About Joanna Samuels

Joanna Samuels, B.Ed (in adult education), M.Ed, CMF, RRP, is an employment resource supervisor at www.reena.org. She has over 12 years of frontline experience in providing supported and customized employment/career coaching, job development, and workshop facilitation to unemployed and underemployed job seekers from diverse communities and fields who are individuals with disabilities and multi-barriers. She also helps employers with building an inclusive workforce through innovative recruitment programs, as well as offers “train the trainer” courses. Also, Joanna is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator. She is a published author, and employment advice columnist as well as a guest speaker on issues related to employment and careers at conferences and podcasts as well as being featured on Kelly & Company, http://www.ami.ca/category/kelly-and-company and https://newcanadians.tv/about-us/

Employment Advice Column: The Online Virtual Job Interview During COVID19 and Beyond

Dear Joanna

I have applied online for a warehouse job at one of the large box store’s distribution centre with the help of my Reena job coach. And I have great news – I have a job interview. But for the first time in my life, the interview will not be in person. It will be an online and virtual meeting using the popular application Zoom! I am so nervous. How do I prepare for this type of interview and be successful? 

Signed: Tech Novice

Dear TN

Congratulations on your job interview! By the way, with the advanced technological world we live in, the online, virtual and video interviews are more popular now than ever, long before COVID started! They are convenient for employers especially for candidates living in other locations or working remotely. However, during this pandemic, there might never be a face-to-face interview –  you might be hired to start working immediately. It is important that interviewees treat this experience the same as a typical in-person interview in an office.  

Below are a five tips on how to have a successful online interview are offered by https://www.chegg.com/advice/career-center/8-ways-to-conquer-the-video-interview/ and Shine (2017)’s blog at https://online.jwu.edu/blog/career-advice-six-tips-acing-online-job-interview.

1. Learn the technology.
Become comfortable with the technology used for the interview in advance. In your case, it’s Zoom.  Download the app and sign up on the website. I would do both just in case. Make sure everything works properly. Test the internet connection as well as the audio and sound. Practice the interview on Zoom with the Reena job coach and/or your family and friends. To prepare properly, Shine recommends to always ask the employer what format will be used for the interview and include the following: a) Is it an audio interview or both audio and video? b) is there someone on the other end of the video or are the questions pre-recorded? c) If they are pre-recorded, how many chances do I get to record my answer? d) What do I do or who do I call if I start having technical difficulties?

2. Pick the perfect spot for the interview IN ADVANCE.  Shine suggests selecting a location in your home that it isn’t too dark but also stays away from overhead lights during the interview if you can. Sitting near a window is the best because of its natural light. Bad lighting can be distracting. A glare could make it difficult for the interviewer to see you. Eliminate distractions. Silence is key. Make sure that you are alone and nothing interferes with your conversation, including your phone and email notifications on your computer. This includes pets too.

3. Be professional.  Sit up and dress professionally even though you aren’t meeting the interviewer in person. First impressions still matter! Dress in light colors against a darker background or dark colors against a light background. Basically dress as you would for an interview, because it is! Don’t forget to smile! Whether you are talking to an actual person or recording your answers, do your best to look the interviewer in the eye through the webcam or camera. Connect into the meeting about 10-15 minutes earlier so you are ready to go when the interviewer logs in.

4. Prepare. Just because you won’t be in an office with real, live human beings, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t taking this extremely seriously. Just as you would prepare for an in-person interview, prepare and practice your responses to the questions with your Reena job coach as many times as you require to be ready for the interview. Research the company and the job description. Bring a copy of your resume, the job description, a notebook and pen to the interview.

5. Calm your nerves. Interviews are always stressful. Being prepared can often help reduce the stress. Take your time when answering the questions. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself afterwards for taking this risk. Do something that you enjoy to reward yourself within the limits of the COVID self-isolation. Focus on what went well in the interview. Connect with your job coach immediately to discuss the experience and supports available for self-care especially during the pandemic.

Keep safe and healthy and good luck with the interview!



To submit your questions and comments to this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Supervisor at jsamuels@reena.org


Employment Advice Column: Using humour in the job interview

Dear Joanna,

Do you have any thoughts on using laughter and humour in a job interview? I’m a big joker with my friends and family.  I love to laugh, and make others laugh too especially when I am participating in a job readiness workshop run with the Reena job coaches!  Do you think this talent will help me with winning the job offer?

Funny Interviewee

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Funny,

Much of the research in psychology reports that the use of humour and laughter in communicating with others is one of the most powerful relationship builder tools that we have when used appropriately.  Consider the tips below that I learned  from the job coaches from Reena Supported Employment Service and Amy Levin-Epstein’s tips in her article on this topic http://www.cbsnews.com/news/no-joke-how-to-use-humor-in-a-job-interview/. On one hand, humour can help you in the interview including putting the interviewer at ease, and showing them that you are fun and easy to work with. But, and a big ‘but”, unless you are interviewing for a job as a stand-up comedian or related, everyone above agrees that you need to be very careful when using humour on the job interview.  


1. Balance humour with content.

Make sure that the laughter and fun doesn’t interfere with your responses to the interview questions and the way you are communicating your skills, experience and education to the interviewer.  Show the interviewer that you are perfect for the job – you are smart, results-oriented, team player who is flexible and enthusiastic about the position. It’s better to be serious and stay away from using jokes, and humour if you have any doubts or concerns about your use of this “technique”.

2. Be prepared.

As I have written in past articles on this subject, being prepared for the interview makes a huge difference. Researching the company, communicating accomplishments and strengths in response to behavioural questions are some of the tasks that you can do to make sure you are ready for this interview. The laughter and humour should be a secondary and natural response from all participants in that interview, rather than forced.

3. Don’t make jokes.

Humour is highly complicated and culturally defined. What is considered funny in one culture, may be deemed as offensive in another. People’s backgrounds play a huge role in the way humour is perceived. Stick to the facts and your accomplishments in the interview. The interview platform is not your stage to perform, and don’t turn it into a comedy show. Unless you are being interviewed for a position as a stand-up comedian, the interview is very serious and you must remain professional the whole time.

4. Assess the non-verbal cues

As one who loves to use humour and laughter, I always wait to see how the other person acts first. Remember, you are being interviewed. It’s a test. As you are part of a Reena supported employment program, discuss this with your job coach before the job interview. As I mentioned above, preparation is key. If your job coach attends the interview with you, then take your cues from him or her. If you are on your own, try to assess the personalities of the interviewers. Learn what your interviewers think is acceptable. If they are serious, rigid and official, then you should try to do the same. Always wait to see how they respond and act first. If they are laughing and joking, then I would respond. Let them take the lead. Unwelcomed joking or laughter can ruin your chances for a job offer.

Best wishes for your job search,



To submit your questions and comments to this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org


Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP  is the Employment Resource Supervisor  at Reena with an expertise in  job development, job coaching, and workshop facilitation with people with disabilities and multi-barriers as well as staff training. Also, Joanna helps employers with diversity recruitment and selection, is a published author and columnist, as well as a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator.


Employment Advice Column: Working with Recruiters

Dear Joanna

I have applied to many jobs for a receptionist position with staffing agencies and recruitment companies. I have never received any response. Not even a phone call! I don’t understand how they operate. Please could you explain how I can work effectively with recruiters in my field. I am part of a supported employment program for youth with developmental disabilities at Reena and my job coach suggested that I reach out to you with this question.

Signed: Recruiter Resistance

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Resistance,

To help answer your question, I consulted with a leader in the industry, Raffi Toughlouian, Vice President at IFG – International Financial Group, as well as the job coaches from Reena’s Supported Employment Services (RSES  for youth with developmental disabilities. They have clarified some of the confusion around the role of recruiters in the job search process, and tips on how to work effectively with them:

  • Understand the business. Recruiting firms may be known as placement/outplacement firms, search firms, “temp” agencies (for temporary work), or recruiting/consulting firms. The staff may be called recruiters or “head hunters.” They commonly field offers of work for many occupations. Some specialize in specific professionals especially IT, supply chain, administration, accounting/finance, architecture, financial services, healthcare, marketing, creative, information technology, engineering and executive positions. Fee structures vary for different companies – but in all cases, a recruiter is paid by the employer. THE AGENCY SHOULD NOT CHARGE YOU for work they do on your behalf. Remember that the recruiter is working for the employer.  Typically, on-site job coaching that is part of the supported employment programs is not allowed. There may be exceptions to this but I would check with the recruiter first. Off-site job coaching is an option for you to consider to help you with preparing for the interview and handling any on-the-job issues.
  • Be ready. Recruiting firms work quickly. You cannot bring in a job coach. Remember, the recruiter only makes money from their “client” (employer)” if you are placed. If the recruiter feels your resume and/or social media profiles meet the qualifications of their “client” (employer), you will be invited in to be interviewed and potentially tested for work that is technical or office related. This is usually done before the interview with the prospective employer. You can be recruited on LinkedIn. Your resume may be requested after an interview if at all.
  • Do your research. Often, successful recruiters specialize in one particular profession or industry. Therefore, job-seekers should identify companies and positions they are specifically qualified for and seek out recruiters who work with them.  You have the right to register with more than one staffing/recruitment firm.
  • Build a partnership. When working with a recruiter, you are developing an important professional relationship. There has to be mutual respect between the candidate and the recruiter for this to be successful. If you are invited in for an interview and testing, you will be working with a recruiter, or a few recruiters, who are responsible for your file. Employers hire candidates who not only have the technical skills required to do the job, but candidates who they feel have a professional outlook that is compatible with the business culture. Same applies to recruiters. Follow up with them. They are your gatekeeper to your future boss. Be honest, state your employment accommodations, salary expectations and what your goals are for your next role.
  • Be flexible to both permanent, part-time, contract and/or temporary assignments (refer to my case above). After you apply for jobs on the staffing agency’s site, follow up with the recruiter assigned to the job (usually at the bottom of the job posting) with a phone call to make sure he or she received your resume and application.


 To submit your questions and comments to this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org



Employment Advice Column Helpful Tips for Working with a Mentor

Dear Joanna

I am matched with a Mentor who is working in my dream job – as an administrative assistant. This mentor understands my disabilities and accommodations. I would like to learn as much as possible from him. Do you have any tips as to how I can have a meaningful and successful mentoring relationship?

Signed: My Mentor (MM)

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear My,

I’m impressed that you know how to ask for help and want to learn from others. Mentors can offer support and encouragement, as well as introduce you to new people and employment related events. In addition to career advice, you can develop a new skill too. Here are some suggestions on how to engage in a successful mentoring partnership based on my experiences as a mentor and mentee, as well as from Denyse Ramjit, Manager of the Peer Mentoring program for persons with disabilities at Job Start:

1. Prepare. If you have a clear career or employment goal, that would be the best. But don’t worry if you don’t. The mentor can help you figure out a realistic one with an action employment/career plan. Prepare a list of questions to discuss at your meeting with the mentor (hopefully it’s in person). Consider emailing the list or even an agenda to your mentor in advance. Bring your resume, a pen, a pad of paper, and a few job postings of roles that you are interested in. If you don’t have a clear career goal, bring a list of your passions, interests, strengths and hobbies. The more the mentor knows you, the better he or she can help you achieve your learning goals.

2. Have clear learning goals. Make sure that both of you are clear about your learning goals and that you have realistic expectations in this relationship. Write it out and review them with your mentor. Remember – a mentor is not expected to get you a job offer or an interview or solve all your problems. Understanding workplace culture, self-marketing ideas, accreditations, establishing professional networks, identifying employment opportunities and setting job search strategies are some of the areas that can be explored in your discussions. Throughout the relationship, check-in to make sure that your goals are being met and that you and your mentor are on the same page.

3. Clear communication: Working with your mentor is a professional relationship. Decide at the beginning of the relationship how your mentor would like to communicate. Some mentors prefer emails; some prefer in person meetings; and some prefer the telephone. Establish a mutually beneficial timeline that works for both of you and will ensure that you maximize your time together. If you have to cancel a meeting, make sure you notify your mentor in advance. Be accommodating to your mentor’s schedule as well.

4. Stay positive and open to feedback: Listen carefully to your mentor’s advice and suggestions. Be flexible and open to his constructive feedback. It’s a unique opportunity to learn from someone who is experienced and professional and working

in your field. Be a lifelong learner. Take the suggestions of the mentor and test the waters. Try out the new ideas in the labour market. Show the mentor that you have initiative and welcome his opinions and feedback. This relationship offers both mentor and mentee to develop leadership, coaching and communication skills, as well as learn about the recent trends in their profession and labor market, and from the mentees’ experiences with their job search.

5. Be thankful. Anyone who is willing to volunteer to offer guidance, advice and time is going to expect something in return. Don’t forget to show your appreciation each time you communicate with your mentor. Gratitude and loyalty goes a long way. Maintain a professional demeanor (advance notice when cancelling, following instructions as to how the mentor likes to communicate, effective listening, to name a few) is critical as is saying thank you.

5. DO NOT ASK FOR A JOB. The purpose of this relationship is to help the mentee become more effective in their job search, and to reconnect with their profession in Canada. Mentors are volunteers. It is not their responsibility to find a job; nor are they expected to do so. It’s a learning and networking opportunity. It’s a professional relationship that offers you guidance, coaching and assistance with your efforts to build your career in your field. Hopefully you can take all this new information and insights and apply it to your job search. Eventually this knowledge will help you get a job in the long run.

6. Check in with your mentor. Your mentoring coach will conduct a monthly check-in by phone or email to review the progress of your partnership. Keep your mentoring coach updated as to your activities. If you have any concerns, or questions, consult with your coach to problem solve. Sometimes, the relationship isn’t a good fit. It’s important to discuss this with your mentoring coach to avoid potential and unnecessary conflicts.

I wish you lots of success with your mentor and I know you will learn a tremendous amount which you will be able to apply to your job search and building a successful career in Canada in your field.

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org

Employment Advice Column: Preparing a successful LinkedIn profile as a person with developmental disabilities

Dear Joanna,
I was laid off from my job because the company is closing. I am looking for work in reception, and am working with a Reena job coach to help me with my job search. The coach is encouraging me to learn about LinkedIn and even to consider posting a profile. With my disability,  I have a hard time figuring out the instructions. I’m overwhelmed, and I don’t know where to start. Can you help simplify this complicated job search skill and offer any tips on how to prepare an effective profile?

Signed: Digital Learner

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Learner,
Posting a LinkedIn profile is a critical part of the job search process..  Quora.com’s reports that research has shown that 87 percent of recruiters are using LinkedIn to source for candidates.  However, it’s important to understand how to prepare an effective one that will help you achieve your career goals. I’ve reached out for professional advice from the Subject Matter Expert Jake Hirsch-Allen, who is the Economic Graph and Learning Solutions for Higher Education Lead at LinkedIn Canada. Hirsch-Allen offers the following insightful tips for a successful LinkedIn profile:

  1. Identify your career goal and ambitions. To shape your profile for LinkedIn, or for any other social media site, you have to capture how you want the public to perceive you in the professional sense. Many job seekers don’t realize this but LinkedIn goes beyond helping people get a job. It’s about communicating your skills, experience, education and accomplishments in a professional framework. The key for you is to focus on not just on getting a job, but on creating a profile that represents who you are in the working world within the context of the internet. It sounds like you have a clear career goal which is a big part of this process. Research other profiles of people who have the same career goal as you. Pull some of their content that is relevant to you. It’s always great to get good ideas from other people. If you have examples of profiles from your job coaches that “worked”, this could be helpful.
  2. Post a professional photo. Our data analytics on LinkedIn report that profiles have more views with a photo than without. Unfortunately, this leads to discrimination and bias. The way around this is to add a photo that captures you in a professional setting which is how you want to be perceived. Consider dressing in business attire, sitting at a desk, on the phone with an office looking background.
  3. Tag Line. “Write an attention-grabbing headline” cites Hirsch-Allen, and “explain what it is you do. Show your passion and value to employers/recruiters.” This is NOT a space for your job title. For example, “Passion for dogs with a flair for creative problem solving and customer service in the workplace”.
  4. The summary section. “Focus on your work, career and volunteer accomplishments” says Hirsch-Allen, who recommends 40 words or more. Similar to using the key words in the job posting in your resume and cover letter, do the same with your LinkedIn profile. Key words are words that others on this site will use to search for you. It’s best recommended to use the most repeated words in the job postings for your career goal (receptionist in this case). Don’t use buzz words like “awesome”. Make it as long as you like as long as it’s clear, accurate and explains your experiences and skills. One or two paragraphs will be displayed on your profile and the reader can click on the dots to view the full summary if he or she wishes to read more.
  5. Detail your past work / volunteer experience. Hirsch-Allen emphasizes not to worry about the length of your profile as you have been advised with preparing a resume. This social media profile is different. LinkedIn is a full comprehensive resume of your experience – paid and/or volunteer. The system will again abbreviate the list and a reader can click on it to read more. Make sure that you have listed all the jobs and roles that you have had in both employment and volunteer experiences as well as your extra-curricular activities. Sort all your experience chronologically. Then you will be able to highlight what is most relevant to your career goal. Hirsch-Allen reports that that there are more profile views than those without this detailed information and you have a better chance of being found by recruiters! Don’t forget to include all your volunteer experiences and causes. The LinkedIn data confirms that profiles with this information receive more views than those without.
  6. Add examples of your work/projects. The more visuals of all your experiences in your profile, the better the views! Hirsch-Allen recommends to “ add as many visuals like photos, multi-media presentations, videos and project links that offers readers a dynamic, visually appealing presentation of your professional story”. If you don’t have any of this, start with photos of your volunteering and/or if you attended an event or conference. Some people write and post blogs.
  7. Continue to engage in LinkedIn. Add skills and get endorsed for them, find and join groups that are relevant to your career goal (for example, administrative assistant groups). Participate in the discussions related to your industry. Follow people and companies of interest to you. This is a great tip when you are new to LinkedIn as a start to building your profile and branding. Of course, you can always continue to invite people to connect with you.
  8. Accessibility. The site offers lots of accessible options including guidance and suggestions as to how you can prepare your profile. I recommend continuing to work with your job coach to learn LinkedIn and to prepare your profile. Here’s one article written by Renato Iwashima on this topic: https://blog.linkedin.com/2017/march/31/finding-solutions-to-provide-access-to-economic-opportunity–dig. Feel free to contact him directly or any other LinkedIn professional to help you with the process in an accessible way.

This column is only the tip of the iceberg. Check out LinkedIn’s learning tutorials or their help support for further help with preparing a successful profile.

To submit your concerns, questions, issues on your job, career and/or employment related issues to Joanna Samuels, Reena’s Employment Resource Supervisor, IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org.


drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Joanna
I’ve been working as a lot attendant at a local grocery store for five years. I’m a person with developmental disabilities so it took me a long time and lots of support from Reena’s job coaches to finally land and keep this job. I feel lucky to be employed but I’d like more responsibilities and more money. I have proven myself several times to my boss that I am competent, loyal, work overtime, and go beyond the call of duty to get my job (and others) done! He has given me excellent feedback that I am doing a good job. I would like to ask him for a promotion, but am afraid to lose my job. How do I ask for a raise?

Signed: Fear of the Ask (FOA)

Dear FOA,

In a recent interview with Reena’s job coaches from Channels North’s community day and supported employment program, they were impressed with your initiative and motivation to ask for a promotion and raise. Here’s what the team recommends but advise you to discuss the suggestions below first with your job coach before taking action!

1. Ask for a Performance Review. If you had one already, find out when the next one is so you can PREPARE and PRACTICE a script of what to say at each step of the process to ask for a promotion. Do this with your Reena job coach. Ask for 15 minutes of your boss’ time for a meeting to discuss a performance review. Acknowledge that you know he is busy and that you respect this. Some companies have a special form. I would start by telling the boss how much you love your job, love working for him, and appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow with the company.

2. Ask for a promotion or raise in person. This is not for emails or texts. Schedule a time to meet with the manager. Show him that you’ve earned a promotion and raise by outlining what skills, accomplishments, and growth you’ve brought to the supermarket since you began. Never tell your hiring manager that you want more money or that you need to support your standard of living. Your compensation should only be reflective of your job performance.

3. List your accomplishments over the year. Promote yourself. Don’t be shy. Be prepared to showcase your value to the organization, and present how you add value and help the company succeed. Do you bring in repeat business and customers? Are you helping with promoting the store’s image by your communications with your customers and other staff? Are you helping the team with unpacking, sorting and shelving the inventory? Be specific about articulating your accomplishments and how your work in addition to your lot attendant duties is helping the store grow.

4. Research salaries for your role. Visit www.glassdoor.com and www.payscale.com for this information. With the support of your job coach from Reena, consider asking your coworkers whom you like and trust regarding the salary you can ask for that is reasonable. The salary you ask for does play a role in the way your boss views you, and you don’t want to put any tension in your relationship.

5. Be open to the feedback: If you don’t get the promotion or raise you want, don’t quit. Take this response as a learning opportunity. Find out from the manager what you need to do to improve, and what you need to do to eventually get the compensation you think you deserve. Prepare a list with the manager of areas to improve. Ask the manager for a meeting in one month to review the “improvement list”. Schedule a 20 minute meeting in advance. Don’t give up. Remember, this is a discussion in progress!

6. Look for better job opportunities. At the same time that you ask for the raise and promotion, and regardless of the boss’ response, continue to research other stores and/or companies that you would be interested in moving to for a better job opportunity. Get a sense of the competition out there – who is hiring and how much they are paying. Continue to network. If you get a job interview, go to it because you never know. Don’t let this situation be an obstacle in looking after your career.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask. Consider asking for a raise or promotion as a discussion with your manager. It’s a process. Nothing happens quickly. Only you can look after your career. Speak with your supervisor or boss. But be strategic. Plan and prepare in advance how and what to say. Review what you want to present with your job coach, family or friend or even co-worker to get feedback. Advocate for yourself. You have a right to ask for help and speak to your manager about your career path.

All the best

To submit your concerns, questions, issues on your job, career and/or employment IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org and I will respond in a column with your permission.

Employment Advice Column: Handling the First Week of a New Job

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Joanna,

Thanks to my Reena job coach, I will be starting a new job next week as a stocking clerk in a busy retail store. I’m excited and nervous as I want to make a good impression with my new employer. I don’t understand what is going on. I don’t know how to behave. I feel lost. Please can you advise me on how I can handle new employee challenges and be a successful worker as well?

Nervous New Employee

Dear Nervous,

Congratulations! I definitely get it that starting a new job is no less terrifying than starting your first day at school. The difference is that you are now an adult transitioning into a new workplace and job. I’ve consulted with Victoria Ghouchandra, Reena’s leading program coordinator of both Summer Employment Transition (SET) and Reena Supported Employment Services program (RSES) who offers the following advice regarding your question:

1. Prepare in advance. Research, research and research! Learn as much as you can about the company culture and your new job’s tasks and duties before you start. You can do this by exploring the company’s website, and analyze the job description. You can learn about other employees at the company by viewing their profiles on LinkedIn. Register to receive the newsfeed and email newsletter of your new employer. Learn as much as many of the tasks for the job on your own or at least understand them before your first day on the job. For example, if you want to learn how to handle cash, check out YouTube for a teaching video clip. And if you can, practice it. Employers like employees who are self-sufficient and use their resources wisely.

2. Dress For Success. First impressions do influence how surrounding people perceive you. When you receive the job offer, you can ask this question about the company’s dress code. Reviewing policies on this topic helps as well. Always be clean, perfume/cologne free and dressed professionally. Prepare for “wardrobe disasters” warns Victoria, who recommends having an extra shirt and pants in your desk, car or bag, especially if you are working in the food service business. When you look good, you feel good and this goes a long way to getting respect at your new workplace.

3. Understand the workplace culture. Learn the unwritten rules of your team and company. There are behaviours and protocols at your new workplace that you need to know. The dress code, the use of equipment (personal telephone calls, the computer), handling food and beverages, supplies, computer stations and more. Discuss scheduling issues. Can you change your schedule for a doctor’s appointment? Ask for the ‘do’s and don’ts’ in these areas with your supervisor or fellow team. Watch how others behave during your first week. Until you understand the systems and rules, don’t assume that you know.

4. Orientation week. Generally the employer will be giving you a lot of new information at the beginning. Take notes. Write everything down. Information that isn’t relevant now might be relevant later on. The first week you will learn your boss’ expectations of your role. If a task or responsibility is unclear, ask for clarification. It is your job to completely understand the employers’ expectation of what will make you a successful employee.

5. Be prepared to ask questions. Before you actually engage in the task or assignment, it’s important to ask your assigned “trainer or mentor” for clarification if you don’t understand the tasks or the assignment. It’s better to submit the work correctly and take time to understand it in advance. Write all your questions down in your notebook as you go through the day. Each boss has a different style of managing and responding to your questions. Find out what works best for him or her with addressing your questions.

6. Admitting to mistakes. If you do make a mistake, learn from it. For example, if you are asked to ask to write an email and there was a spelling mistake on one of the company’s terminology, then learn from this mistake. Admit to mistakes. There is no perfect employee out there and taking steps to correct the mistakes, goes much further as it can help you have a transparent relationship with your managers and coworkers.

7. Take initiative. Be as self-sufficient as possible in learning the job. Find out if there are company resources to help you via your boss, co-workers and even Human Resources. Use social media and internet resources as well. Don’t depend on your boss or employee for everything. Take charge. Again, if there is something you don’t understand, first research and try to determine the answer yourself. Your boss is there to help you out; not do it for you. Continue learning on the job. Sometimes the conversations in the lunch room with other colleagues are the best place for informal learning.

8. Maintaining your work ethic. Typically, new employees work their best during the first weeks of probation. Victoria encourages employees to keep up this motivation, hard work, interest in job and learning throughout your work life at your company.

9. Meeting new people. How you act in the beginning can make or break your success as a new employee and the role in the long run. Build workplace relationships. Eating in the lunch room with the team helps. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Shake their hand. List and learn people’s names. Greet everyone with a smile, while being professional and courteous, even on the telephone. Always be appreciative by saying thank you, accepting praise and don’t interrupt. Think about what you could do to make the team happy. Listen more than talk. Learn about the different roles and jobs in the company. Once you are comfortable in your role, you can start reciprocating by helping others. For example. “Hi, my name is Victoria. I just started this week as a stock clerk. If you need any help, let me know.” Make sure the person is not busy or in the middle of a deadline. Make everyone you meet feel important.

To submit your concerns, questions, issues on your job, career and/or employment IN CONFIDENCE, please email Dear Joanna at jsamuels@reena.org



drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Joanna
I am a recent graduate from community college as a developmental services worker. With one semester in a co-op placement at Reena, and a few summers as a camp counsellor with a special needs camp, I’m clear about my career goal. What would be the best type of resume in this field?

Signed: Relentless Resume Applicant (RRA).
Dear RRA,
I’ve consulted with Reena’s human resource coordinator, Lisa Perez, who has reviewed hundreds of resumes for multiple positions, to share her expertise and advice regarding your question.
1. Research. Gather as much information as possible to prepare the preferred resume format and style of your potential boss/hiring managers and industry. What is the company policy? What type of resume catches the eye of the human resource people, the hiring people, and professional employees at the company? What is the company policy? Use social media to find this out. For example, post the question in your Linkedin groups, through your twitter and/or facebook accounts? Search for answers through www.youtube. Talk to as many professional people in your field through information interviews. Information is power. Network!!! Analyze the job descriptions and company websites. Google the employers and the employees. .
2. Understand the employer’s perspective. Employers decide who to invite for an interview after scanning a resume (and cover letter depending on the job) within the first 20 seconds. They first look for the candidates’ relevant education, employment history as well as professional, work and volunteer experience with the accomplishments in the field. Can the candidate actually do the job? Does the candidate have the qualifications, skills and abilities required for the position on paper? Perez adds that employers who use the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), will initially screen resumes based on key words signifying the absolute minimum requirements for a position. This is then followed up with a short phone screening interview, before inviting candidates in for an interview. From my interviews with other industry specific recruiters, the financial, banking and business and related profession prefer either a combination, or project based resumes. Architecture, engineering and Information technology recruiters prefer a project based resume with technical skills used as well as achievements. Content and appearance are both equally important in today’s competitive job market. Perez evaluates the resume on its clarity, consistency and above all accuracy. Grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and a messy document will impact her decision regarding moving to the next steps in the hiring process.
3. Pick your format. There are four types of resumes: Chronological, Functional and Combined/Combination as well as a project-based resume. Whereas Perez prefers the chronological style, she is more interested in the content, accuracy and presentation. Please refer to the chart below for the suitable format for your career goal and discuss your choice with your Reena job coach: 

Source: Job Search Workshop, JVS Toronto, 2012
Wishing you lots of success that your resume “works”, i.e. lands you a job interview…!

To submit your concerns, questions, issues on your job, career and/or employment to me IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org

Employment Advice Column: Resigning with dignity – Don’t just quit

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Joanna,
I told my job coach that I want to quit my job yesterday. The manager got angry at me when I made a mistake at work. I’ve been at this job for two weeks. I don’t want to work here anymore. I’m very unhappy here. My job coach recommends that I resign with grace and dignity and not just suddenly leave. How do I do this?
Signed: Quitting with Dignity

Dear QD,
After consulting with leading Reena job coaches from Channels North (community day and supported employment program), it was confirmed that your coach is offering the correct advice. As hard as this might be for you at this time as you are upset, resigning with dignity and diplomatically is the way to go. The following recommendations are offered by Ulster and Hansen’s article from https://www.livecareer.com/career/advice/jobs/resigning-job.

1. Leave on good terms. Never burn your bridges. Don’t brag to your coworkers about your great new opportunity. Job hunting is an unpredictable process, and you never know when you will run into your former supervisor, co-worker, or a former employer in another situation. Never ever say anything negative about this employer in your job interviews, networking or when you get a new employer.
2. Giving notice. Legally, you are required to give a minimum of two weeks. Consult your employer’s policies and/or the Collective Agreement if you are in a union. If you can, I would suggest giving extra notice as a special favour to your team and employer. Keep this in mind when discuss the job offer with your new employer.
3. Salary. Make sure you are paid for any outstanding salary, vacation, sick, personal days, commission payments or other compensation due to you.
4. Help with the transition. Offer to help your current employer find your replacement. Offer to train or work with your replacement to show them the ropes.
5. Remain an active employee until your last day! Try not to just disappear during your last weeks on the job. Stay an active member of the team and avoid taking a short-timer’s attitude or aligning yourself with any discontented coworkers. Complete all open assignments and leave detailed progress reports for your supervisor and coworkers. Work with your job coach to resolve the issue with your manager. You might decide to stay in the end! If you can when you have a new job, consider being available for questions from the new employee or your former team. Do this only if you have time in your new role. That takes priority.
6. Exit interview. This type of interview is usually offered to employees who resign and asks for feedback (positive and negative experiences with the company). Often it’s administered by the human resources staff. Not all companies have this procedure. And if you are offered such an exit interview to provide feedback, I would caution you with your response to the question. It depends on where the information goes – i.e. what will happen to your feedback. Will it be used against you? Would your input jeopardize your chances of getting a good reference? Stay tuned for a employment advice column on this topic.
7. References. Keep networking. Keep in touch with your (soon to be former) colleagues and supervisors, especially those who you want to keep as network contacts and references. Make sure you are connected with them on Linkedin, Twitter and any other social media venues.

To submit your questions, concerns and comments to this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org


Employment Advice for Persons with Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Dear Joanna
I am both scared and nervous about my very first ever job interview that I will be attending for a customer service position at a local retail store. It’s my dream job. My job coach from Reena’s Channels program will be coming with me as she has arranged this interview. It would really help me if I bring my friend to the interview as it will help me with my stress. Is this acceptable etiquette at an interview?

Signed: A little help from my friend

Dear ALHF,

I’ve consulted with Reena’s leading Channels (and Pathways) community day and supported employment program supervisor Judy Biniaminov and expert Job Coach Ellery Ulster on best practices for their job seekers on what to bring to the job interview. Together with research presented from other professionals in the field including Bromstein’s blog www.careers.workopolis.com/advice/eight-things-not-to-bring-to-the-job-interview/, I’ve summarized the following 10 items that can ruin your chances of getting the job offer.
1. Your parents. As you will not be bringing your parents to your place of employment, do not bring your parents or any family member with you to the interview. Remember, you are an adult and getting a job is one of the important ways to become self-sufficient and an adult.
2. Your pets. Unless you require a service animal, keep your pets at home. And if you are bringing your service dog (or pet) to the interview, it’s important to advise the employer in advance. You will need this support when you are working as well.
3. Your phone / Electronic devices. Hide your phone, ear phones, or any electronic devices as well as turn them off. Phones can be put on silent or airplane mode). It is disrespectful and rude to have it ringing in the interview. It is important to show complete full attention to the interviewer(s). Carry as little with you as possible to make the best impression.
4. Coffee/Water. If the interviewers offers you a drink, I personally would not accept it. If you do require water because of dry mouth, or it’s a hot day, then bring your own bottle. I’d bring a small one. And I’d mention that you might have to sip some water during the interview before you get started. Remember, the interview is about what you can do for the employer, and not what the employer can do for you. Don’t show up carrying one not only in case you spill it but again, it could be interpreted as unprofessional.
5. A competitor’s product. Do your homework. “Don’t show up for an interview at Starbucks while carrying a Tim Horton’s coffee unless you intend to discuss the competition and how you can help the employer compete.
6. Inappropriate materials. Don’t bring any reading material that makes you look anything less than serious, intelligent, and professional like erotica, gossip magazines or inappropriate and unrelated reading.
7. Your shopping: Don’t bring your shopping bags to the interview. This presents the absolute wrong message. It makes it look like the interview is just something you’re fitting in between other things, not the sole focus of your day. You want to look like you really care about the job. Do your shopping later.
8. Food. Eat your meal before the interview whether it’s in person or virtual or on the phone. In all formats, it’s a serious interview. You must be professional and prepared. And don’t bring food.
9. Chewing gum or candy. This is a big no-no. Your mouth should be used only for responding to the interview questions and building rapport with the interviewers. Nothing else.
10. Old resume / cover letter. Make sure all of your documents are up to date, organized in a professional folder or bag and are neatly presented. Crumpled, messy and torn resumes and cover letters do not make a good impression for the employer.

To submit your challenges, concerns, questions and comments regarding this column and/or your job search IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org.

Employment Advice Column: The benefits of volunteering

Dear Joanna
I have a huge employment gap in my resume as a result of trying to manage my disabilities. Finally, I am ready to begin my job search but am concerned about being away from the labour market for over five years. Many employment specialists have recommended that I volunteer as a strategy to fill in the gaps and build my career. How can I work for someone for free when I need to start earning income? What do you think?

Signed: For Free

Dear For Free,
Volunteer work can have tremendous benefit in your search for employment. If you didn’t have an internship or co-op opportunity through your college or university and lack a professional network and related work experience, volunteering can definitely help you. I am a big believer in volunteering; it’s how I got my job when I was in a career transition. I consulted with Reena’s leading volunteer coordinator Raquel Heayn who presents some of the benefits you should consider:

Gain related professional experience.

Research and identify organizations that have legitimate volunteer departments, represent causes that are meaningful for you, and that have possible spots where you can gain work experience, learn and improve your skills and qualifications. Heayn also sees volunteering as a way to identify a suitable career/employment goal and adds that “It helps you learn not only what you like to do, but what you don’t like to do”. Depending on your career goal, check out www.reena.org as well as www.charityvillage.com, www.volunteering.com, your relevant sector council or professional association as places to volunteer.

Build and Leverage Your Professional Network.
While you are volunteering, be dedicated and apply the same effort to your volunteering as you would as an employee. Always make sure your work gets done. Be as helpful as possible to others. Make an effort to have lunch with the team, and find other opportunities to start meeting other people at the company. Build a relationship with your supervisor because they may be able to refer you to a colleague for another opportunity. Volunteering also offers many opportunities to meet and work with different kinds of people and practice your soft skills too.

Help others and help yourself.
Research reports that adults who volunteer may live longer and healthier lives and it increases empathy and compassion. It’s not good to isolate yourself when you are looking for work. Volunteering can help you get out of your home and get involved in positive experiences, as well as get the positive feeling that you are giving back to the community.

Bridge the gaps in your resume.
Add your volunteer experience to your resume and social media presence. Employers value candidates who make a difference in the community; it helps you answer the question “what are you doing right now?” It also covers the gap in your work history and keeps you busy while you are looking for paid employment. Furthermore, adds Heayn, your volunteer experiences and accomplishments are very important and should be used to respond to behavioural and situational interviews.
Hope this helps.

Preparing for the Holiday Season and Your Vacation

Employment Advice For Persons With Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Artwork provided by an individual supported by Reena.

Dear Joanna,
The holiday season is coming soon. My disabilities result in increased anxiety around being unemployed during this time of the year. In general, I have a hard time relaxing, resting and having fun. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can enjoy the holiday season and continue my job search?

Signed: Relaxing & Resting

Dear R&R,

The holiday season can be difficult for both job seeker and employee alike and can be filled with anxiety and stress. You are not alone with having a hard time relaxing and enjoying during the break, when most companies are closed and employees are on vacation.

You can consider taking a break from your job search, however,  I have heard from people looking for work that this is actually the best time for your job search. Since many employees are in a “festive holiday mood”,  this could be an opportunity for you to setup information interviews for the New Year, apply for jobs and network. I’ve also learned that recruiters or hiring managers could be more open to helping you with your job search as they are less busy.

Career advice expert Leah Eichler in the “Globe & Mail” (Report on Business, 2013) recommends taking a break is critical for your health, well-being and work-life balance.

Below are some tips sourced from Eichler and from conversations with select employers that could help you have a stress free and much deserved holiday.

  1. Give warning. If you are a looking for work, and are taking a much deserved break, set an “out of office” setting in your email account. Change your voicemail and email to let people know that you are away from your desk at this time. If you doing this from your cell or home phone, do not be specific about dates and times. Create a professional voicemail indicating when you will be returning all messages. Mention that you “have limited access to emails and internet”. I would make an exception if you are expecting an important followup phone call or email from a potential employer or a person from your networking.
  2. Prioritize projects. If there is a job opening with a deadline date during your holiday then I would apply for it. Focus on urgent deadlines first. But if it’s not due until two weeks after you return, it can wait. This is priority, over a break, unless you are on vacation with no access to email or internet. Mention this in your “out of office” settings.
  3. Make a list. Before you leave for vacation or a break, create a to do list or a back to job search list.
  4. Clean up. There’s nothing worse than returning from your break or vacation to see that a pile of papers on your desk. So leave your area neat and tidy before leaving. Important files should be clearly labeled and accessible. A clean and organized desk can do wonders to alleviate anxiety.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Give yourself sufficient time when you return to sort through your emails, messages and other issues that have happened while you were away.

Happy holidays and enjoy your vacation or break!

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions and comments to this column in confidence, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Specialist at Reena. 

Gaps in the resume

Employment Advice For Persons With Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Artwork provided by an individual supported by Reena.

Dear Joanna,
I’m a job seeker with a developmental disability. My job coach has been trying to arrange job interviews for me but the gap in my resume and work experience has been an issue with employers. I`ve been in and out of the workforce over the past 10 years due to personal reasons. Now I really need a job for financial reasons and my dignity. How do I explain this gap in my work history to prospective employers in my job search?

Signed: Returning to work

Dear RTW,

Let’s start with your resume. According to some employers that I have approached for feedback on this issue, if your gap covers two or more calendar years, you need to explain this absence from the workforce. Kim Isaacs’ blog at https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/resume-dilemma-employment-gaps offers some helpful suggestions combined with my observations as a frontline job developer/job coach:

  1. Consider all of your related work experiences and skills. Your volunteering, community activities, and any help that you have offered at home or with friends is important for your resume. For example, if you volunteered at your school, provide details of what you did in your resume and social media profiles. This experience is valid. You can create a section in your resume entitled “Professional Experience”, “Other Experience”, “Relevant Professional Experience” with the dates. Add your non-employment related experiences and skills in this section. I`ve seen resumes with these sections as well: “Full-Time Parent”, “Home Management”, “Family Management”, and “Family Financial Management”. As Isaacs cautions, you don’t have to apologize for this.
  2. Keep up to date. Show how you are active and keep current in your field. If it`s relevant to your employment goal, going back to school or attending a training course or workshop is valid experience for your resume. For example, you can take a computer course or attend workshops at your local library and employment centre. Add this training even if it’s a one day workshop. Learning is learning.
  3. Volunteering (or continue volunteering). It is always a great idea to continue volunteering in a position (if possible) or in an organization (if possible) that is related to your ultimate job goal. This is a great way to keep your resume and experience fresh as well as build your network. Add this experience in your social media profiles and resume right away. Target the ones who are hiring. You can see the job postings on www.charityvillage.com, www.workinginnonprofit.com and on their websites. You never know where this placement could lead.
  4. Build your network. Most jobs are found through contacts. Use social media and information interviews to meet professionals in your field. Attend as many social and work related events, workshops, conferences as possible. You can join groups on social media as well. Some job seekers whom I`ve worked with reconnect with old friends on Facebook who are working in your field.
  5. Research the labour market. You are in the same situation as a new graduate or newcomer to Canada in the sense that you too are looking to enter into the workforce. While you are applying for work and busy meeting people in your field, target companies where you would like to work, visit their websites, and analyze the job openings to learn as much as possible about the skills, experience and abilities that you will need to learn (and what you already have) for the positions to which you are applying.

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions and comments to this column in confidence, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Specialist at Reena. 

Tips For Being A Successful Employee

Employment Advice For Persons With Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Artwork provided by an individual supported by Reena.

Dear Joanna,
I’ve been working as a receptionist for a while. I’ve had decent performance reviews, and enjoy the role and the team. However, I would like to learn how to be a successful employee that will help me keep the job for the long term. I would like to stay at this company for the rest of my working life! Do you have any suggestions?

Signed: Success on the job

Dear STJ,

Success on the job is related to skills and behaviour and are learnable, states Denise Bissonnette (2004) in her highly-recommended book “30 Ways to Shine as a new employee”. I’ve consulted with Melissa, who is a receptionist at Reena, and has kindly offered her pearls of wisdom on this topic as an individual supported by Reena. As a dedicated, professional and successful employee, Melissa recommends the following tips that she practices on the job:

  1. Have a realistic career goal. Before entering into the workforce, it’s important to understand your strengths, limitations, current skills and interests as well as the areas that you need to learn so that you can determine a realistic and clear career or employment goal. With this self-awareness, that can be gained through vocational assessments, or, in my case, with the help of a Reena Job Coach. Only then was I able to prepare an employment plan and focus on actions to realize my career goal.
  2. Never give up and be eager to learn. Think positive. Never be afraid of asking for help and advice. Ask a lot of questions to learn the job. Make sure that you have a support team. In my case, I approach my immediate trainer/supervisor, as well as mentors, and Reena Job Coach. For example, I took a computer course in order to improve my MS Office. My next learning goal is to learn Powerpoint. Be as self-directed as possible with learning new tasks even if it means staying after work to study. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism.
  3. Be proactive. Take initiative. Once I learned the basics of my job, I always do more than what is asked of me by my supervisor. When I have finished my tasks, I take the initiative to find out what other work needs to be done, and how I can make my team or manager’s work easier. For example, when I finish the assigned data entry, I advised my manager that I am available to help out my co-worker with filing. Sometimes, I make recommendations on how to improve my workplace environment. For example, I noticed that the supply room was messy. I went ahead on my own and organized it.
  4. Note-taking is one of the most important strategies that I use for success on the job. I always take notes during and after meetings, when given instructions and learning new skills and tasks as well as during performance reviews. This is how I can keep organized and keep track of my to-do lists. As a receptionist, I use email and the telephone to communicate and to keep up-to-date. Everyone has their own accommodations (or strategies) to be a successful employee. It’s important to know this about yourself. If you don’t know, consult with a Job Coach.
  5. Prioritizing. In my role, I am required to multi-task. I had to learn how to prioritize my tasks. Again, note-taking has helped me work through the tasks that need to be done and decide what is urgent. Keeping organized is key.
  6. Be punctual, reliable and responsible. Show up for work on time. If you can’t because you are sick, then let your immediate supervisor know by calling him or her. Make sure the you have confirmation that your message was received. 

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions and comments to this column in confidence, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Specialist at Reena. 

Overcoming Online Job Board Challenges

Employment Advice For Persons With Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Artwork provided by an individual supported by Reena.

Dear Joanna,
I am missing out on many employment opportunities because I struggle with the online job boards’ complicated application process. Because of my disabilities, I can’t figure out how to manage the posting of my profile, and how to effectively use this system. Although I have excellent computer skills, and understand the applicant tracking system, I am approaching you to find out how I can overcome the barriers that face me with this modern digital way of finding work?

Signed: Missing out

Dear Missing,
I agree with you. There seems to be a challenge with the algorithms of the online job boards that present barriers to persons with disabilities. With the changing face of the Canadian talent pool as the aging population increases in North America, the number of potential candidates and employees who identify as persons with disabilities will be one in five – up 13.5% – by 2025. (Statistics quoted at a JOIN 2011 Conference, by HH David C. Onley, LG of Ontario). The question is if and how the online job boards and their software developers can expand their algorithms to include the talent trends?

Referring to an insightful article by Chris Farrell who discusses the gap in the resume and work history as one of the problems with the online job boards for older candidates. This is relevant to job seekers with disabilities. So, it is difficult to complete the forms in the drop down menu of this section. What about the drop-down menu requiring the year of graduation, or the first job with dates prior to 1990?

To expand my research on this topic, I consulted with Tim Rose, founder of Disability Positive Consulting, who recommends the following advice to candidates on how to handle the online job boards:

  1. Manage your expectations. Do not put too much pressure on yourself. A professional presence can be daunting, so commit to tackling it one piece at a time – start small. It is also really important to stay positive, even though that can be really tough, because it will reflect in your profile. Above all, ask for help. Register with supported employment programs in your area. Don’t look for work alone. An online job board can be a fantastic tool, but it should not be the only thing in your toolbox! Searching for a job needs a complete approach, and sites like magnet.today can be a great way to build connections and look for jobs.
  2. Diversify your job search strategies. Keep your skills, experience and networking up-to-date and you never know what can happen! Continue building your network and connections. Use technology to your advantage. It makes it easier to build your connections including social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to name a few. Talk to people in your field or related directly by attending and networking at industry events, conducting information interviews and finding as many opportunities as you can to meet people one-on-one.
  3. Understanding the barriers and solutions. Face the facts. Don’t be afraid to understand the barriers of the online job boards’ platforms that you have researched. After you understand this, it’s time to face your biggest barriers – motivation and self-stigma. There are also so many platforms out there that it can be hard to know where to turn. Also, depending on your disability, issues like language, and non screen-reader friendly job boards can also pose major barriers. Most of today’s online job boards are designed with accessibility in mind, and is constantly evolving and updating to make sure it remains accessible. If you have a recommendation to help these sites be more accessible, call or email the team. Excellent networking strategy by the way!
  4. The applicant tracking system. Online job boards including company’s career centres, operate on the “Applicant Tracking System” (ATS). Make sure you plug in the keywords targeted to your career/employment goal in the resume and profile. You can also access a learning centre with lots of great resources to keep your motivation high. You can also call or email the team to help you with the application process or work together with the job coach who is helping you with your job search.
  5. Keep current. I never had a lot of luck with online job boards in the 4+ years that I was unemployed. But the thing about job searching is you never know where that next lead will come from. So I always kept my profiles up-to-date and a resume at the ready. I also checked a few job boards frequently (I made a set schedule for myself) to make sure I didn’t miss any postings that may be a match.

Signed: Joanna

To submit your questions and comments to this column in confidence, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Specialist at Reena.