Starting new career or returning to your old one after an extended absence can be a terrifying proposition for anybody. Trying to find your way back into the “groove” of the hustle and bustle of the working world takes time and effort. When you’re returning after an amputation these fears are multiplied. You may have the added stress of introducing the world to the “new” you.
The first step for many amputees returning to the job market is the interview. I know for me, my first interview when I decided that I was ready to get back to work was terrifying. I had no idea how to explain the gap in employment without divulging my amputation. The American’s with Disability Act states that you do not have to reveal any disability during your interview and it is illegal for the interviewer to ask about disabilities. I didn’t know this when I went for my first interview. I walked in and immediately told the interviewing panel that I was an amputee, but it wouldn’t effect my ability to function as a paramedic. Turns out, if you divulge your disability then you waive your right to be questioned about it. This opened a window for the panel to hit me with a barrage of questions regarding my abilities and how I planned to work as a paramedic as an Above Knee Amputee. I answered honestly and openly. “If I didn’t think I could work as a paramedic then I wouldn’t be wasting your time.” To date, I am the only above knee amputee paramedic to ever return to work on the ambulance in Kentucky. Despite this distinction, I wish I had known a few things first…
- You don’t have to divulge your disability.
- Know what questions can and cannot be asked during the interview. Check out the Equal Employment Opportunity Center for resources on job interviews as a person with a disability.
- Once you have a job offer, it is acceptable to ask about how you can perform the job with or without accommodations.
- You can ask for reasonable accommodation, but depending on the size of the company or the stress it places on the company accommodations can be denied.
Most importantly, be confident. I look at it this way. I’m a part of an elite group. A group that makes up approximately 0.63% of the population of the United States. We are survivors, we have survived (no matter if its congenital, medical, or trauma) life missing a limb. So, when you walk into your interview you are already far ahead of the rest of the applicants. You have proven that you can endure more than 99.37% than the rest of the United States. You can’t put that on a resume, but you can walk in with the knowledge that you’re stronger than the rest. Walk in with your head held high, your shoulders back, answer questions with authority, turn negatives into positives, start your interview with introductions and small talk, and leave the same way you walked in; no matter if you think you aced the interview or bombed it.
My example of an interview gone wrong:
I lost my leg on January 26th, 2012. It was a “voluntary” (read as the best of several bad options) amputation, I had the set the goal to return to work as a paramedic. Lofty goals, but I knew that with the right technology it would be completely possible. I had seen several stories of soldiers returning to the battlefield with prosthetic limbs so I thought that if I could get the same limb they use there is no reason I couldn’t return to the back of an ambulance. I received my Otto Bock Genium on March 5, 2012 by that September I had decided that I was ready to get back to work. I sent my resume in to a local ambulance provider and to my surprise was selected for an interview. I was up front with my amputation, I thought that since I had done some news interviews and after my accident had become well known in the EMS community there was no reason to hide my amputation. The interview went well, I walked in as I described above, I fielded the normal questions: Why do you want to be at this company?, Where do you see yourself in 5 years?, Describe your greatest weakness, etc…
Then came the questions regarding my amputation. The person leading the interview was blunt; “How do you expect to be able to do the tasks required of a paramedic with a prosthetic?” I responded that “If I didn’t think I could work as a paramedic I wouldn’t be wasting your time.” I deflected the question while answering openly and honestly. I still got the job as a paramedic and became the first paramedic in the state of Kentucky to be an above knee amputee paramedic.
I followed up this job by becoming a paramedic in a busy distribution center for a Fortune 500 company. For this interview I was very prepared, I researched not only my rights, but attempted to find the “essential functions” of the job to make sure I was prepared. I also researched the company so I would be ready to field any questions they may have. I didn’t divulge my amputation until the day I started work. I wear shorts nearly everyday. I’m proud of my amputation (like I said above, I’m part of an elite group) and show my prosthetic unabashedly. I knew I didn’t need any accommodations for this position (that I knew of at the time of the interview) and was greeted with open arms by my managers and coworkers.
Remember, you are a survivor; one of 0.63% of the population! YOU GOT THIS!!!