Career change after disability leave
August 24, 2005 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Imagine the worst-case scenario for an unemployed person looking for a new position. OK, my situation is not quite that bad, but almost. I plan to begin interviewing in January 2006 after two years on disability leave. Given the details I describe inside, how I do best use the remainder of 2005 to land the best possible position?

Due to heart disease, I have been on disability leave for the last 18 months. Next week, I begin therapy that has a very good chance to put me back into the ranks of the employed in early 2006. How do I best explain this two-year gap? Do I have any hope of getting full health insurance benefits? How much of a compromise can I make between health insurance coverage and salary?

Until 2004, my career has been very hands-on in various high-tech fields, however due to the sensitivity of my pacemaker to electrical fields, I cannot return to that path. Nor can I return to my previous employer, because the few positions for which I am qualified do not pay enough and they are dead-end. I have determined that my best career path lies in management, however except for making corporal in the US Marine Corps 20 years ago, none of my previous positions gave me any experience in leadership. How do I best prepare to get an entry-level management position?

I have moved from Atlanta to Las Vegas, primarily because Las Vegas has shown great resistance to economic lulls. (Ill-advised marketing campaigns targeting families are another story.) I have always had an interest in the gambling/hospitality industry. I am in a new town with no real network of personal acquaintances or business associates, nor do I have any job references of consequence in Atlanta (my only good ones are in jail or working in Canada due to a scandal). Beyond contacting local alumni (which I plan to do), how do I meet people of influence in such a short time?

Finally, I have a BS in computer science from Georgia Tech, and Las Vegas is significantly below the average for number of residents with a college degree. Datamining is huge in Las Vegas, and that is another area in which I have an intense interest. However, I have no experience in the field. How do I break into the datamining biz? What do I need to know language/application-wise and how do I best obtain that knowledge and experience quickly and cheaply?

One last question, I need business cards but I have no clue what info to put on them for someone who is unemployed beyond the standard contact information. Other than the resume, how do I market myself?

I have exhausted searching the web for answers. For the most part, the information online is sketchy. Because I receive disability insurance payments, my cash flow is very limited, and I must rely on public transportation. I need resources for information (beyond what my insurance provider can give) as much as I need answers, because I have many more questions. My situation has many facets and no one person can answer everything, so I will appreciate anything you guys can pitch to me.

Brainstorm! I don't care how ridiculous an idea may sound. Thanks!
posted by mischief to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As for what to put on your business card, have you thought about getting a DBA and giving yourself a title, even as general as "consultant"? By doing this you can pick up odd jobs that interest you while you network. This will also give you some cover on your resume.

Are you physically able to do pick up work, like removing spyware from a friend's or acquaintance's computer or resolve small scale network problems for schools or something? Quite by accident I found that these can pay significantly better than low paying hourly jobs and can give you great exposure to a variety of different people that will, in turn, help you network. If you do a half decent job, the word of mouth will reward you with more business and will help develop a positive reputation and references.

(Just remember the things you may think are boring others may find incredibly valuable.)

Good luck! I hope your therapy goes well.
posted by sequential at 4:56 PM on August 24, 2005

I've heard that Vegas is actually very insular and a tough place for new people to get established. Priority 1 has to be meeting people and getting known.

You're still on disability and don't expect to be able to go back to work for several months yet. How well can you get around? I'd think about finding a professional organization and joining. The fastest way to get known is to get on some committees.

You might also try volunteering for some charities. They could probably use some data mining in their fundraising endeavors. You could do it on your time, and it would give you experience to reference once you start going out on interviews. Both suggestions depend on you being able to get out and around a little bit.
posted by willnot at 6:04 PM on August 24, 2005

If it was really worst-case scenario and you weren't able to find a full-time job right away, I'd recommend looking into temp and placement agencies who can help you get your foot back in the door in companies that interest you.
posted by tastybrains at 8:20 PM on August 24, 2005

I've found that a great way to network is to set up informational interviews. Find people in industries/jobs that you think you might like to have, and call or write them to ask if you could come in and talk to them about their business. Present yourself as a consultant or tell the whole story, and say that you are planning on easing back into the workforce sometime in the next year. People love to talk about themselves and what they do, and will usually be happy to talk to you if they don't think you are grubbing for a job. Since you have a fair amount of time, you don't have to. They can tell you if you need any additional training, how to present your experience while chasing a job in the field, etc. If you make a good impression, they will put you in touch with other people you know, and sooner or later you'll stumble onto consulting projects or positions for which you can apply. (Caveat: this is advice from a recent college grad, that might work slightly better for recent college grads.)

Addressing another part of your situation:
I don't have any idea what the law says about discriminating against people with health problems--altough I imagine it isn't ok--but common sense says there are certainly people who will do it. Small businesses, especially ones where you will be interviewed by an owner or partner, seem like they will be most difficult for you. Very large companies where your canidacy will be audited by human resources might likewise be tricky, because it is HR's job to minimize cost/benefit of employees. But if you apply for a job at a medium or large organization where you will be interviewed and hired by the people you will be working with, and not by HR, then I doubt anyone will care how much your healthcare will cost the company. It doesn't come out of their budgets, and most people are happy to help a guy out.
posted by armchairsocialist at 10:05 PM on August 24, 2005

One problem I have is that I cannot "actively" seek employment (or make reportable income) until my disability insurance provider gives me explicit permission to do so. I am looking into the charity/volunteer route.

This town is full of influential people, my problem is getting close enough to them to drop a word or two in their ear.

A big thank you to everyone who responded!
posted by mischief at 9:38 AM on August 25, 2005

I'm not from the US, but reading this question the term 'on disability' seems a negative to me. Am I right there is a tigma, perhaps from people on this type of welfare fraudulently?
If so, can I just suggest you say you had an illness that prevented you working. How you supported yourself during this period is nobody's business.
I second the 'consultant' approach for networking, and with the employment restrictions I would suggest maybe helping local charities/schools etc. with their IT needs.
With an interest in datamining you might start by offering to help with some direct mail fundraising, perhaps slicing and dicing a previous donor database to test new campaigns on or similar.
My wife used to do this for a living for a large orchestra, so I suspect smaller institutions/museums/historical attractions etc. would see value in a volunteer assisting with the same.
posted by bystander at 9:27 PM on August 25, 2005

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