
Resistance is futile. In the end no one can resist a good voc rehab provider. Here’s where that communication comes in. It’s important to explain to a client that writing a resume is a process and that the finished document has no best before date. Wherever the client is in return to work planning there are benefits to at least beginning the process. One is identification of skills which leads to job discussion which leads to the realization and belief that possibilities exist. The second benefit is increased self awareness that begins re-building the confidence that leads to that glorious moment when the client sees themselves reflected in the resume as a viable, hirable professional.
So that little resume has accomplished a number of important tasks. The process helped create a solid working relationship with you and the client, it brought the client on board to see themselves as being in the process, it demonstrated the value of the client for a new employer and right there in black and white that little resume showed the client a skill set he never knew or had forgotten he had.
That little resume, crafted uniquely with, and for each client now spotlights possibilities for a successful job search or at the very least (or most) helps move the client to the point where the very words job search don’t bring on a cold sweat. The client is moving forward. And that is what it’s all about.
Now I wish I had a loonie for every time I heard…”If I were an employer, I’d hire me”.