“Get a job!” – but how?
We all want our atypical young people to be productive members of society. Many of them are capable of holding part-time or full-time jobs, but aren’t getting hired because they have difficulties with the process of applying for work. They might struggle with recognizing appropriate job openings, filling out applications, showing they have the needed skills and experience, presenting themselves well to potential employers, and staying organized throughout the search.
I recently met with Jackie Martin. She’s President of Vocational Steps, a nonprofit organization that guides and supports adults with mild special needs in obtaining and maintaining employment. I learned so much from her that it’ll take two blog posts to convey it all!
This post will focus on the practical tips Jackie shared regarding applications, resumes, and meeting potential employers.
For young people who don’t drive, one tricky part of the job search is finding potential workplaces they can reach. Adult guidance may be needed to figure this out. Would the applicant be able to get to work on foot or bike? Or, could he or she dependably get rides? If the work site is reachable by bus or local rail, the job seeker may need practice boarding the right vehicle, making transfers, and knowing where to get off.
Another obstacle in the search is lack of work experience. Even listings for what we’d consider entry-level jobs often say that months of previous experience are required. While the employer may prefer candidates who have an employment history, it’s still worth applying for a position if the job seeker’s at-home chores, volunteer work, or school experiences can be framed as skills that meet the requirements.
Applications can be straightforward, but in my experience many of them cause confusion even in high-functioning adults. Patience and persistence are good qualities to have, since some applications can take well over an hour to finish. I suspect that by making the application process an ordeal, employers weed out job seekers who aren’t all that committed.
If the application is on paper, it may be wise to practice filling out a copy before completing the actual form. The application that’s turned in should be as neat and error-free as possible.
For online applications, realize that the majority are “reviewed” by automated applicant tracking systems (ATS). If an application doesn’t have enough of the keywords the ATS has been programmed to look for, or has even one mistake, it can get sorted into the discard pile and never reach a real human being. Sad, but true. So when filling in the blanks try to use the same words and phrases seen in the job description.
Here are other tips related to online applications:
- Be ready to create a password and to record it somewhere.
- Make sure all required fields are completed accurately. It’s advisable to fill in all optional fields as well.
- If you get stuck in a loop, or kicked out of the system before finishing – you’re not alone! Take a deep breath and start over once you’ve calmed down.
- Some online applications include a section of multiple-choice social questions in which the applicant is asked to “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” … “strongly disagree” about the best way to handle a hypothetical situation on the job.
- Jackie’s advice is to mostly choose the extreme answers, and minimize selecting the ones in the middle range of choices. There seems to be a preference for applicants with strong opinions!
- Some atypical applicants can be brutally honest about what they’d do in a confrontation with a customer – but this is not the time to be 100% honest! The adult who’s helping them complete the application should glance over their answer selection and steer them toward more socially appropriate responses if necessary.
While some employers don’t ask for a resume, at times it may be necessary to upload one in an online application. Other employers may prefer getting a paper copy. It’s best to have a resume prepared in case one is requested.
Start by creating a basic resume on the computer. This can and should be tweaked for each application, matching the language used in the job description as closely as possible. In other words, the smart job seeker will end up creating several versions of his or her basic resume. Save each one as a separate file, because the resume created for the Burger Boy job two weeks ago may be the best starting point for the resume tailored to today’s job opening at Beef & Bun.
Many resume templates can be found online. Following the header, which features contact information, most resumes now start off with a summary statement instead of the “Objective” we old-timers used to put at the top. However it’s identified, Jackie says the summary can be thought of as a branding statement: what are the skills and qualities the job seeker is bringing to the table?
Because our atypical job seekers really need to make a positive impression in order to have a chance, Jackie suggests that they take the extra step of making mini-resumes printed on card stock. The mini-resume, sized so that four of them can be cut from an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, provides the applicant’s contact information and highlights what s/he’s got to offer. Like a business card, the mini-resumes can be given to the manager when the job-seeker follows up after an application (see below) as a tangible reminder of who this person is.
The application process
According to Jackie, it’s important that the job seeker keep a record of when and where they’ve applied. Big calendars (on a whiteboard or a desk blotter, for example) are a good way to keep track.
The applicant should plan a drop-in visit to the hiring manager one week after submitting the application. The script could go something like “Hello, I’m [Hiram Eenow] and I applied for the ____ position last week. Do you recall whether you’ve reviewed my application?” [The manager gives a reply] “Well, I’m very interested in being interviewed if the position is still open. Here’s a summary of what I can offer [applicant hands the manager his/her mini-resume]. May I have your business card?” [The manager replies] “Thanks for your time; I hope to see you again soon.”
An encounter like that will probably stand out in the manager’s mind!
Afterwards, the applicant should drop by every two weeks to make polite inquiries. That seems to be a good frequency for reminding the manager of one’s interest without being a pest. The applicant may need help after each encounter to interpret the cues in the manager’s body language and tone.
There’s lots more to the job search process than what is mentioned above. I’ve merely tried to share some insights that may not be well known.
Without having an “in” at a company, the odds can be slim for anyone to get an interview, let alone get hired. Using knowledge of what may help or hinder the application process makes the odds that much better – and our atypical young people need as much of a boost as we can possibly give them.