Congratulations, you’re in the final stretch. After years of all-nighters you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now it’s time to get a job.
But what happens if you don’t think you have the kind of work experience employers are looking for? How can you get hired if you don’t have any experience? Don’t be discouraged. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
Take Dave (last name witheld), for example, who got a job after doing volunteer work for his student council. The Laurier alumni, 23, lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was interested in marketing and graphic design but had no work experience. So he volunteered to design posters for his school’s student union.
"The experience was awesome. That job really helped me learn a lot about what I can handle and how I should handle things," Dave says. "I had a lot of trouble focusing on things, but because I knew that I had to get the work done I learned how to organize my time and priorities and felt like I became pretty successful at it."
The poster Dave designed for a school campus event eventually landed him a part-time job as a graphic designer. "I was on student council and designing posters for a summer fest when one of the other students told me that I should apply for a graphic design job at the school. I did and I got it," Dave says.
In his new job Dave was in charge of designing posters that would promote events and meetings during the university’s frosh week. He did this every summer until he graduated. "I wasn’t interested in a career in graphic design," he says. "But I realized that I got great experience for marketing." Dave is currently looking for a job in marketing, now that he’s graduated.
The sooner students get hands-on work experience, the more connections they make and the easier it is to find work through referrals, say career counsellors. Still, counsellors agree that it’s not easy for students with disabilities to find the time to do part-time work, even if it does become available. "It can be challenging for students with disabilities to gain on-the-job experience while pursuing their studies, since each student, depending on their disability, goes through school differently," says Christine Fader, a career counselor at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON.
That’s where disability and Career Centres can help. Centres offer one-on-one counselling, where counsellors can help students identify what they need to do to convince employers of their competence. They also post jobs, and some, like the University of Toronto's, even have an annual 'gain experience' fair, where employers come out to promote volunteer opportunities at their companies.
Last fall, Laurier University even launched a new program called the RBC Career Transition Program at its Career Centre. It specifically targets the needs of students with disabilities, thanks to funding from the Royal Bank of Canada, a company that encourages diversity in the workplace.
Jillian Perkins, a consultant at Laurier’s Career Centre, helped develop many of the workshops to be integrated into the program this fall. For a few months, she collected data from surveys and talked to students with disabilities to find out what their needs were. "One of the suggestions was to have professional speakers with disabilities come in to talk about their experiences," Perkins says.
Felicity Morgan, a counsellor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, agrees that it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. One way she suggests that students do this is to focus on the strengths they have and keep their goals in mind.
"I’ve seen students with disabilities who are really wanted by employers because of their skills and because of their attitude. It might take some time and effort to get there but it pays off," Morgan says. jp