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/

WHAT NOT TO BRING ON THE JOB INTERVIEW

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.
Joanna

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.
Joanna

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.