Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What would you say?

Once in a while I get to do really cool things as part of my job and one of my hand's down favorite things to do is speak to students in class. I had that opportunity last May, speaking to a psychology class about interviewing - on both sides of the table. Any time I talk about jobs and work, I usually get a pretty good response. One student gave me pause and I have been thinking about her since our first meeting.

She is a junior, interested in so many things. She is a psych and Spanish major, has an incredible GPA, involved in clubs, lots of friends and busy life. She also has muscular dystrophy and is in a wheelchair.

Her question to me was this, "what can I do to help potential employers see beyond the wheelchair, help put them at ease? Should I let them know in the cover letter? Should I let them know if/when they call? Do you have any recommendations?"

This isn't a legal question - this is a question from her heart, wanting to help potential employers to see her gifts and talents, not just her limitations. I had some ideas, all of which she followed through on and then contacted me to thank me and buy me lunch. (I would never let a poor college student buy me lunch). So today, we spent the hour talking about internships.

So my question to you is how would YOU answer that question? I would love to share more ideas with her.


Ask a Manager said...

I think mentioning it in her cover letter might be premature and almost make it into a bigger issue than it is. But I could see mentioning it once an interview is set up, in a matter-of-fact way, maybe in the context of making sure the building is accessible or something. I'm curious to know what advice you gave her.

HR Maven said...

I thought about writing our conversation but didn't; I should have.

First, I recommended that she clarify her goals. She wasn't quite sure of her interests (so many, so varied), so I recommended that she start in the career development office - Strengths Assessment, Strong Interest Inventory and MBTI. She had the summer to meet with the counselors and discuss and reflect on the results.

This was the first summer she had a summer job. She said it was a great experience - and that's what she needed - experience. She has another part time job this fall as well, plus all the extra stuff she is doing.

Also recommended an internship. I referred her to the internship coordinator to have her help match her interests and goals with availability. I also asked her to think about departments on campus that would be interested and interesting..(we certainly would be).

Conduct informational interviews. We discussed people and areas of interest - psych, EEOC, community projects for people with disabilities, etc.

So by the time she was interviewing for 'jobs', she had the experience, education, references and confidence to do the work. I said the cover letter was too soon but if called for an interview, it could be a good time to ask about accessibility.

I think that it is true that she will have greater obstacles than other candidates and has to be prepared to face them head on. Ask for help, referrals and make and keep connections.

We are going to meet again in a few weeks.


HC3 said...

I think that being honest about how some people can't see beyond the wheel chair needs to be a part of the preparation. I believe many individuals will look at the skills and abilities, making decisions in the right way. I would tell her to focus on the interview....and show her best attributes...she can only control her actions so putting forth the best effort and presentation of capabilities will hopefully keep things focused on her ability to do the job...and win the position...
I am a realist and know there could be an unfortunate experience where an interviewer might be shallow, but I would bet she is more resilient then you think...

HR Maven said...

That's a great point. I will be certain that share it. Thanks for posting!