This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

25 May, 2010

Social Media to the Rescue

When the economy is not doing well, finding job can be a challenge for about 1.5 million college students graduating every year.

We all know that the best way to find new job is through networking. As soon as you find yourself in the crowd, which is looking for job, your first step is to send emails to your friends and personal network asking them to pass information around. Social networking let you do much more. Using social media tools you can draw attention to you and help yourself stand out from the thousands of resumes submitted in a traditional way through the corporate sites or in response to a classified ad.

There is no quantitative data telling you how efficient this approach is, but there is evidence that hiring process is changing on the other end. Today hiring managers more often are looking online to do research on potential candidates searching Facebook profile, LinkedIn, blogs for professional and personal information.

Below I put brief instructions on what to do in case you want to try a social media approach.

Where to start: Set up several accounts. I would recommend using business oriented network like LinkedIn. It’s important to keep your online image polished and professional and separate business from fun. If you are using Twitter, then create two separate accounts on Twitter. If you are using Facebook and still want to stick to it, be sure to separate fun from business. Change Facebook privacy setting so that work contacts would not be able see any of your friend’s pictures. What goes on web stays on web – permanently! Many of us can come up with at least one horror story of online postings causing employment problems.

You will use those accounts to build your professional “brand”. There are several ways to do that. Start promoting yourself and your skills by initiating discussions and answering questions. For example, browse or search by keyword through questions that other LinkedIn members have posted in your area of expertise and post answers. Be sure that you have solid content. You can start a blog as a way of promoting your “brand”. Use Wordpress.com or blogger.com. These do not require tech knowledge to start blogging. Join specialist groups and communities online to get an inside track. There is a new trend in promoting your personal brand – video resume. To have an idea see CVs posted on YouTube.

Social media gives you opportunity, which did not exist before, to directly connect to people. Find company that you would like to work for. Identify and track employees that currently work there. For example, LinkedIn (remember, you already have an account there), provides a solid professional portal and let you find and connect to people working in the places where you would like to work. You can search Technorati, which have more than 130 million blogs, to find people who work in the area of your interest. A person who you talk to or were recommended by someone you know, even through online communication, will have higher chance to stand out in the crowd than a paper resume. And your chances to get a job will be higher.

Also social media supports traditional way of finding jobs by locating jobs on corporate sites and job banks. Social media gives you the tool to keep eyes on “traditional” job boards postings by using RSS. Search by keyword job site and subscribe to RSS feed.

The goal of this posting is not to try to convince you to walk away from the traditional way of reaching hiring managers through writing and submitting resumes. Instead, it is to arm you with the tools which increase your chance of success. You need to be committed to this project because it requires a lot of writing, creativity, and consistency in order for it to actually help you. But by the end it will pay back.

18 May, 2010

Working with Integrity

Early in my own career, I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I just knew I wanted to help people. I went to college for a year to study social work, and quickly realized I didn’t have the patience for that line of work. Without knowing what else I wanted to study, I quit college and went to work – and that job happened to be working as a direct care staff in an institution for people with very significant developmental disabilities. It paid better than McDonald’s, which did actually factor into my decision-making process, I’m sorry to admit.

I went into that job knowing very little about the field – my only previous experience with disabilities was in high school, playing with the cute kids in the after-school program with the local early intervention provider. The folks living in the institution weren’t so cute…but I stayed there for four years and absolutely fell in love with the folks living there. I will never forget Myra, who was unable to speak or eat or walk or use any of her extremities, whose body was permanently contorted into positions I didn’t know possible, who was terribly physically uncomfortable at all times no matter what we tried…but whose smile and laughter was absolutely infectious. I worked with Myra for a year before fully realizing that she laughed at the same things I laughed at, and often before I even noticed what was funny…and that was mirrored with every emotion one might experience at home or at work (her home, my work)…and then it dawned on me that she got it. She really got it! Myra understood everything that was going on around her, and expressed it to anyone who bothered to pay attention. She was making the very best out of every moment, every day, every interminable year she was stuck in that institution.

Since that a-ha moment, I’ve spent 20 years supporting people with disabilities – in that institution and subsequent group homes, as an early intervention teacher, as a family therapist for families whose young children were first diagnosed with significant disabilities, as a residential service provider, and as a service coordination program administrator. Now here I am at AUCD, providing technical assistance to a network of Centers that I wish I had been aware of back when I first started college, so I could have taken advantage of all that such a Center offered an early career professional. It’s as if I’m closing a circle.

I encourage you to follow your passion, to pay close attention to the lessons learned along the way, and to attend to the serendipitous moments in your career. Most of all, stick to your principles. In this field of disability service providers, practitioners, researchers, scholars, policy experts, politicians, and so on, there is one tie that binds all of us – and that is our belief that all people have ability, and should be supported in making the most of that ability. This is clear in every discussion on education, employment, housing, health care, and the list goes on. Regardless of the career you choose…or the career that chooses you…or how many career changes you make along the way…keep these principles in the forefront. You’ll be working with integrity, regardless of where you end up. Myra was the first of many people to teach me this lesson; I hope you enjoy your lessons along the way as well.

11 May, 2010

Working with Kenny

One of my first jobs was working as a 1:1 therapist for a little boy with autism. Kenny was a gorgeous little boy who had an infectious smile and loved affection. He was in fact, the opposite of what many people expect from children with severe autism. Kenny was not (yet) verbal nor did he did he engage in any of the play and learning activities of his peers. Kenny needed extra support to learn and I was eager to take on the challenge. Kenny’s parents and school district felt that Kenny required an intensive 1:1 Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy program. I was thrilled to be his therapist. Kenny and I started out in the basement of his home an ABA supervisor came in every other week to observe Kenny’s programs and tell me what program Kenny should be working on. Kenny's task for the first few sessions was to learn to say ‘more.’ I was told to give him the cue ‘you want…’ Kenny wasn't getting it. I asked the supervisor if I could teach him the sign for ‘more’ since I had used it before with another child with autism. The supervisor replied that signing was “a different skill” and should not be included in this program. So, I waited until she left, sat down on the floor and taught Kenny how to sign for ‘more.’ He picked up the sign quickly and started using it all of the time. Kenny’s mother was thrilled, I was thrilled, and the supervisor said it was alright to use sign as long as he worked on his “real programs” daily as prescribed. That’s when I decided that there was ‘more’ that I could do for Kenny. Soon after that Kenny and I were playing games, bouncing on the ball, imitating each other with shaving cream on the mirror and pointing to objects outside. Whenever the supervisor came in we sat on the couch and in the chair and ran the ‘real programs.’ That’s when I decided it was time to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst so I could make the decisions about what ‘real programs’ looked like.

video

As soon as Kenny and I started connecting we started having fun and as soon as we started having fun his skills kept soaring. By the time I left New York a few years later Kenny was regularly verbalizing, matching colors, drawing shapes and even reading some words. I still see Kenny from time to time, he is in middle school and has that same smile as he did at three years of age. I owe a lot to Kenny, he single- handedly changed my career path and helped point me in a direction that I follow to this day. So, my advice to teachers and therapists sitting in literal or figurative basements is to do what you know is right, smile, have fun and do it all with integrity. There is a place in this world for all types of therapies, treatments and programs; I just know what I did with Kenny was right for us and when it’s right the learning and the fun can begin!

03 May, 2010

Reading for Job Hunters: What Color is Your Parachute

This isn’t meant to be an advertisement and it might be a little cliché, but just over a year and a ½ ago, I was looking for a job and the one thing that everyone kept suggesting is that I read What Color is Your Parachute. I was completely hesitant, skeptical even. I had been on the job hunt for 3 months already, in what ultimately turned into a 6 month search, and I think this book came to me at a great time. It’s at about 3 months of looking for a job where you start to get really down on the processes, and down on yourself. As I talked with friends, this book kept coming up, so I finally broke down and got a copy. What I found was pleasantly surprising. There were so many tips and tactics that I hadn’t thought of. From self marketing, to interview tips, to ways to getting a foot in the door, this book really covered it. I had a very humbling moment where I realized that even though I had been employed before, there were things I did not know about applying for jobs.
During this job search process, I was living with my parents. Once they saw me holding a copy of this book, they laughed and said “I think we have one of the editions of that book from the 80s down in the basement” (side note: my parents are guidance counselors). Apparently, it’s a job hunters cult classic, that gets updated annually. Who knew? Certainly not me. Lucky for me I have smart friends who recommend helpful items at the right time. I now recommend this book to everyone I know who is looking for a job. I know it might seem like you’ve got the resume and cover letter writing down, but there is more to it. Thanks to this book I was prepared for my interview here with AUCD, which luckily led to employment!
Also, if you are jobless and penniless, there are copies at your public library.