Working for "the Man:" Three Tips for Success in the Federal Government Job Search for People with Disabilities
Jessica L. Hunt, Esq.
President Obama has made hiring more people with disabilities into the federal government workforce a priority. He has vowed to reinstate Executive Order 13173, which was originally signed by President Clinton. This Order calls for the hiring of 100,000 qualified individuals with disabilities into jobs with the federal government through the work of a designated unit within the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
To spearhead this effort, he has hired Christine Griffin as one of OPM’s Deputy Directors. Deputy Director Griffin previously served as a Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
As a person with a disability herself, and as an attorney, Griffin has been a longtime advocate for increasing the opportunities available to people with disabilities to join the federal workforce. During her tenure as an EEOC Commissioner, the agency’s employment of people with disabilities achieved significant gains. In fact, 2.6% of the EEOC’s workforce consisted of individuals with disabilities in Fiscal Year 2007.
With the employment needs of the disability community at the forefront of the federal agenda, it is important that job seekers with disabilities take advantage of the opportunities offered them to secure a coveted federal government job. To make your job search easier, and to get your foot into the right door, follow these three simple tips.
Tip #1: Own Your Disability
When applying for any job, many people with disabilities are plagued by the misconception that because they have a disability, they will not be seriously considered for a job. However, in the federal government, being open about your disability can actually put you ahead of the curve. Remember, as an individual with a disability, you are a rare commodity, a diamond in the rough, and you should market yourself as such. Your disability can be an asset to your job search, so let it!
The government targets individuals with severe disabilities for non-competitive appointment under a Special Appointing Authority called Schedule A. Under Schedule A, a person with a severe disability may be appointed to a job without competing with the other applicants. Think of it as the “Disney World Effect.” In the federal government, just as at Disney World, being open about your disability may help you move to the front of the line. To qualify for Schedule A appointment, you need a letter from your doctor, vocational rehabilitation counselor, or other qualified specialist stating that you have a severe disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and outlining what type of work you are qualified to do.
Keep in mind that if you are using Schedule A to apply for a federal government job, you need to apply for a job that you would be qualified to perform regardless of your disability. For example, if you have always worked in accounting but you have a strong interest in civil rights, you should not apply for a position as a Senior Civil Rights Analyst and expect that your Schedule A status will secure you the job.
On the other hand, if you can find an entry-level job in the civil rights field and can qualify for that job based on your level of education, Schedule A may give your application the momentum it needs to achieve serious consideration.
Tip #2: Find a Mentor
The federal government workforce is no different than any other workforce in one sense; to enter the government, it helps to have connections. Be assertive about your needs. If you know someone who already works for a federal agency, ask them to keep an eye out for jobs in your field to which you could apply. If you do not know anyone in the federal workforce, it is important for you to place yourself in situations where you could get to know federal workers. This, of course, means going to job fairs in your area, which are hosted by the federal government.
If you are a college student or recent graduate, contact your school’s career services office to ask them if they participate in the Workforce Recruitment Program for Students with Disabilities (WRP). The WRP, which is run by the United States Department of Defense in conjunction with other agencies, maintains an extensive database of students and graduates with disabilities who are qualified for federal jobs in any field. The program places students into jobs at agencies in the Washington D.C. area and across the nation. Most of these jobs are temporary or summer appointments, but the WRP also collects resumes of students interested in permanent employment with the government.
Another service offered through the WRP is its e-mentoring program. Through this program, students or graduates with disabilities who are interested in a specific career field can communicate for an academic year (from November through June) with a person in the federal government who is already employed in that field. Not only can the mentoring program help you build connections with current federal employees, it can also help you choose your career path, by giving you a glimpse into a “day in the life” of someone working in your chosen field.
Tip #3: Use Your Resources
Remember that the opportunities mentioned in Tips #1 and 2 are not the only opportunities the federal government can offer a person with a disability. Information about the opportunities above, as well as all of the current federal hiring initiatives are just a mouse-click away. To learn more, visit all of the following websites:
If you already have a specific agency in mind for which you have been dying to work, contact that agency. For example, if you really enjoyed filing your taxes this year and have always wanted to work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), contact the agency directly. Each agency has a Disability Program Manager (DPM), who is responsible for recruiting, accommodating, and retaining people with disabilities within that agency’s workforce. An agency’s DPM should always be able to point you in the right direction to begin the federal application process.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in your job search is that you are your most important resource. You can market yourself better than anyone. You know your strengths and you acknowledge your weaknesses. You are your own PR firm.
To that end, treat your disability as an asset. It has helped you develop your patience, adaptability, and critical thinking skills. It is a part of you that will render you an invaluable part of any workforce, be it in the federal government or elsewhere. Once you recognize that fact, the possibilities are endless.
Jessica Hunt has worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist
with Headquarters, Department of the Army for three years.
She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Law and
Centre College. She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in English and French.
She served as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in France and has conducted
independent research on the differences between living with a
disability in the US and the European Union.