Halifax Job Search Strategies Forum Report
One participant asked Thompson for copies of the checklists in his PowerPoint presentation on career planning. Thompson said he would email electronic copies to Jennifer Dillon, who could circulate them to interested participants.
A participant said he has difficulty networking since moving to a new city. He asked the panel for suggestions.
Hornberger said when she moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she asked the one person she knew—her real estate agent—for an invitation to a professional event. She built her network from there. She also recommended volunteer work.
Thompson said curling was his way of meeting people after moving from Cape Breton Island to Toronto. League play, bonspiels, and general membership continue to provide him with new business contacts and friendships.
As a single parent with a disability, another participant said she is unable to attend social functions or participate in volunteer work.
Children’s sports or activities can provide opportunities for adults to connect, said Hornberger. She said a colleague of hers built a network through the parents of members of her son’s hockey team.
A network can be built from any interest or involvement, Dillon said.
Thompson said even informal activities, such as chatting with the people sitting nearby at a school concert, can provide a networking opportunity.
A participant asked if employers tend to look for references from volunteer organizations and disqualify candidates who do not have volunteer experience.
Thompson said he accepts references from a range of sources, as long as each reference can speak to an applicant’s accomplishments or character.
Seeking employment while living with a social disability is a challenge, said one participant. Behaviours caused by the disability that are deemed workplace-inappropriate have “burned bridges and closed doors,” for her. She said volunteering has led to being taken advantage of financially, as others are paid for the work she does for free. She asked the panel for suggestions on networking for the socially disabled as a means of gaining meaningful, paid employment.
Hornberger said one option is seeking jobs that limit social interaction. Personal networking is still required, but using online social networking sites to establish a network might help to ease the stress of social interaction.
Thompson said network building is an individual process, and it is up to the individual to choose the methods and options that best suit them. Identifying career goals ensures volunteer work is a means to the next step—paid employment.
Having identified the disability is a positive step and has helped establish some job skills, said Blair. Seeking a service to assist with promoting those skills may be helpful, she said.
A participant asked Thompson to describe the application screening process, saying he had applied for many jobs and attended several interviews, but he rarely gets a response.
Some workplaces screen on the basis of disability to fill a specific position or to address a workplace equity issue, said Thompson. Any employer that would disqualify an applicant based on disclosure of a disability is an employer for whom the applicant would not want to work.
Blair said most human resource officers are very busy, so the lack of response is not a personal comment but the result of an overwhelming workload. However, a consistent lack of response might be worth further investigation. Consultation with a resumé expert or interview coach might identify some opportunities for improvement.
Thompson said interviewers might receive 300 applications for a job, and they cannot personally contact each applicant.
Another participant asked how personal growth affects confidence, and the message an applicant wants to express.
Blair said she is most comfortable one-on-one, and that is how she builds her network. At an event, she is happy to meet one or two new people, and she knows all are left with a good impression. The more she interacts with people, she said, the more confident she feels.
The first few face-to-face interactions can be awkward and frightening, said Thompson, but they get easier with practice.
Hornberger said she also prefers small-group interaction, but is always thinking of “Me Inc.,” and how best to promote herself and her message. “Be clear, and leave them with what you're after to provide with the next lead.”
A participant asked what to do if an employer sees a disability and makes an assumption about ability. She said her social disability is often misinterpreted as an intellectual disability, which has limited her to low-level, low-paying jobs. Employers interpret her insistence that she is capable of doing more as defiance and a problem dealing with authority.
Blair said applicants should be clear about who they are and what they do, but in a gentle way. Helping an employer understand the disability might also make the employer aware of that individual’s abilities. Being honest about one’s limitations can lead to more productive employment.
It is important to define the disability and accommodations up front, before employers can make assumptions, said Dillon.
Managers in Thompson’s company are trained to investigate the causes of poor performance. Once accommodations are identified and in place, the productivity issue usually disappears, he said.
MacAuley said using a mediator might help. Blair said her organization provides employee counsellors who visit job sites and help address these issues.
Fear of losing the job should not dissuade applicants from asking questions, said Hornberger. Applicants should be concerned with gaining a job that suits them.
A participant made three suggestions for students: begin online social networking now; carry and circulate business cards with name and contact information; and join professional organizations in their field of choice. Most organizations offer a student rate, which provides a newsletter, meeting invitations, conferences, and volunteer opportunities.
Hornberger said business cards are a good idea, but they must look professional. She said it is also important to follow up an interview with a thank-you note. Regular mail often leaves a stronger impression, but email is fine as well.
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