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

03 February, 2014

Mentors, Networking and Elevator Speeches

Jessiemarie Voigt, MPH
Former LEND Trainee, University of Arizona
Supported Employment Specialist

I spend my days traveling all corners of Louisville to meet clients in day programs and employers in busy offices and warehouses.  I help people with disabilities find and keep employment or in other words, I help quality employers find qualified employees, with disabilities.  I am a supported employment specialist.   Employment does not include job readiness programs, sheltered workshops, day program contracted work, enclave work or any setting in which only people with disabilities work.  It is designed to be in the community and matched to interests and skills.  Clients of my colleagues and I are employed at UPS WorldPort Hub, Best Buy Warehouse, Geek Squad City Headquarters, YMCA, Kentucky Science Center, Jefferson County Public Schools and many more small and mid-size businesses across the state of Kentucky.  

Working has opened endless doors for you and me, and it can do just that for our family, friends, clients, consumers and patients with disabilities.  Income, money management, spouses, friendships, fulfillment, challenge, stress, conflict, resolution, independence and respect can be tied to and gained from employment.  My goal is for employment to be attainable for my clients and for your clients.  I want employers to look for value in spite of recognizing a disability, and I want disability recognized as diversity in the workplace. 

It will not be easy to shift the paradigm.  Being an employment specialist is not easy.  I would guess that your job is not easy either, and that you too have big goals to tackle.  In my 3 1/2 month tenure as an employment specialist, I found that I need help to take on my goals. 

Today I share the advice that was offered to me from a later career professional as I began to tackle my professional goals: 

1) Mentors (a.k.a. Late Career Professionals) DO make a difference:
This can be an informal relationship.  I attended a training generously offered by one of our organization’s board members, Dr. Karl Gretz.  On a break, I voiced that I needed help in making contacts in Louisville. He has since passed along articles, invited me to a networking event, and offered advice to my concerns.  Although it was never called a mentor-mentee relationship, I thank and credit Dr. Karl Gretz of Gretz Consulting group as a mentor and the source of much of the wisdom I pass along today.  He provided tools to meet other professionals and emphasized the importance of doing just that.  

2)   Rock the 30 second introduction:
In graduate school, my eyes opened wide, incredulous, at the suggestion of sharing my elevator speech with a room of strangers.  I pondered the enjoyment my professor received in torturing me to do this and contemplated how to pinpoint myself in one minute.  Now, I finally have a solution.  I created a short and sweet, 1-3 sentence message map on my own terms, before it felt like torture.  My mentor recommended Carmine Gallo’s YouTube instruction on creating a message map and it is awesome!  

Carmine Gallo’s Elevator Speech Instruction in less than 5 minutes:
Find the link HERE

(Note: If you do end up making a message map/elevator speech, I would love to hear about it and share mine with you!)

3)   Visit places where you might meet other professionals
Your home city, town or suburb likely has networking groups that can easily be found over the Internet.  Louisville has more free networking groups than I can reasonably attend.  Find one, and GO.  If you hate it, find another.  Bumping into people and sharing your professional message with others will allow you to glean new ideas for your own work, and also give you the opportunity to share your input into others’ ideas.  You will build a professional foundation that can act as resources when needed or lead to future opportunity.

4)   You do not need the gift of gab to network.
It is not about talking; it is about asking questions and getting to know others.  As a more introverted person, I found, and still often find networking a terrifying experience.  Dr. Gretz advised me to: a) Ask questions, b) Listen MORE than you talk, and c) “Act like you’re getting to know someone as you would on a date.” 
  
If you are still sure your mind will go blank, or alternatively that you will monopolize the room, pre write several questions and make it your mission to get some answers.

5)   Share your new elevator speech in these settings
Now that you have made it to the event, SHARE!  When I was able to articulate my job in 1-3 sentences, people understood my job and observed my passion.  This interested them enough to ask questions and offer ideas about ways to help me in my career!  Free help from experts!  I was floored at how easy it was to get to this point.   

6)   Go to training opportunities:
Attend training opportunities when you can, and even if the material is dull or very familiar, find at least ONE TAKEAWAY.
-Is there a content expert you could talk to that would help a client you work with?
-Is there a tool you could take home and use? 
-Is there a contact you should make to advance your career into a future field?  
-Can you meet someone to carpool with (and get to know) the next day of the conference? 
-Can you share ideas with a ‘neighbor’ in the same field or research interest you had not met before?

7)   Network within your own field:
This is so important, and something I took for granted in the LEND program.  Although it is an interdisciplinary group, we all have a shared passion.  In 3.5 months as an employment specialist, I have gained so much by getting to know employment specialists serving at different agencies.  They have shared their strategies with me, recommended free resources, introduced colleagues, offered advice on tricky cases, and recommended fundraising sources and leads for employers.  I also developed a relationship with Kentucky’s supported employment guru, whom is an invaluable support in every challenge I encounter. 

If you are still skeptical that mentors, networking, and elevator speeches can help you as an early career professional, I submit to you the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  These tools have led me to meet thoughtful and committed professionals.  I have begun to think of it as my duty to get to know people in my field and other fields to better serve my clients and work toward changing the world!