For Job Search Coaches: Thoughts on Handling Requests for Handling Special Needs in Transition

This question was sent in by a fellow job search adviser.

Q: A member of my faith community is a job seeker, diagnosed on the spectrum and bi-polar (he's self-confessed this to me).  With your experience I’m looking for guidance for:

  • Job seeking support, structure and guidance

  • employment

  • temporary financial support (he may be receiving something from our faith community)




 A: Hi Chris,

I can sure understand why you want to help to this gentleman. He’s in a tough place and thank goodness there are places and people like you who want to help.

The first place I’d start in Cleveland is NAMI. There is a national organization as well. They have everything this person needs. If in addition to their guidance you are able to help him write his resume, LI profile, and to make networking introductions in his field that would be lovely. But please read my caveats below before you take this on.

In Cleveland, Vocational Guidance Services, as I understand them, works with more severe disabilities. They may have some insights, ideas or wherewithal to help, depending on his needs. Someone who previously had professional jobs probably would not need their services, but they could check.

One question I have that will make a difference is if he was let go for cause. If you think your faith community is supporting him, he may not have been eligible for unemployment (fired) or have been out of work so long that his unemployment insurance ran out. If he is eligible and has not applied, he should be encouraged to do so. If he started receiving it, and then did not comply and was dropped, then scheduling an appointment with the Unemployment Bureau at Ohio Department of Job and Family Services would be the next step. There’s also a lot of info on their website.

If he is in or getting near to dire circumstances, in Greater Cleveland the thing to do is call 211. They will know the most up to date resources, qualifications and procedures for obtaining them and can steer the person to available resources right away. They can deal with any crisis.

If his disease affects his ability to work or find work he may need a lot of help. Perhaps the meds don’t control his condition well enough.  Or, he may be one of the many, many people who stop taking bi-polar meds because a) they miss the mania and b) they think they’re doing well and don’t like the side effects. The place to start is NAMI.

In a case that medication doesn’t really control the problem, it may be wise to talk with someone at Social Security to see what his options for permanent disability are.  This is not a path to take lightly as it is very difficult to qualify (personally, emotionally and financially - not to mention the extensive paperwork). Once you’re receiving it, it’s complicated to change your mind later, and decide you’d rather work. Also, it’s very difficult to be approved the first time one applies. There is a workbook that can help him get started.

Quality of life often means being able to work and finding some way of keeping engaged in the community is important for well-being, as you well know. So if he does qualify for SSI, employment within the income guidelines or volunteering may be healthy options. You or someone else might be able to help him with those.

Not having any idea what his skills are (office, profession, trades, etc.) I can’t recommend any particular organization, but the usual ones we recommend for finding jobs are all good: OhioMeansJobs and any particular organizations such as Robert Half for accounting or ManPower for lower skilled work, come to mind.  If he’s at an appropriate professional level, he could attend any job seeker group.

The thing is, unless he really needs accommodation, it’s usually best to not bring up his mental health issues to anyone.  Sometimes people with a condition have a victim mentality about it, though, and wanting sympathy, keep talking about how hard they have it, which keeps them stuck. 

There’s a complicator to recommending networking and referring your friend.  If his condition cannot be reliably controlled, or if he is non-compliant with his meds, his future behavior (fit) reflects on the referrer.  This is a touchy subject because most likely, the gentleman does not intend to negatively affect someone else. And if he’s generally ok, it’s none of anyone else’s business. He just wants a job. He may intend for there to be no interruptions in his future work. Yet for all of us, life is not always the way we want it to be.  It has ups and downs that stress us emotionally leading to behaviors from our past that don’t help us. For a person with his conditions, these behaviors can be significant detriments to work relationships.

If he does in fact need accommodation, or wants protection under the ADA (Americans with Disability Act), then he needs to tell an employer about his disability or issue and what accommodation he requires to do the job he is otherwise qualified to do. The timing of that request is an issue best addressed by NAMI or an employment lawyer experienced with these issues.

I have often suggested waiting till an offer is made, but that is not the best plan in all cases.  A few times, I’ve advised candidates to say upfront (especially if the disability is visible) what they need and to bring a document they hand to the interviewer to explain and support it with relevant info the employer needs to make a decision.  It’s possible that type or strategy might be useful. NAMI or an employment lawyer who is knowledgeable about cognitive disabilities and mental health would have more insight.

More and more companies are looking for candidates with various issues who have good skills and can come to work and get the job done. They are willing to overlook a lot otherwise. Again, NAMI likely has a list of employers and knows the best ways to talk with employers to help them see value in the candidate. I believe they also offer some sort of ongoing support to employers as well.

Early in my career, I was working at a rehab center and recognized talent in some of the individuals I was helping. They had closed head injuries (not what your person is dealing with), but they told me they had back injuries and I didn’t see their cognitive disabilities at first.

I treated their career development as I normally would, saying they could do these professional jobs. I gave them hope for training and jobs that they couldn’t actually do because they couldn’t maintain attention long enough to get the job done, or done accurately.  I set them up for a lot of disappointment and I regret that.

Working with a person in this difficult situation can be nourishing for us and them. And it requires - and the person deserves - the best guidance possible.  If it were me, I would decline working with him until there is guidance from an established, accredited person or organization that you can follow only the job search piece of their advice.  Coaching a person in this situation is not an option since they need counseling and specific expertise that we job search coaches are not informed or licensed to provide.

I hope these ideas are useful to you and your person.  Best of luck to you and them.

With great respect for the work you do and the care you extend,

Sue Nelson

Founding Director

The Job Search Center