• Articles
  • December 2017
  • 10 minutes

“I’m (Not) Just the Receptionist”

Building Claimant Confidence for a Successful Job Search

In Brief

Lack of confidence is an anchor that can weigh you down when you are starting a job search or changing a career, especially when you are forced to do so because of a disability. It is also one of the leading causes of return-to-work claimant failures. Three job-search confidence "drainers" – and how to help claimants get their confidence soaring again.

I was excited for this sharp candidate because what she lacked in experience she made up for with an amazing attitude that I knew was going to take her places. One day, a few months after she started, I dropped by the firm for an appointment with another hiring manager and I overheard her talking to someone in the lobby. She said five words that shocked me: “I am just the receptionist!”

I was shocked at the lack of confidence she was showing; I had never seen that side of her before. After the front lobby cleared, I took the opportunity to tell her that I hoped she’d never say those words again. She looked surprised, so I explained, “I understand there are a lot of high-powered people around you every day, but you are not just the receptionist.” I asked her, “What happens when you need to step away from the front desk for a few minutes and an important client is not greeted in the proper way, or when you are at lunch and a lawyer needs something that the backup receptionist can’t provide, or when you are sick and there is an important meeting that needs a lot of extra TLC?” She smiled and said, “It’s not pretty!” I told her to remember that and to never consider herself anything less than the leader of that front desk and the law firm’s very important first impression. Our conversation gave her new confidence about the value she really offered that law firm, regardless of the size of her paycheck.

A lack of confidence is an anchor that can weigh you down when you are starting a job search or changing a career, especially when you are forced to do so because of a disability. It is also one of the leading causes of return-to-work (RTW) claimant failures. Here are three of the biggest confidence drainers when it comes to conducting a job search –and how to help your claimants get their confidence soaring again.

1) Claimants don’t know where to start.

In the past, many claimants had been able to find work without much of a problem because they were doing the same job in the same industry. They knew exactly where to look and whom to talk to, and had confidence in doing so. But now they are in new territory, looking for jobs in industries where they have little to no experience. Where do they start?

A great way to help claimants increase their confidence (and update their résumé at the same time) is to have them write down all of their past accomplishments, including those for which they were not formally recognized. For example, many people would mention receiving a company MVP award for years of service and dedication but would fail to also acknowledge that they were responsible for reorganizing the shipping and receiving department, which increased efficiency and cut inventory time in half.

Since high levels of confidence are associated with past successes and a lack of confidence is connected with past failures, it is critical that claimants start making a list of the positive things they have accomplished to help their past employers, customers, or co-workers. Help them identify their value and watch the confidence meter start to tick upwards.

2) Many claimants don’t believe anyone would want them.

If true, this certainly would sap anyone’s confidence. But it is usually not true.

Once you have had your claimant write down his or her accomplishments, you need to determine which skills and capabilities are the most transferable and then use those to build an updated résumé, given his or her new work abilities. For example, if a truck driver’s biggest accomplishment was quickly loading and unloading his truck but he now has physical restrictions, he might not be able to use that as a core competency. Instead, he should focus on the accomplishments that he can use and that might be applicable to a different role, such as when he was given an opportunity to work in logistics re-routing trucks and daily delivery schedules due to a large road construction project, saving the company thousands of dollars a year in drive time and delivery time, and finding faster permanent delivery routes. Even though it was a short-term project, the driver can showcase the skills he acquired and the results he achieved to prospective employers.

Given the fact that so many disability claimants have never changed careers, it is no surprise that they don’t know how to determine what they have to offer an employer or how to communicate those offerings. When you help them figure it out, their confidence will rise.

3) Claimants fail to put on their sales hat and conduct their job search in a proactive way.

Once claimants understand they do have something to offer, they need to learn to market themselves. A job search is a proactive sales process, not a reactive, post-a-résumé-on-a-job-board-and-hope-the phone-rings-process. This is what you can do to help.

First, discuss past successes and determine how they helped previous employers save time or money, or how they improved a process or procedure. Finding their value helps claimants identify their new ‘product,’ which they can then sell to new employers. Then, work with them to develop a 30-second introduction pitch focused on the value they can bring to those companies. Finally, using a business directory, help them identify companies in their target industry that are within 20 miles of their home and encourages them to pick up the phone and call those companies.

Once your claimants know the direction they are going to take their job search and how to promote themselves with newfound confidence, they will be well on their way to returning to work.


John is the founder and President of Minneapolis-based WEDL Placement Services Inc. He has been involved in the job placement and staffing industries for more than 25 years, with several senior management positions at internet recruiting company in the late 1990's and recruiting finance, accounting, and administrative talent for Robert Half International for five years prior to that. Wedl has been on the board of the Minnesota Association of Rehabilitation Providers for more than nine years and served one year as its President. He has also been an active member of the board of directors for Our Lady of Grace School and served as the president of the Men's Club for two years. Wedl is a proud graduate of St. John's University, Collegeville, MN, and enjoys spending his spare time volunteering with area job transition groups. He and his wife, Megan, are raising their three children in the southwest suburbs of the Twin Cities. 

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Meet the Authors & Experts

John Wedl
Founder and President, WEDL Placement Services Inc.


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