Career Coach - 4

Career Coach is a column that gives IT professionals a chance to pose questions about training, certification, salaries or any other career-related issues to eWEEKs panel of IT managers, hiring and training experts.

Dear Career Coach: I worked for a year and a half as a software engineer after receiving my B.S. in computer science and became partially disabled on the job. My only hope to still work with computers is to work from home without a lot of time pressure. Any ideas on how to get started working from home as a contractor? --D.Z.

Brian Jaffe

Career Coach: BRIAN D. JAFFE

Even though the law protects those with disabilities, its probably safe to say youre likely to encounter more difficulty finding a job than a similarly qualified person without a disability--especially in this job market.

My initial concern was your comment about without a lot of time pressure. IT has been one of the driving forces in accelerating the pace of life. Upon further discussion, you indicated that you have back and neck difficulties that make it difficult to be in one position (i.e. seated at a desk) for extended periods. While it is fortunate you dont suffer from more debilitating circumstances, you should be prepared for the fact that some hiring managers may feel that the term "disability" only applies to people in wheelchairs, and that your circumstances represent something less than a genuine disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) offers tremendous protections for the disabled. To learn more about your rights, and whether or not you qualify, go to http://www.ssa.gov/work/workta.html.

It seems like your ideal situation would be one that allows you to telecommute 100 percent of the time. However, it seems that you might also be able to put in some time in the office as needed (e.g., to attend meetings, etc.). As a way of demonstrating your sincere desire to be a fully contributing worker from home, you can (and should) have some facilities at home. This could include your own PC and printer, a broadband connection, a dedicated phone line, maybe even a Webcam so you can videoconference with your boss and co-workers, and perhaps even a separate room so that youre not distracted by other household activities during the workday. And Id certainly emphasize the point that you can put in some time in the office. If you can quantify this in hours per week, that would be great.

In discussions with potential employers, recruiters, etc., be sure that you dont try to mask the fact that youre seeking a position that will require some accommodations for your situation. If that fact doesnt come up until later in the hiring process, the hiring manager is likely to feel like you were being deceptive and feel that you wasted his/her time.

Your background (as a maintenance programmer) is probably one of the most ideal IT jobs for someone in your circumstances. You should point out that youre only looking for a straight maintenance position. I suspect that most employers would have a harder time with the idea of a manager, or project leader, that was seeking a home-based assignment.

You should certainly reach out to organizations that have been set up for the disabled--many of them have job-placement and referral services. Doing a variety of searches using keywords like "employment," "disability," etc., yields ten of thousands of hits. Including the name of your home state in your searches can you help find local resources. Id also suggest asking your doctors about any support groups in your area for people who suffer from similar conditions. Organizations like these can also lead you to employment resources.

The watchword of any employment search has always been "networking"--that will be especially true in your case.

Brian D. Jaffe, an IT director in New York City, is an eWEEK contributing editor. He can be reached at brian@red55.com.