The SC Interview Series is an effort to highlight the work creative professionals are doing that “move the needle” in how we work and perceive the world around us. The next interview in our series features Jim Hasse of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. Jim is an incredibly accomplished author, consultant, mentor, communicator, marketer…the list goes on. Jim brings over 30 years of experience to the world of employment, career counseling, and communications, and is one of the few individuals with a disability worldwide to earn the credentials of Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) by the International Association of Business Communicators. He is also an accredited Global Career Development Facilitator, a credential offered to career development professionals worldwide by the Center for Credentialing & Education. Jim joins Scarantino Consulting from his winter office away from home in Florida.
Josef Scarantino: Jim, welcome and many thanks for participating in the SC Interview Series. We like to start these series by asking you to tell a little about yourself.
Jim Hasse: I have spent the last 22 years researching and writing about employment from a disability perspective.
In 1994, I established my small business startup to help college students with disabilities prepare for the job market.
After all, as a person with lifelong cerebral palsy and with 10 years of experience as a vice president for corporate communication at a Fortune 500 company (now Foremost Farms USA), where I had worked for nearly 29 years, I believed then that I had the answers college students with unexpected challenges needed to obtain meaningful work.
In fact, my last job title at the company was “Organizational Development Officer.”
But, more than two decades later, I now know I didn’t have all the answers then and probably don’t have them now, but I’m making an honest attempt at trying. I’m still a “work in progress.”
JS: You graduated with honors from the University of Madison-Wisconsin with a degree in journalism and advertising. Given that the 1960s were advertising’s “coming of age,” with the explosion of creativity in television and photography, how did your university experience in the 1960s prepare you for a career in communications?
JH: At that time, a degree in journalism involved a broad range of courses that were called “liberal arts.” For instance, one of my most difficult courses was simply called, “Logic,” which is still helping me “think through” what is a valid statement and what is not.
I also enjoyed a course called “Community Journalism,” which was an introduction to the responsibilities of a small-town newspaper editor and publisher.
Both courses prepared me for the rapid transition from the “hot type” of the Gutenberg era and the switch from offset printing to the digital age and cyberspace.
My first job out of college was “newsletter editor,” but I eventually became a “business communicator,” a job that didn’t exist when I made the transition from college to the work world.
I’m now a publisher of mobile-friendly Instance Articles about disability employment and disability awareness for nonprofits and companies which are champions of disability employment and which seek to boost the engagement of their targeted Facebook audiences.
In the U.S., I believe we have just entered a new political, economic and cultural era in which helping people become actively engaged in initiatives which are meaningful – and often vital – for their well-being will increasingly become an essential part of savvy marketing strategies for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
Many of today’s consumers prefer to buy products and services from companies which actively support causes for promoting the public good (such as inclusion, diversity, integration, etc.).
For both types of organizations, this means identifying and fostering affinity partnerships between themselves which serve the immediate and peripheral needs of present and potential consumers or members.
Those affinity marketing arrangements between profit and nonprofit entities tend to expand both consumer and membership bases and increase engagement rates in each – prerequisites for achieving business as well as nonprofit success and for harnessing timely citizen action in pursuit of mutually beneficial causes.
So, my recommendation to today’s students with unexpected challenges is this:
Prepare for a job that will likely have good demand in the future, but always remember that, in a few years, you’ll likely be working in job sectors with job titles that are yet to be discovered. That’s why a liberal arts education, which teaches you how to continue to learn and adapt to new situations and opportunities, is also important.
JS: Prior to entering the consulting field, you spent 29 years at Foremost Farms USA, 10 of which were at the VP level. What led you to enter consulting after retirement to help prepare college students with disabilities for the mainstream job market?
JH: Living with a disability has helped me realize how fragile we all are as human beings. Feeling that vulnerability (and feeling lucky to have a chance to sidestep that vulnerability in many cases) has driven me to use my experiences to help others in similar circumstances thrive in making the most of their lives.
I’ve had athetoid cerebral palsy since birth. That simply means, I explain to new acquaintances, that I have less muscle control than I‘d like to have.
Born in 1943, I was not expected to walk or talk or go to school. I was headed for a state “institution.”
Yet, doctors today call me “high functioning.” The truth is that most people say I have a “hard time” walking and talking. It’s all relative, I guess, based on your perspective.
But, I have discovered that disability can be an advantage in the world of work. It’s all in how you frame your particular “unexpected challenge” and how you learn to cope with it.
Those “coping” lessons can be translated into on-the-job attributes (such as patience, tenacity, empathy, etc.) that are in high demand in today’s workplace.
After 29 years in integrated employment (where I was the only employee with a significant, visible disability), I realized I had a unique opportunity. I decided to switch careers and devote my time to helping job seekers and employers realize “disability, when framed from an informed vantage point, can be a competitive advantage in the workplace.”
JS: One facet of your work at Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, involves creating a wealth of content aimed at parents, mentors, students, job seekers, and employers pertaining to disability employment strategies. How has your content been received and can you give us an example of a success story?
JH: Here are a couple of remarks from my readers:
Barbara Dittrich, Mom: “Thank you for this piece, Jim. My son with severe hemophilia is searching for his first part-time job this summer. These strategies offer helpful insights.”
Jessica Ayub, LPC, GCDF: “Thank you, Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, for your service to support career education with specialized information that many of us need to consider and build awareness as employers, employees, politicians, students … and community members!”
Darlene Groomes, Associate Professor, Human Development and Child Studies, Oakland University: “Excellent read, Jim. Thanks for your articulate perspectives.”
Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, Attorney: “I sure hope that those interested in employing people with disabilities are paying attention to all the great stuff Jim Hasse is publishing.”
Amber Culver, Employment & Training Counselor, Wisconsin Job Service – Dept. of Workforce Development: “(Jim’s) eBook also applies to people in general, especially to young people going through the pains of finding themselves. The insights into the … impact (of disability) are significant in giving enlightenment. But, I will also use them to guide conversations with our younger family members who are transitioning through life’s lessons.”
JS: Your website mentions how writing about disability at work became a part of your personal development plan. How important is a personal development plan, and what kind of advice can you offer young adults with disabilities as they develop their own personal development plan, especially early in their careers?
JH: The most helpful career choice, information is often inside us. As we mature, we are able to tap into that “internal GPS” that is in all of us.
One day my grandmother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was seven. I said, “A carpenter so I can build houses.” And she laughed. How silly. How could a kid with cerebral palsy who had trouble walking and talking be a builder?
But, more than 60 years later, I can indeed look back on a career as a builder — first as a builder of communities within a corporate setting and now as a builder of electronic communities in social media.
I also know what it’s like to feel lost, to feel like you’re in the backwaters of the world.
During the late 60s and again in the early 90s, I felt disconnected, powerless and unhappy at work, and I knew that was a signal for a change. There was no longer a link between my interest patterns and my day-to day work. I felt like I was in the wrong industry. I was in a career dessert. I didn’t have easy access to career choice information (especially before the Internet).
I had a vision and lost it and needed to search for my way back. Going back to my personal mission, reshaping my career vision and protecting what I value helped me to regroup.
Finding a satisfying career niche is “a pathless path that finds us in a different landscape at each decade of our lives, and it takes a different turn from year to year,” according to “The 12 Bad Habits That Hold Good People Back,” by James Waldroop, Ph.D., and Timothy Butler, Ph.D., two Harvard business psychologists.
JS: From the employer perspective, diversity is an often talked about hiring trend that is gaining in popularity. We are starting to see more and more employers make conscious decisions that include people with disabilities in their D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) efforts. In your experience, what are the biggest hurdles for employers to get past to initiate these types of inclusive programs?
JH: The biggest step to successfully incorporating a D&I initiative into an organization is getting the commitment from senior management for a comprehensive plan. Such a plan needs to lead an objective, outside observer to affirmatively answer these three questions:
- Are the company’s statements of mission, values and management philosophy clear and meaningful?I want to see a representative sampling of people throughout the organization who can provide a series of specific examples in which each of the firm’s value statements about diversity come alive in on-the-job, every-day ways.
- How well is the company communicating that mission and those values and philosophy to individuals at every level within its organizational structure?I want to see immediate supervisors/contact people fully engaged in interpreting the firm’s diversity values into meaningful and useful information for the people they supervise and the customers they serve on a day-to-day basis.
- Is the company actively aligning its mission, values and philosophy with daily practices?Here’s an outline of the questions supervisors need to answer for the employees they supervise whenever an organization is announcing a policy change, such as a revamped diversity initiative:
- Why are we changing, and why it is important to me?
- What do you want me to do differently than what I’m doing today? Why?
- How will my work be evaluated, and what are the consequences?
- What tools and support do I get to make this change?
- What’s in it for me? What’s in it for all of us?
In short, a D&I initiative needs to be comprehensive so that it has a lasting effect on corporate culture. And, it needs to be a priority of the top executive in the company.
JS: Long before blogging became commonplace, you wrote a paperback memoir called “Break Out: Finding Freedom When You Don’t Quite Fit The Mold,” a collection of 51 short stories about disability awareness. How important is it for young adults with disabilities, or of all ages, to tell their stories and share their experiences? And how important is storytelling to the diversity narrative we are currently experiencing with employers and HR professionals?
JH: Storytelling is a self-development tool for both individuals and organizations.
If you’re as job seeker, the ability to tell a story about yourself is becoming increasingly important, both in person and online, as a key skill in not only getting hired but doing well in the workplace once you have landed a job.
Why? We retain about 70 percent of our information from stories.
Job seekers with a disability, in particular, need to develop short, impactful personal-experience stories which can come in handy during job interviews when they need to prove their maturity, trustworthiness, dedication — and their lack of self-centeredness — to prospective supervisors.
Those prospective supervisors are probably asking in their minds:
- Is this person realistic about the limitations disability may have in the job at hand?
- Is this person willing to not only contribute to the corporate good but also accommodate to the realities of the job?
- Is this person going to require more of my time and effort than usual in helping with adjustments to the changing realities of the job?
Remember, stories which address those concerns can stem from not only previous work experience but also volunteer positions as well as interactions with caregivers and experiences in school.
From a HR and corporate communication standpoint, the personal-experience stories of employees can reinforce an organization’s vision, values and mission — and its D&I efforts.
What employees tell about themselves (in person, in print and in social media) becomes ingrained in the company’s corporate culture. One of the roles of HR, corporate communications and D&I is to lead and facilitate that process.
JS: A question I am always curious to hear the answer to, especially from someone with your background and wisdom, is about entrepreneurship and self-employment. What would you tell other individuals with a disability who are experiencing difficulty getting hired or finding the right employer-employee fit? Also, what advice would you have for those following in your footsteps who are considering entering consulting, entrepreneurship, or self-employment?
JH: An individual with a disability today doesn’t have to be at a disadvantage when the time comes to find a job. It takes focus, study, planning and preparation.
Here are four ways to leverage disability to build a fulfilling career — strategies that I have successfully used as a person with cerebral palsy:
- I started my career development early, knew what my niche was and deliberately practiced so I could gain the skills that were critically important for my particular job sector.
- I built my self-confidence by remembering and highlighting my success stories.
- I developed a good answer about why my disability gave me an edge over most job seekers, always remembering the attributes hiring managers sought in job candidates.
- I went into business for myself (after much study and preparation) when I accumulated a financial cushion, the experience and the contacts in my chosen field — and the competition for jobs at the top corporate level of my vocation got too intense for me.
Today, starting a business just out of school may be workable in some cases, but you need a viable business model, proper funding and a network of potential customers to make it work.
One skill I wish I would have had when I graduated from college: the ability to identify my personal temperament and match it with the various corporate cultures offered by potential employers.
JS: Would you like to offer any closing thoughts to our readers?
JH: As human beings, we are all pretty fragile. But, because we are fragile, we have also learned to adapt to unexpected circumstances and work around the barriers we often encounter due to vulnerability. In that sense, disability is just another barrier that we often encounter, and that requires creativity for just another “customized” work-around.
The need to continually develop “workarounds” for a significant share of our world-wide population sparks creativity, accomplishment and hope.
So, in that sense, disability is a strength (not a weakness) we can all celebrate because it enhances our adaptability as job seekers, as a workforce and as a human race. And that’s why individuals with a disability need to be included in every workplace.
JS: Jim, thanks again for participating in the SC Interview Series. It has been a real pleasure. For more information on Jim’s expertise and services, contact him through JimHasse.com or via LinkedIn.