Toronto Job Search Strategies Forum Report
University of Toronto
89 Chestnut Street
October 14, 2005
Welcome and Overview of Forum
Forum delegates represented a number of colleges and universities in the GTA, and some students attended from schools in other parts of Ontario. Participants were attending the following post-secondary institutions: Brock University, Centennial College, George Brown College, Humber College, Ryerson University, Seneca College, University of Toronto, University of Western Ontario, Queen's University, York University, and Wilfrid Laurier University. The NEADS Toronto Job Search Strategies Forum included two workshop panels, an exhibit area, and one-on-one sessions with career counsellors or job developers over the lunch period. The exhibit area included displays and representatives from: BMO Financial Group, IBM Canada, Canadian Paraplegic Association, Entry Point, YouthAbilities - Maze Master and the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work.
In the opening plenary, Jennifer Dillon, the National Educational Association of Disabled Students' (NEADS) Job Search Strategy Consultant, welcomed about 85 participants to the first-ever job search strategy forum. She described the forum, which was made possible with funding through BMO Nesbitt Burns' "Equity Through Education" program, as an opportunity to learn about job search strategies, approaches, and practical techniques to achieving success in the employment market.
Dillon encouraged students and graduates to make the most of the opportunities for networking and to share their own experiences, and noted that "making the move from academic success to a successful career can be both challenging and rewarding."
Filip Papich, Chair, Diversity Council, BMO Nesbitt Burns
Filip Papich added his welcome and explained the circumstances that had resulted in him offering the forum's opening remarks. He reminded participants of the often-quoted words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Papich said the quotation describes what happened at BMO Nesbitt Burns when the company's senior leadership invited employees to form a diversity council in 2002. The company was committed to creating a workplace that reflects its enduring corporate values and ensures that "[those] values are not abstract ideas, but values that live in the way we work, in the solutions we offer, in the employment we provide, and in the way we partner with the community."
The Investment Bank Diversity Council (IBDC) and, through it, all the employees of BMO Nesbitt Burns are committed to the creation of a diverse workforce, reflective of the communities in which they operate. Of course, Papich said, a diverse workforce must include people with disabilities. The launching of the diversity council in 2002 led to an enhanced understanding of the significant role that each employee plays in the creation of a diverse workforce and in a supportive, equitable workplace.
Since 2002, the IBDC has worked to address workplace barriers that exist for women, Aboriginal people, visible minorities, and people with disabilities, Papich said. One of the most important lessons learned was that practical barriers are relatively easy to address. For example, the company has a centralized accommodation fund for paying the costs of adaptive technologies, modified workstations, ASL interpreters, and other tools to support employees with disabilities.
Educating managers and staff about how that fund works has also been helpful, he said. In addition, education has focused on corporate standards for adaptive technologies, such as JAWS and Zoom Text for the blind and visually impaired; Kurzweil reading technologies for people with learning disabilities; and teletypewriters (TTYs), Interpretype, and RIMs for the deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing.
In addition to addressing practical barriers, Papich said, a series of awareness and educational sessions were held to help dispel the myths and misunderstandings about people with disabilities. The diversity council has made a commitment to continuous learning.
In 2004, BMO Nesbitt Burns created "Equity Through Education" to reach out into the community to address some of the external barriers to employment. The company donated a full day of institutional trading commissions earned in Canada and the United States to organizations providing educational activities or support to "bright, deserving individuals." Papich cited John F. Kennedy, who said, "All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent." Papich described Equity Through Education as an opportunity to use "one day of trading to create a lifetime of opportunities."
The diversity council, in conjunction with senior management, chose to support seven organizations-four in Canada and three in the United States. NEADS-an organization for students with disabilities, directed by students and recent graduates with disabilities-was a recipient of support because of its success in articulating the real voices of students with disabilities.
Papich described his pride in supporting the forum, which he called "an initiative to achieve full access to education for post-secondary students with disabilities across Canada and to assist in the transition from school to the employment market."
As a result of one very small group of people at BMO Nesbitt Burns who, like Margaret Mead, wanted to change the world, job strategies forums will be held across Canada.
He concluded by wishing participants success in developing their own personal job strategies and encouraged them to take full opportunity of the chance to network with each other, with NEADS representatives, and with other agencies and supports. He told participants that he looked forward to the unique talents they all will bring to the community after graduation, and he wished them all both personal and professional success.
A student asked Papich if he could provide any tips on an appropriate career path and good entry points for a career as an equity researcher.
Papich said an equity researcher would, generally, begin by doing "grunt work" in investment banking for up to two years, providing numerical and other data analysis for senior investment bankers' presentations. If successful, the next step would likely be a promotion to a research position. After that, it's usual to choose a particular sector of interest, since research analysts tend to be experts in one field.
Dillon noted that there would be many opportunities for participation during the forum. She encouraged participants to be bold in asking questions, seeking advice, and sharing experiences. She thanked BMO Nesbitt Burns, and the employers, employment professionals, and service providers who were exhibiting or making presentations, for their support in making the forum possible. "The rest," she said, "is up to us."
Representatives from Fireweed Productions were invited to publicize an upcoming celebration of disability in art, which includes evening galas at Glenn Gould Studios in Toronto and daytime workshops on careers in the arts, including administrative and other support roles at Columbus Centre.
Stephen McDonnell: Preparing for the Job Market
Stephen McDonnell, Senior Manager, Diversity and Workplace Equity, Bank of Montreal, reviewed the priorities of BMO Financial Group, one of which includes equity through education. BMO Financial has a history of inclusive employment.
McDonnell emphasized that during one's educational years, it is important to volunteer, plan for the future, and network. It is important to surround one's self with what he termed a "Success Team"- people who can provide support during the final years of education and help with the transition to the workforce
McDonnell addressed the issues of disclosure and preparation for interviews. Living with disability is, and should be, a natural part of life and he encouraged job seekers to discard any myths or shame they might have about disability. No one beyond human resources personnel need be aware of any disclosure. In order to maximize the interview opportunity, McDonnell recommended that candidates research a company's record on the inclusion of people with disabilities. He urged them to investigate a corporation's social responsibility statement, donations history, organizational structure, and history of lawsuits that might indicate a failure to accommodate disability.
McDonnell outlined the characteristics of a successful resumé, stressing that it is an inventory of skills, education, and experience. He recommended including volunteer experience if there is no paid work history. He touched on references, suggesting that candidates stay in touch with mentors, professors, and others from whom they may need a future reference. A resumé is not intended to tell one's life story, so extraneous material should be avoided. Employers scan resumés and search keywords for qualifications and language relevant to the position.
An interview should be a conversation to determine in there is a fit-an occasion to assess the company as well as vice versa. It is important to ensure that any accommodation needs are clear before the interview, especially where accessibility may be an issue. He suggested this time should be used as an antenna for discerning the suitability of this workplace but cautioned that the interview should not be used as a forum for disabled advocacy. Instead, it should be used solely for finding work. In order to succeed, he proposed the "Four Ps": prepare, participate, practice, perception.
Upon starting the job, McDonnell advised participants to communicate any accommodation needs. The focus should be on the individual's abilities, not his or her disability. Orientation sessions provide an opportunity to review policies, learn the organization's culture and values, and to be flexible. He recommended being sure to "turn off" emotional feedback related to a disability. Rather, one should seek to maintain a focus on one's performance of the job. Keep skills current, ask for regular feedback, and commit to continuous learning.
In closing, McDonnell expressed his hope that the participants would find their career journeys both exciting and rewarding.
Monika Szopinska and Sonja Hakka: Promoting a Skill Set
Monika Szopinska and Sonja Hakka, Job Developers, Strategic Employment Solutions (SES) - www.strategicemploymentsolutions.ca -- outlined how to promote one's skill set when job-ready. By this, Szopinska clarified, SES means that the individual has a resumé, a job goal, and interviewing skills.
Szopinska recommended looking at jobs of interest, then conducting a skills assessment to ascertain what skills are needed to achieve one's job goal. She advised that the recruitment industry distinguishes between hard skills, such as certificates; soft skills, such as leadership or project management not specific to a single industry; and transferable skills, such as communications. She added that transferable skills, such as speaking, writing, researching, personal interacting, and coaching, as well as qualities like honesty, can be demonstrated through volunteer work.
Hakka spoke about the importance of having a job goal and how it relates to the intake process at SES, noting that once a person is looking for a specific job, everything else stems from there. It also helps the searcher to quantify details on the resumé. She recommended Human Resources and Skills Development Canada's website and catalogue for obtaining the national occupational classification codes, a breakdown of the skills needed, and for highlighting the core skills for each occupation. To complete the research, she suggested conducting an information interview.
Szopinska outlined the tools needed for promoting a skill set. She recommended volunteering, which can provide experience in areas that would not usually be accessible in entry-level positions; for example, organizing a university conference forms a good basis for a career in event planning. She urged participants to connect with trends and to network in their intended industries.
Hakka reinforced the importance of cover letters and tailoring the resumé to the job goal. In fact, she stated, every application should prompt a tweak of the resumé, to the point where a recruiter should be able to identify the job applied for. Even unrelated jobs should highlight the transferable skills and back up one's qualifications. She defined the functional (by skill set) and the chronological (by date) organization of resumés. The first kind is useful when there are date gaps in employment and the second when focused on duties.
Hakka reinforced the importance of interviews for emphasizing one's skill set. Candidates should prepare for questions that will be asked and should know how to respond. She contrasted the situational interview, which is about what the applicant would do, with the behavioural interview, about past experience, either volunteer or paid.
Szopinska closed the presentation with the idea of preparing a portfolio, a growing trend. Portfolios showcase experience, achievements, enthusiasm, and commitment. While they must be well organized, the teaching, writing, and artistic professions use them successfully.
Jane Enright and Karen Keating: Interview Skills
Jane Enright, Program Manager, Entrypoint (www.jobstart-cawl.org ), addressed interview tips after outlining the role of the Entrypoint organization, a provincial initiative for students. It collaborates with colleges and universities in Toronto to locate part-time employment throughout the school year. Entrypoint's employer network includes banks, referrals to other agencies, and access to assistive devices.
Enright noted that Entrypoint staff talks to employers about accommodation, since they may not realize that accommodation can be minimal. Eligible individuals are 16 year-old students or older who will work in the city of Toronto, are living with a disability, and are not receiving other income, except some private assistance. She proceeded to give interview tips, quoting, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression."
Enright advised researching the company, bringing a printed resumé, knowing the contact name, route, and directions, and practising questions with family or friends. Expect complex interviews, including tests and homework. It is helpful to prepare questions ahead of time about the company, training, and evaluation. She recommended dressing appropriately; arriving 15 minutes early; exhibiting positive behaviour, beginning with the receptionist; and demonstrating team player qualities, friendliness, and cooperation. Remember: interviews are like exams-there is no chance to do them over. Some employment agencies in Toronto will conduct mock interviews, and some will videotape them.
She addressed the issue of accommodation and disclosure by suggesting that candidates inform themselves of their rights and responsibilities and specifically state any requirements for the interview. As well, they should anticipate a variety of styles and questions, particularly in behavioural interviews where ability to handle stress and real-life situations are assessed. She noted that the format could be a panel or a telephone interview. Candidates should prepare at least three insightful questions about the industry, company, or job.
Enright stressed the importance of follow-up after the interview and a review of the experience to avoid repeating mistakes in future, reminding the group that just a fraction or a detail separates candidates. Ask for a business card in order to have the correct spelling and a title for the thank you note. She closed by saying, "Smile, take a deep breath, and be yourself."
Discussion, questions, and comments
One participant asked how much lead-time is needed to register with Entrypoint. Enright replied that it all depends on availability, but advised starting in August when the student is about to start his or her year of school.
Noting that plain text degrades the appearance of a resumé, another participant asked which file format is best for scanning. Stephen McDonnell replied that most employers allow resumés to be uploaded to their websites. They prefer electronic versions with full formatting.
A participant asked if there was distinction between a disability that affects the interview and one that affects the position. McDonnell reiterated that it is fine not to mention the subject prior to the interview, but said that at that time, the applicant should state the accommodation required to perform the role. Disclosure is governed by employment equity legislation, which guarantees confidentiality.
Someone offered a tip: if the employer is not familiar with accommodation funding, the applicant can do the research ahead of time and offer it at the interview. The individual worked with Human Resources British Columbia and so has experience on both sides of the interviewing desk. McDonnell suggested connecting with agencies that have a knowledge of assisted development programs.
A participant asked for advice for a friend. This person has a disability that affects the ability to get ideas on paper, but wishes to work in writing. Enright recommended the Alder Centre, which works with people with learning disabilities, with support such as voice/dictation and voice recognition. McDonnell added that when choosing an employer, applicants should ask how the company's accommodation fund would assist for example, with coaching. He advised participants to ask what is available.
One forum participant in the media program at Humber College, who was recently diagnosed with a disability, asked if the media covers disability well or appropriately. (The media is stressful and success-oriented it was noted.) Jennifer Dillon, Job Search Strategies Consultant, NEADS, responded by giving information on Innoversity Creative Summit, a media conference on diversity. Enright commented that she has worked with City TV and David Onley, who will be a speaker at Entry Point's program launch on November 2nd.
McDonnell answered a corollary question-Is the world interested?-by reminiscing that women once did not report hard news stories. Now people with disabilities are working on disability stories; another generation may transcend this.
A third comment expressed the desire to see stories about people with disabilities; everyone cannot have a life coach, but everyone sees TV. Frank Smith, NEADS' Coordinator, noted that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) has just released a paper on the portrayal of persons with disabilities in television programming: "The Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons With Disabilities in Television Programming." NEADS was consulted by CAB during the development of this document and Rachael Ross, our President attended a consultation in Toronto.
A participant asked the following question: When the required accommodation includes reduced working hours, and 37.5 to 45 hours is the norm, should the applicants include that on the resumé or wait until the interview? Monika Szopinska responded that the time of hiring (or perhaps at the interview) is a good time to introduce the accommodation requirements. By law, companies must accommodate as long as there is no undue hardship, the job is fulfilled, and there is no performance issue. The applicant should disclose as a person with a disability but leave the negotiation on what will be provided until he or she is comfortable.
Asked if that person should take part time work when full time work (with benefits) is needed, McDonnell said that it depends on the job. The answer may be to look for full-time, flexible hours, which would allow work from home, or to make other arrangements to accommodate appointments. Applicants should ask whether the employer supports a "work/life balance." This, however, would not be a selling point in a cover letter.
A participant asked whether, if the company does not provide a notetaker, it is appropriate to ask for one. McDonnell replied that the company should provide an ASL interpreter; for example, BMO supplies interpreters and a screen Interpretype. To be creative and prepared, a candidate should bring a backup system, such as a laptop to enable communication during the interview.
Asked if it is ever harmful to withhold information about one's education, Sonja Hakka said that it can, at times, work against the candidate. McDonnell agreed, adding that the 425 companies governed by employment equity laws understand barriers to employment. People who withhold information about their education tend to end up unhappy in lesser roles when they are hired.
McDonnell reiterated that a job seeker need not disclose except when an accommodation is required for a job, or for the workforce survey for Employment Equity. If it is a matter of personal safety, the applicant should seek someone he or she trusts in the organization. For example, if the employer is made aware that a person has a seizure disorder it could protect that person in the workplace and preserve their dignity. Waiting until the three-month probation period is over could have an impact on performance. Hakka recommended starting off on the right foot instead of waiting until one's performance is negatively affected.
Asked about burden of proof to supply assistive devices, McDonnell said that employers do not require evidence, although some will do diagnostics to help the individual.
The following is a snapshot of discussions from the morning and afternoon groups.
Job hunters should limit their resumé to the past 10 years and include whether they have prior experience with large corporations, such as a university. They should use some chronological and some functional approaches. The interviewer will ask about gaps, and the applicant can share what is important.
A resumé coach recommended a personal website for the candidate or applicant. McDonnell said the employer may not be interested, and the site may contain irrelevant personal information, not at the entry level. Business cards were recommended.
McDonnell cautioned participants to be careful about privacy and their personal safety. With websites, women are particularly vulnerable, especially if the site contains photos. Photos might be necessary for certain businesses, but they require security and caution. Concerns with identity theft exist. However, the ability to prepare a site is a transferable skill.
McDonnell suggested some wording for presenting positively, especially with respect to services for people with disabilities. Job seekers should list the computer programs they know and what level they are at. Programming should be specific.
Some people have had difficulty getting a response from HR departments. McDonnell suggested getting the name of an executive and asking for 15 minutes-a one-time-only mentoring session to get in the door. HR is now often being outsourced and automated. Interviews may be conducted over the phone, which makes the process difficult for people with disabilities that affect communication skills.
In another group, discussion centred on adaptations and considerations for those who are newly diagnosed or become disabled.
Participants suggested that job seekers avail themselves of diagnostic tests such as Meyers-Briggs and acquaint themselves with Maslow's hierarchy of needs to better understand themselves. They also noted that one should ensure a specialist correctly diagnoses the disability. Go to the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work. Get clinical results sent independently, or direct them to a proxy in writing.
Persons with disabilities have a right to see their file and personal information. Challenges can be income related, such as access to devices and the knowledge of them.
Job seekers were urged to print their resumé on good paper, as presentation will count when they hand it over to a potential employer. They were also told to include all scholarships on their resumés. Accuracy and dates on a resumé are very important, and applicants should be aware of fraud. Employers will do credit checks and verify signatures. Clarify any gaps in time on the resumé as these will raise red flags for the employer. It is not necessary to bring diplomas to the interview.
Several people in the afternoon group had a visual impairment, so the discussion revolved around related challenges when going for an interview:
- Scout ahead. Find the route.
- Find the neighbourhood, especially it its a downtown location.
- Consider how much personal information to disclose in interviews.
- When an applicant is visually impaired, face interviewers, and use other cues, such as verbal response. Demonstrate interest.
- Mentally prepare for panel interviews, which can be difficult. Answer the whole panel, not just the interviewer.
Max Brault: Conducting an Effective Job Search
Max Brault, Senior Human Resource Advisor, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Interim Chair, National Committee of Federal Public Servants with Disabilities, began by explaining his personal employment background, noting that he had worked for several non-governmental organizations, focusing on strategies for employing people with disabilities and organizing recruitment programs for disabled students.
If people with disabilities were employed proportionately, they would make up 5.2 per cent of the workforce, he said. Currently, within the federal government, 4.9 per cent of employees are people with disabilities. Since the government is committed to equity hiring, there are still many opportunities.
Brault said the key to a successful job search is research, and he offered several practical tips on how to market for government jobs:
- Follow the government's agenda to know what it has decided is important and where it will be focusing its finances. The Throne Speech is the best source of this information.
- Target your job search by researching departments that have concerns in your area of interest.
- Identify key individuals within those areas, connect directly with them, and start building a network of contacts.
- Watch for internship opportunities; these exist throughout the government for people with all levels of education. Start looking at www.jobs.gc.ca in January and February.
Brault recommended that students start developing a network strategy as early as their second year of post-secondary studies. While being bilingual is an asset for those seeking federal jobs, Brault said, it's not an absolute requirement in most positions outside Ottawa. He recommended talking to key contacts to determine the educational and language requirements for particular areas of interest.
Brault noted that the Canadian government is moving toward a "one-stop shopping" approach for handling enquires from the public. The creation of this new Social Development agency will mean a need for employees with expertise in business integration and public relations management. Other key areas in which to look for jobs in the current environment are health care, international relations (as a result of the September 11 attacks), and research and development.
A participant asked how important French language skills were to those seeking employment at VIA Rail. Brault explained that VIA is a Crown Corporation and is not directly under the federal government umbrella. However, since the majority of its business operations are in Montreal, French is important. Bilingualism is also an important qualification for any job that involves public interaction.
Brault said this is a relatively slow period for hiring because of the uncertainties associated with a minority government. However, he noted, there are many entry-level positions available. Recruitment in the science sector seems to be accelerating. In addition, retirement has left many openings with the military. He reminded participants that the federal government is the largest employer in Canada, hiring everything from veterinarians to senior executives.
In response to a question regarding how federal jobs are posted, Brault explained that open competitions are posted on the government website. However, many positions are filled through networking and building relationships. In Ottawa and Toronto alone, between 100 and 150 people are hired daily.
Mundy McLaughlin: Disclosing Your Disability/Job Accommodation
Mundy McLaughlin, Director of Diversity and Ombudsperson, Ontario Power Generation, described the extent and location of Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) operations across the province. She noted that operations are governed by federal equity legislation, which means that diversity is important, and employing people with disabilities is important.
She directed job searchers to EquiTech and Strategic Employment Solutions, two employment agencies for people with disabilities that help with job searches and that work directly with OPG and other companies. Using these agencies is also one way of identifying job seekers as an equity target.
When dealing with accommodation for disabilities, she said, it's important to focus on abilities instead of disabilities. Stress what one can do really well, instead of focusing on the things one might not be able to do.
It's also important to ask for any needed accommodations before the application process or test, she said. That lets potential employers know that the applicant understands the job and the necessary accommodations that are available. It also tells them that the job seeker is a serious professional.
She said it's also important to build rapport so that the applicant can persuade the employer they're the best for the job. Job candidates must impress employers with their integrity and credibility. A well-prepared applicant knows the job, knows their own skills and knows how those skills suit the job.
McLaughlin cautioned that not all employers are equally aware of their legal obligations, nor equally willing to accommodate people with disabilities. That means it's often up to the applicant to educate them, both to help them overcome their biases and to understand the accommodations that are available.
Employers are entitled to know if a candidate is able to perform the essential elements of the job, but not whether they have a disability or what it is, McLaughlin said. If a person is unable to do part of the job, it should be made clear at the outset. However, if the applicant is able to perform the essential duties with accommodation, an employer is obliged to equally consider that person for the position, unless they can prove that the accommodation would provide undue hardship to the company.
Although there are different opinions about the best time to broach the subject of accommodations, McLaughlin recommended waiting until after a firm job offer had been made. Whenever a candidate chooses to broach a discussion of accommodations, though, they should be ready to sell their accommodation plan but should remain flexible. OPG takes an interest-based approach regarding accommodation, whereby they try to meet the needs of both parties after considering both perspectives and sets of interests.
Disclosure of disabilities is not required of an applicant, McLaughlin said. However, it may be the only way to build awareness, trust, and relationships. In each case, the decision about whether or not to disclose, and how much, remains solely in the hands of the employee or prospective employee.
McLaughlin invited participants to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy of OPG's Guide for Accommodation. She also directed them to look for employment opportunities at www.mypowercareer.com.
Gail Kunkel: Graduate Student Experience
Gail Kunkel, PhD student, Clinical Development Psychology, York University, explained that, when she began graduate studies, she was the only graduate student with a disability that she was aware of at her university. When getting ready to apply, she was told that it was extremely unlikely that she would get in. She shared many of her experiences to illustrate some of the barriers faced by students with disabilities seeking to enter graduate studies and some creative approaches to overcoming them.
A combination of grades and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores generally dictate whether one is accepted to graduate studies, Kunkel said. Although her GRE scores were not good, her grades were im
Kunkel advised participants to begin building a portfolio for themselves during their undergraduate studies that will show they're serious about post-graduate studies. In her case, knowing that research was important, she volunteered to assist a professor with research that interested her, after first taking a course offered by the same professor.
Also, aware of the importance of strong statistical analysis in her field, Kunkel took independent study courses to help her understand theoretical readings. She also sought lots of guidance and advice from others in her field of interest. This both provided her with needed information and helped create a network of supports. Students with disabilities are experienced at overcoming barriers and need to use those skills proactively.
Knowing she faced some limitations in her volunteer placements, she was careful to meet with her supervisors, ask for guidance and work out accommodation together. As a result, her supervisor was both her mentor and a strong advocate for her.
Being strategic and planning carefully are keys to success, Kunkel said. Knowing that teaching would pose particular challenges to her, she sought out research opportunities from the outset. Each time she presented a paper or attended a conference, she used the opportunity to build her network of contacts and to widen her circle of support.
Kunkel warned participants that there tend to be few supports and accommodation programs in place at graduate schools. While York University provides the most accommodation in Canada for undergraduates with disabilities, they don't even have a policy at the graduate level. This is the case at most universities. It's important for students with disabilities to take initiative to find someone in their department who is willing to help.
She recommended developing a "survival kit," which includes a counsellor/coach from outside the student's department-a "safe" person, to whom the student can bring complaints. That kit also contains key messages reminding the student of the importance of goals and keeping motivated. "You have to constantly remind yourself to enjoy the ride, and tell yourself, 'Quitting is the only thing that can stop me.'"
Asked about her goals after graduation, Kunkel said she would like to continue to work at the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, where she is currently doing research, and she would like a professorship in a life-spanned clinical development program. Having clear goals early is important, she stressed, because it helps you set a path for yourself.
Participants suggested some of the possible supports that a counsellor/coach might offer. It was agreed that these would vary from person to person but could include advocacy, advising, or just providing a "touchstone," or a place to vent.
Neil Graham: Employee Experience/Benefits of Networking
Neil Graham, Manager of C++ Compiler Front-End and Runtime Development, IBM, said his experiences in the job search market were still fresh, and he shared his insights into that process, as well as the perspective of a hiring manager.
Like other presenters, Graham stressed the importance of networking. It's important to get involved with individuals personally, to build good relationships with "headhunters," as well as with people working in the field of interest. It helps to know early what kinds of jobs a person is likely to be looking for, especially in the technology sector. The clearer the job goals are, the easier it is to target and build relationships with people in the right area.
Knowing what kind of accommodations will be needed for a particular job is key, he said. The job candidate will best know what they need, but there should be flexibility. While a candidate might not get every accommodation they want, they're more likely to succeed if they take responsibility for doing the research into the whole range of possible accommodations and their implications.
Graham also stressed the importance of ensuring that resumés and cover letters are relevant and targeted to the particular position being sought. As a hiring manager, he looks for relevant work or experience. Differentiation is important, so it's good for job hunters to make themselves stand out by emphasizing things like internships or personal experiences. He also urged participants to take the time to spell-check and to make sure they present themselves and their resumé professionally.
He advised job applicants to take their time answering interview questions and to be willing to ask for clarification. It's also important for applicants to know the company to which they're applying and to be able to demonstrate an understanding of what the company does, how it does it, and its overarching goals.
Graham said interviews are the best place to talk about disabilities, and he recommended disclosure to promote stronger personal relationships. Applicants should be prepared with stories of relevant experience, so they will be smooth and confident during the interview process.
The hiring strategy at IBM is focused mainly on internships and co-op placements, he said, encouraging potential applicants to seek out co-op opportunities. Not only do they provide valuable experience, they present opportunities to meet a lot of people and to expand personal contact networks.
Asked whether IBM hires college interns, Graham said there are broad opportunities at IBM Canada, although his own work is concentrated in the worldwide office.
The largest obstacle to successful networking, he told participants, is generating the opportunities themselves. Therefore, take advantage of every chance to extend personal contacts. Some key opportunities are career fairs and conferences.
Graham described the accommodations he needs at work. These include a refreshable Braille display and a screen reader. The company attempts to provide internal systems that are accessible. If a person is creative and persistent, they can usually figure out ways to do things. It's also possible to call on colleagues for help when necessary.
Discussion, questions, and comments
A participant asked what accommodations could be made for a person with experience in a particular field who is unable to use a telephone. Graham noted that phones are rarely used to communicate at IBM. For real-time correspondence, text-messaging systems are used. Email is used extensively, and conference calls can be accommodated with TTYs. A participant added that any person with a TTY can use Bell Relay.
McLaughlin said it's possible that the ability to use a telephone is not essential to the job. However, in some cases, where phoning is essential, there might not be suitable accommodations available, so it's important to research thoroughly when deciding what positions to target.
Participants asked for suggestions about how to make good networking connections and how to find the right kinds of internships. Brault recommended starting with a list of all the companies or agencies that might hire one's particular skill set. The next step is to do online research to see if those organizations have internships available. Universities are a good place to look as well. He encouraged job seekers to call or email companies and ask them if internships are available and how often they hire. It's important to take ownership of one's own search, to design an approach tailored to personal needs and to start early.
Kunkel said there can be problems securing internships in some fields, especially academic and research areas, because of reluctance to accommodate disabled students with part-time positions or other accommodations. In those cases, creativity is called for. Some approaches might include seeking matching funding for a position.
McLaughlin suggested that job searchers use agencies, such as Ability Edge, to help find good internship matches.
One participant noted that the age limits for many programs and internships present an additional obstacle to mature students. She applauded the forum organizers for providing an opportunity for gaining practical, real-world job-search advice. "The forum gives you hope and makes you realize it's worth it not to give up. Hearing people speak about their particular experiences gives you motivation and lets you know that others share your experiences of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, but still manage to find creative ways to overcome."
In small group discussions, participants identified many emotional and psychological barriers that can be harder to overcome than physical restrictions when looking for employment. Often people with disabilities can compete intellectually but not in terms of physical stamina. This can lead to individuals feeling inadequate and creates the need to constantly justify particular accommodations to managers and other employees-a process that can, in itself, be exhausting. Several participants said the best approach is to be "up front" and to disclose relevant details about one's disability, while contextualizing it with clear proof of the many abilities the candidate possesses. The need to constantly educate, while exhausting at times, can also be personally and professionally rewarding.
Another challenge participants identified is that most job postings require experience, but it can be particularly hard for people with disabilities to get the kind of entry-level jobs that lend that experience. Because those jobs tend to be under-valued and lower paid, companies often think it isn't worth it to spend money on accommodations. One suggested solution is presenting volunteer or other life experience as an alternative to on-the-job experience. Clearly explaining that barrier to potential employers during the interview can help educate, at the same time as it shows thoughtfulness and commitment in the candidate and can help build rapport. Participants and panellists agreed that the available evidence clearly proves that people with disabilities perform well in the workplace. Getting the job in the first place is often the highest hurdle.
Getting an interview in the first place can depend on how well job applicants market themselves, McLaughlin said. It is important to be as specific as possible in cover letters and to make clear correlations between skills, education, training, and volunteer activities and the particular position being sought.
Participants identified several tips that should be part of an effective job search strategy:
- Figure out what skills are transferable and how to best express them in cover letters and resumés.
- Use each conversation or interview-even the negative ones-as a learning experience and an opportunity to build confidence.
- "Micro-examine" the actual job and life experience to assess the wide range of skills and abilities possessed, instead of focusing on what can't be done as easily as by those without disabilities.
- Seek out the perspectives of other people; sometimes it takes a stranger to point out the obvious.
- Go from the general to the specific; start by identifying a wide field of interest, then gradually narrow it down until a good job fit is found.
- Be aware that it can be easier to find a "good fit" with larger companies, since they can afford accommodation and often have diversity policies.
- Don't forget that the daily life skills needed to live with disabilities-tenacity, patience, creative thinking-are valuable and transferable to the workplace.
Sometimes, Kunkel noted, even a person living with a disability does everything right, employers or schools may be reluctant to give him or her a chance. This is where creative solutions are key. One possibility is job shadowing. It allows a person to gain on-the-job experience, skills and understanding, at the same time as it demonstrates to employers that their fears about the ability may be unfounded. In the academic sector, it may be helpful to volunteer to assist with research in an area of interest.
In response to questions, McLaughlin explained that people with disabilities have the right to make Human Rights Commissions complaints if they are refused reasonable accommodations. However, she said, it might be more productive to first try an educative approach and to explain legal obligations first. By exhibiting good powers of persuasion, a candidate may be able to change a reluctant employer's mind about hiring them or to create a good relationship that leads to future opportunities.
Kunkel noted that there are no national scholarships for graduate students with disabilities. A participant pointed out that the NEADS Online Resource Centre on www.neads.ca has a financial aid directory that includes information on funding across the country, national student loan programs, scholarships and bursaries offered to people with disabilities at specific colleges and universities, and funding opportunities from companies and NGOs.
Schools and companies should be encouraged to embrace diversity policies and recruit people with disabilities as part of a "best practices" approach, McLaughlin said. Participants stressed the importance of companies and individuals bringing success stories forward so they can be used to create a "best practices" argument.
Participants identified a series of legal, personal and practical issues that can impact the success of a job search. The best approaches balance a variety of (sometimes conflicting) needs. Strategically it's important to look like a team player, so it may be necessary to accept less than the accommodations one wants. At the same time, though, it's important to remain clear and firm and to keep asking about appropriate accommodation arrangements.
Another tricky issue to navigate is self-identification as a person with a disability. Panellists noted that many organizations have targeted recruitment, but their managers aren't sure how to know if a candidate qualifies. At the federal government, Brault said, employees have the opportunity to self-identify as members of equity groups, and audits take place every five years. In the private sector, the area can be more complex, McLaughlin said, because of sensitivity regarding confidentiality. One way to identify as a person with a disability, without explicitly disclosing more personal information than one wants, is to use agencies that are geared to helping people with disabilities find jobs.
Forum Evaluation and Close
Jennison Asuncion explained that he had been involved with NEADS since 1994. He expressed thanks and appreciation to Jennifer Dillon for her excellent work in organizing the Toronto Job Search Strategies Forum.
The forum marks the first time NEADS has presented such a "hands-on" workshop, he said, and people with disabilities were recruited to help lead the breakout groups. The Toronto event is the first of eight being held across Canada. Because NEADS is committed to strengthening what it does well, and to learning from what did not go as well as it might have, participant feedback is important.
Asuncion said all participants would receive an e-survey to help them identify what went well, as well as what could have been done better. The feedback is critical and will help make the upcoming Edmonton forum an even greater success.
Jennifer Dillon observed that the day had been extremely interactive and informative, with ample spirited discussion and many networking opportunities. She thanked the participating job developers and the employment professionals and speakers, as well as the Job Search Strategies Committee and staff at NEADS.
She expressed hope that participants were taking away from the day practical job search strategies and would be able to formulate practical plans and steps for their transition to the employment market or post-graduate studies.
Dillon reiterated the forum's key messages:
- Networking is one of the most important elements in a successful job search.
- It's important for each job searcher to find the appropriate support circle; these can include job developers, people to provide references or feedback and personal support.
- Having good supports in place makes the transition from school to work easier.
- Job searching can be challenging and frustrating; the best way to get "unstuck" is to try different approaches and to learn from every experience.
She concluded by reiterating her thanks to all who participated and shared so much of themselves.
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