Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report


A Calgary forum participant asked Walsh, “When filling out a questionnaire, especially online, how do you address the question ‘Do you have a disability?’ if the only choices are ’yes’ or ’no’?” Walsh suggested contacting the employer to ask why they want this information, or to check “yes” and add “would like to discuss with you,” because checking “no” could be held against the job seeker.

Choboter added that the question might be there so an employer can judge what accommodations might be needed, especially as it may take time for necessary equipment to arrive.

Hogarth said BMO has a centralized accommodation fund so that managers do not have to spend out of their own budgets. Walsh suggested that participants should connect with Disability Related Equipment Supports (DRES) because this program allows employees to keep any equipment purchased. While BMO also allows employees to keep equipment, many employers do not.

A participant asked how medical illness comes into play with medical and background checks in the final application / interviewing stage of a job search. Walsh reiterated that any information shared with an employer is confidential, that it cannot be shared without written consent, and that an employee only needs to disclose any disability that will affect the inherent or essential requirements of the job.

Another participant asked how to get mentoring outside of a formal program in an organization that she wants to work with in the future. Choboter said she encourages students to take time while studying to investigate who may be best able to support them. The first place to look at is the circle of contacts; ask who knows someone, talk to instructors or previous employers, and do not be afraid to look beyond your own field, she said.

She also suggested attending mentorship courses or workshops to learn how to find a mentor and how to use them appropriately; mentors can be helpful for more than just finding employment. It is also a good idea to have a script and a plan to connect with these individuals, including an idea of what role they can play in the job search plan.

Dillon said informational interviews are also good for finding mentors. The outcome can establish an informal mentoring relationship, or at least a connection with organizations specific to a field that may host workshops or networking opportunities.

A participant asked the presenters how to address job ads that ask for previous work experience. Students with disabilities must balance school and the needs of the disability, so often they have no time to work as well. She asked the presenters how she could bridge the gap with potential employers, if she was unable to get work experience while in school.

Hogarth said BMO has recognized this issue for students with disabilities and has designed a scholarship / internship program offered in partnership with Lime Connect that has led to the creation of permanent positions. Students can apply for the scholarship and, if accepted, can then compete for an internship. If the internship works out, they can return to school in the fall and join BMO when they graduate.

Walsh suggested that students investigate options, as several employers offer work experience programs of a similar nature. Without work experience, students should strengthen their resumés to show how they have gained skills through other activities or experiences, and they should also emphasize their enthusiasm and willingness to learn.

Choboter agreed that many job seekers do not analyse their skills as much as they should. Students have hands-on assignments in their programs, and the pass / fail experience in an academic program is experience in itself. It is up to the job seekers to explain how these experiences translate into the market and how they can do these things in the real world. It is not about paid experience but about transferable experience and skills, so the focus should be on the outcomes.

She qualified that if job seekers were only focusing on employment opportunities that required experience, they might not be ready for the position. It is a good idea to look critically at one’s skills and the position advertised to see if they truly fit.

Noting that the panel members had told job seekers to phone employers, a participant asked how to be perceived as conscientious, not harassing. Choboter said the majority of people will not call if the ad tells them not to, so even if a job seeker calls for a purpose—such as confirming that promotional materials have been received—they would not be out of line. She suggested that people should follow their instincts and speak specifically about a part of the application rather than the whole process.

Again, she said it is important to look at the ads being applied to. An open call ad often has this restriction and is not always the best place to apply. Instead, she suggested that job seekers should focus on tapping their networks for potential jobs.

Hogarth added that job seekers should always follow up with the people who interview them to thank them for their time and to ask about a timeline for the rest of the process. That shows interest and it also creates an opportunity to provide more information to the interviewer.

A participant asked what to do when a job ad listed a Human Resources department instead of a contact name. Should the job seeker research to find a name? Is it acceptable to send the application to the Human Resources department and, if so, how would the follow-up be done without a contact name?

Walsh said many employers have Human Resources departments, but it is fine to contact them to obtain a specific name.

Dillon added that Human Resources departments for larger employers and online applications have made job searching much more impersonal and challenging. Networking becomes even more important in these cases, and job seekers should get to know people in their desired field.

Choboter said many employers are so overwhelmed with job seekers that they must rely on Human Resources departments. However, job seekers could contact Human Resources departments and ask for a contact name to customize resumés and cover letters. It is also a good idea to apply to the Human Resources department and the specific department where the job is located; sometimes their managers will request that an interview be held as a result.

A participant asked the panel what to do when after sending in her resumé, she receives no call for an interview, and later sees the same job ad updated. Could she reapply? Should she call the employers about the new posting for clarification?

Walsh said she could definitely reapply because the employer might not have received her materials, but she should follow up with a call to confirm that her resumé arrived. However, Walsh cautioned that while employers sometimes get resumés that they don’t get to, they also get resumés that do not fit their criteria.

Choboter expanded on this idea. If the job seeker was applying to a variety of positions and had this happen repeatedly, then he or she should take some time to do an informational interview with one of the employers who did not hire. Rather than ask why he/she was not being brought in for the position, the job seeker should ask clear questions about what they are hiring for, the specific requirements for the position, and what could be done do to improve skills and education to meet these criteria. This would let the employer know that there is an acceptance of the decision, and they would be more accepting and open to sharing feedback. While not all employers may be comfortable with this, some will be, and it is important to make the effort.

Sometimes it can be a misunderstanding; job seekers may not be writing their materials as strongly or clearly as they can to highlight their skills and experience, Choboter said. Dillon added that this is why cover letters play such an important role in the job application process. While resumés are important and will get job seekers through the screening process, it is the cover letters that will get interviews. Even though job seekers struggle with cover letters, these are key to the process.

Walsh agreed; she said she looks at cover letters to find words that demonstrate the job seekers have the skill sets listed in job ads. If she cannot find this, she does not hold an interview, because the job seeker demonstrates no experience in areas specific to the position. Hogarth added that it is important to show passion and excitement for the opportunity within the cover letter.

Choboter said an employer can tell a lot about job seekers by how they write a cover letter. While a resumé is a standard form, in which someone has to write what they have done in paragraph form, the personal touch of a specific covering letter makes a real difference in how that applicant is perceived. Also, if a job seeker does not have a education or experience relevant to the job, the cover letter is an opportunity to explain how these skills can be met in a different way. Because it shows how job seekers write and the type of work they will produce while on the job, it is critical to make no mistakes in the covering letter. If necessary, ask people to edit it and make suggestions for improvement.