Success in STEM

Job Search Strategies

  1. Creating a Career Plan
  2. Networking
  3. Applying and Interviewing for a Position
  4. The Interview
  5. Employment Opportunity Resources for Individuals with Disabilities
  6. Programs to Help Individuals Skill Build and Assist in the Job Hunt Process

After graduation, the hunt for a job in science and technology sectors can often be a daunting task. Individuals with disabilities can find themselves facing additional barriers during this process: whether to disclose during the application or interview process; knowing which accommodations will be needed within different job settings; and organizing career plans and goals.

“The hardest part of looking for employment is getting started, because a job seeker must get through the confusion and the fear of failure.” (Melody Choboter, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report)

Creating a Career Plan

Upon graduation, many individuals are at a crossroads in their life as they assess their career goals and future plans.

During NEADS’ Montreal Job Search Strategies Forum in March 2009, Daria Kowalyk provided three steps for individuals with disabilities to follow in creating a career plan:

  1. Conduct a self-assessment, whereby you gather information about yourself: your values, skills, personality and interests. Use your friends, family, peers and colleagues as a soundboard when brainstorming different career paths. Really reflect upon your strengths and weaknesses and how they will impact your chosen career. Think about what motivates, excites and drives you to succeed. Where do your passions lie? Also during this time, it is important to think about your ‘professional brand’.

    Much like a commercial brand, Kowalyk asserts that job seekers have a professional brand. This is how you present yourself within the workforce: body language, word choice, tone of voice etc. Ask yourself questions like, “How do I present myself to others? Do I present my ideas and work with confidence? Do I speak too softly? Do I get defensive when someone disagrees with me? Am I pleasant? How do others perceive me? Do they seek out my company? Do they ask for my advice? How well do I build relationships? How do I connect with people? In my best interactions, how did I engage with others?”

    This information should improve a job seeker’s ability to confidently present him or herself to potential employers. It is important for job seekers to reflect upon how they are presenting themselves and their skill base as it is important for the job search/interview process.

  2. Defining career goals. During this stage, focus on what goals to achieve within the next five years. At this point, it may be helpful to consult with mentors for advice. Kowalyk suggests that individuals ask themselves whether they want to work for a specific company, want to achieve a specific designation, role, community or type of work, and how important workplace culture is to them. Asking these questions will help focus a prospective career plan.
  3. Finalize the plan and act on it. This includes networking, information interviews, job shadowing, or volunteering. Determine which experiences will afford the desirable opportunities and networks needed to attain career goals. Create and commit to an action plan, specifying obtainable career goals.

Avril Rinn is a Computer Support and Life Skills Coach for the agency ATN Access. In a recent article of Jobpostings magazine, she stressed the importance of having a career plan, as she herself did not have one during her time at university. While this was a temporary setback for her career, she soon realized the importance of planning for the future and seizing opportunities that present themselves. Read the article at the end of this section, or at:


Networking is a proven, effective way of obtaining employment, and good networking can often lead to opportunities to apply for positions even before they are widely advertised. Statistics show that 48% of people find employment through networking, 28% are hired through direct employer contact, and 13% find a job through a combination of the two. Only 8% of job seekers find a position from the classified ads and 3% through employment agencies. (Melody Choboter, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report, February 28, 2009).

Networking is the process of forming connections with coworkers, classmates, supervisors, and people in day to day, academic and professional life. These connections can be either work-related or personal in nature, but the important part of networking is to keep those connections alive once forged. It is very important to try to maintain regular contact with as many people in the network as possible and keep them updated with major life changes, goals, and career or personal goingson. With all of this personal and career related information being exchanged, it’s only natural that eventually the various members of the network will obtain knowledge of career opportunities or other information relevant to one or more of their connections.

Using a network of contacts to job search can be very beneficial, because word can spread through a network faster than through official channels. Also, if a person is referred for a job by a member of their network, it is a personal endorsement, and a potential employer is likely to treat information they obtained through their own network more seriously than they would information from a résumé or application form, since the employer is hearing about the potential employee from a source that they already know to be reliable. It is important to remember that networking works because of mutual interest among its members’ well being. If someone only takes part in networking to further their own career or to attain their own goals without reciprocating, other people may become less interested in sharing information as they once were, because they aren’t getting anything back for it. However, if opportunities and information are shared freely between relevant networkers, it’s a beneficial arrangement for all.

In an interview with Dr. Gregor Wolbring, an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary, conducted by Melissa Bolton, Dr. Wolbring emphasized the importance of networking. Here is a portion of that interview, which is presented in its entirety later in the guide:

Q: Were the doors open for you when you completed your PhD?

A: Well, because I knew people. And I made arrangements. If I would have applied by letter, I think it would have been more difficult, simply because most people would not be able to judge my suitability and the suitability of their labs. And many of course have prejudice against disabled people.

Q: So networking was incredibly important for you?

A: Yeah of course. That’s why you have to be good and people have to know you in the field. So blind applying for me just didn’t work. People have to know you and your work, and that your work is high calibre. It’s easier.

Applying and Interviewing for a Position

Once different employment possibilities have been researched, it is important to properly compile the application materials needed to get the job, including résumés, cover letters and portfolios. It is crucial for a job seeker to know their résumé inside and out, and ensure that it is up to date (Jeff Summers, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report).

Organization is also essential during the process of applying for jobs. Keep track of the employers that have been contacted and any feedback that they have given (Melody Choboter, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report).

The Interview

When preparing for an interview, the key is to rehearse. It is helpful to practice answering general questions that are typical within interviews. These include questions such as “why do you think we should hire you?” or “tell me about your experience as it relates to the position.”

Ask family, peers and friends to roleplay mock interviews to prepare. Since the interview process is often anxiety provoking, rehearsing will enhance one’s confidence which will translate to their prospective employer (Jeff Summers, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report).

Typically, near the end of an interview, the employer will ask if the interviewee has any questions. It is best to have a couple of questions prepared ahead of time, to show interest and active participation in the interview process. Good questions to ask the employer include “what are the skills needed to succeed at this job?” or “what does a typical day in this job look like?” (Jeff Summers, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report).

At a NEADS Job Search Strategies Forum in 2007 in London, Ontario, Terry Peach, manager of organization and staffing, GE Canada, offered some tips for young professionals going through the interview process.

“As soon as an applicant enters the room, employers start making assessments regarding handshake, body language, and dress—even statements that might have been made earlier, in the elevator.”
Terry Peach

Prior to the interview, applicants should have researched the company online and made sure they know what it does and/or produces. Once the main interview starts, applicants must be clear about their skills and goals, and be ready for some tough questions. Interviewers might ask the applicant to recall, for example, how they reacted after making a specific mistake, or a situation in which they had to handle a difficult customer. On the topic of replying to questions, Peach advised applicants to frame stories about their experience using the CAR method: Context, Action and Results. Applicants should be able to explain the background to a specific example or situation (the context); what they did about it (their actions); and what the results were.

Peach described the four most common types of job interview: behavioural, situational, job function and unguided.

In a behavioural interview, the most common type, applicants will be asked to tell stories—for example, about how they handled a difficult customer who demanded a complicated service at the end of a long day, or about a significant accomplishment in a work setting.

Situational interviews ask applicants to respond to a specific hypothetical situation. Even in these cases, Peach advised that a behavioural answer is ideal—applicants should tell the interviewer what they did in a real situation that parallels the hypothetical test.

Job function interviews test actual job skills, perhaps on an engineering or accounting problem. An unguided interview might start with the general question, “Tell me a little about yourself.” Almost all interviewers will ask applicants to make self-assessments, such as “what do you see as your major strengths and weaknesses?”

“Don’t ever say something like: ‘I work too hard’,” Peach said. “The right answer is to offer some suggestions about the kinds of training that you would appreciate.” (Terry Peach, London, Ontario Job Search Strategies Report)

After the interview, many suggest reconnecting with employers by telephone, thank-you letter or email. This projects an image of responsiveness, respect and professionalism (Melody Choboter, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report).

Preparing for the interview and thinking about how potential employers may perceive applicants are subjects that keep many people up at night. To avoid lost sleep, it may be advisable to build a “team for success” with whom to practice interview techniques and give feedback about an individual’s demeanor, self-presentation and résumé. By drawing from a circle of friends, mentors, and contacts at local organizations and career centres, job seekers can maximize their chances at dazzling employers with their interviewing skills as well as their qualifications. To read an article about success teams and other interview considerations, visit

“Everyone has something special to offer, it is important to present that in the interview. That is what will get you the job.”
Jeff Summers, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report

Employment Opportunity Resources for Individuals with Disabilities

  • WORKink:

    WORKink’s mission is to facilitate communication and provide resources and information to enhance the equitable and meaningful employment of people with disabilities.

  • The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work:

    The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work is a Canada-wide network of organizations and individuals. Their mission is to promote and support meaningful and equitable employment of people with disabilities. As innovators and agents of change, they build partnerships, develop skills, share knowledge and influence attitudes.

  • Link-up Employment Services:

    Link-up provides employment links to individuals with disabilities.

Programs to Help Individuals Skill Build and Assist in the Job Hunt Process

  • Canadian Council for Rehabilitation and Work: Partners for Workplace Inclusion Program
  • Canadian Council for Rehabilitation and Work: Workplace Essential Skills Partnership
    The Workplace Essential Skills Partnership, funded by Employment Ontario, is a dynamic employment program designed specifically to provide job seekers with disabilities with a professional view of the world of work. The program gives participants the necessary tools to be competitive in today’s job market and the confidence to become employed.
  • Canadian Council for Rehabilitation and Work: Youth the Future
    The Youth the Future program is a 20-week pre-employment skills-development program that provides youth with disabilities the pre-employment skills necessary to enter today’s workforce.
  • The Job Find Club: PATH Employment Services
    This is a three-week course focusing on learning modules designed to help PATH clients develop the necessary skills for their employment goals. Facilitators continue to provide support and follow-up for clients during their job search and for three months after the Job Club ends.
  • Path Employment Services: PATH Enhanced Employment Services
    A service plan is developed for PATH clients with their individual abilities in mind. Some clients are able and willing to conduct a great deal of their job search with PATH’s guidance and leadership. Enhanced Employment Services provides assistance to persons with disabilities to find paid, competitive employment through a “one counsellor to one client” method.

“Looking for a job can truly be one of the hardest jobs you can ever have and the work you put in today can mean success tomorrow.”
Melody Choboter, NEADS Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report