Maggie earned a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal and Fine Arts with a Major in Communication/Public Relations and a Minor in Non Profit Management from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has worked for Compass Resource Group since 2011. She assists adults in Texas with disabilities in achieving their employment goals by providing training, job placement assistance, environmental work assessments, social skills training, and job coaching. She has been instrumental in shaping the services at Compass Resource Group to meet the needs of young adults on the Autism Spectrum who are transitioning from high school. She is a member of the DARS Statewide Developmental Disorders Team
I have often been asked: What is the hardest part of your job? The majority of the time the answer is discovering what skills my clients have to offer to an employer. As an employment specialist I recognize that prospective employers are talking about hard skills.
So, what are hard skills?
Hard skills are teachable abilities or skill sets that can be quantified.
For example: being able to type so many words per minutes, lifting a certain amount of weight, speaking more than one language, and being able to program computers. Hard skills work in conjunction with the soft skills we briefly addressed in previous posts, and will continue to address through this series.
Throughout my experience, something I have become aware of is: For individuals applying for jobs without a lot of past experience, these hard skills are learned through study, training and practice.
Hard skills can be taught and built upon.
So, where do you go when you have minimal experience, but want to work on your hard skills?
If you were given the chance to work at a job you were interested in for a few hours to assess your skills and abilities, and to decide if you are comfortable and really enjoy it before starting the application process would you do it?
This is called a work assessment, and it is imperative to future success. Vocational rehabilitation offices offer these kinds of important services for individuals with Asperger’s. A work assessment also work in tandem with the inventory assessments.
Work assessments are very beneficial. They allow an individual to work in a simulated or actual work environment for a few hours to decide if it fits the negotiable and non-negotiable parts of their inventory assessment. It allows an opportunity to observe the individual’s interaction with others, hard and soft skills, physical capabilities.
Q: How should one go about communicating to an interviewer a brief summary of the world of Asperger’s Syndrome?
This is a really great question. There is a saying that goes: if you’ve met one person with Aspergers . . . you’ve met one person with Aspergers. I believe this statement is also true of how we communicate Asperger’s syndrome in the workplace.
As I have referenced in previous posts, it is important to do an inventory assessment of what skills and abilities you can bring to the workplace. The reason this is done is so that you can tell an employer exactly what you have to offer them.
It is also best to tell the employer what you need to be successful, and oftentimes I have found that the employer appreciates when expectations are set. When I have gone to interviews with my young adults with Asperger’s, I usually (if they are comfortable with it) go to talk to the interviewer beforehand, and give a brief explanation of that person’s communication style and needs so that expectations are set for the interview.
The following PDF from Antioch University contains a list that may be helpful when you are thinking of the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the workplace.
In previous blogs we have discussed full disclosure of your disability, partial disclosure of your disability and different ways to go about deciding whether or not you should disclose. In the last blog we talked about the SODAS method for disclosing. One of the options was to not disclose it all.
Some individuals that I work with feel like like this is the best route to go when they start a new job. If you choose not to disclose, as I have said before, it is a personal decision and should be carefully considered . . .
If you choose not to disclose, ensure that you have a strong support system that is made up of family, friends or other individuals that can help you if you start struggling. This way you will have an outlet to work through your struggles.
Some choose not to disclose immediately, but realize within the first few weeks that they have some concerns, and choose to disclose their disability before it becomes a problem.
Sometimes we have disabilities that don’t affect us at the workplace. This can be a good reason we choose not to disclose.
Just remember no matter when you choose to disclose make sure that you are telling the appropriate people. An example of an appropriate person to tell would be human resources. If there were no human resources at your company, which is common in small companies, you would tell the manager or person that is in charge. This should be kept confidential on their part and you should feel comfortable getting the support that you will need. Sometimes you may need to have documentation of your disability and what accommodations you might need so that they can help you.
During inventory and work assessments, one thing that we as employment specialists learn, and sometimes the individual with Asperger’s/HFA learns as well, is what learning type they are. During the initial stages of assessing our individuals’ best possible work environment, we also discover their learning types: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. I will now break down these types of learners and how they can affect employment.
Visual learners prefer using images, pictures, colors, and maps to organize information and communicate with others. They can easily visualize objects, plans and outcomes in their mind’s eye.
Auditory Learnerslearn through listening. An auditory learner depends on hearing and speaking as a main way of learning. Auditory learners must be able to hear what is being said in order to understand, and may have difficulty with instructions that are drawn. However, if the writing is in a logical order it can be easier to understand. They also use their listening and repeating skills to sort through the information that is sent to them
Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners are more likely to use their body and sense of touch to learn about the world around them. It’s more likely they like sports, exercise and other physical activities such as gardening, or woodworking. They also like to think out issues, ideas and problems while they exercise. They would rather go for a run or walk if something is bothering them, than sit at home.
A lot of the young adults I work with are visual learners. When I talk to an employer I can set up supports within management, and the coworkers that would enable the client to be trained using visual supports. If they were only receiving auditory or kinesthetic supports, they would struggle and could ultimately not be successful.
However, this can be avoided by knowing your learning type. The same goes for my auditory and kinesthetic learners: if they are only receiving visual supports and not what they need, they could also be at risk of being unsuccessful. Learning types are important to know.
A one-minute commercial can set the tone for any networking opportunity, cold calling, or interview. It is important to have something that sets you apart because, as I discussed in a previous blog, a majority of the job market is hidden. Although it can be daunting to develop a commercial, a polished one-minute speech can give you the opportunity to tell someone about your skills, and what type of opportunity you are looking for. This is an important step to take before beginning cold calling, sending out resumes, and interviewing, because it allows the individual time to assess their skills and pick out what is important to highlight. So how do you go about completing an elevator speech? I will outline a few simple steps that we have found effective that will help you work on yours.
(Information from: Purchase College Career Development Center)
Think about at least 2-3 things you have accomplished
Select two of your skills that relate to your career goal
List 3 personal qualities you possess
Write down some details about your accomplishments, skills, and personal qualities
Write out a story/script that wraps up STEP 1 and first part of STEP 2
Practice reading the script
Get it down to 60 seconds or less
Try out your commercial on family and friends – Ask for suggestions
The more you practice the more confidant you will feel!
The one-minute commercial will shift over time as you gain more experience and change jobs. You may have more than one commercial or speech as your job hunt continues. This is a powerful tool that individuals with Asperger’s/HFA can use to set the tone for their interview, and present the reasons they should be hired!
Informational interviewing is an important tool to use with all three practices we have discussed. Informational interviewing is the act of gathering information about the career field, and specific companies you may want to work for. These are usually informal interviews that take place inside a company that you have an interest in.
Often times when we are doing a work assessment with our clients we are also conducting an informational interview to learn more about the culture, the work, and the environment that our client will be joining. This way we can make a better-informed decision if it’s a good fit.
You can also use informational interviewing by calling employers using your script we previously discussed. You could ask them questions such as:
Once you have written your “one-minute commercial” and are confident telling others about yourself, it is time to start building your network. What is a network? A network is any friend, family member, mentor, teacher, or professional that can help you in your quest for employment. Building a network takes time, but can be extremely beneficial.
Most people get jobs, because of someone they know. New employers usually feel more confident when they hire a person recommended by someone they know. Hiring a new employee is expensive so they want to go with someone, who others can personally attest to their skills.
So, who should be in your network? What is the best way to go about creating a network?
I would start with any friends from school, work, or different organizations that you believe would keep an eye out for jobs for you. Then think about family members that could help, think about former employers, teachers and supervisors…this is a great place to start. Sometimes your direct contact may not know anybody, but someone in their network may know of a good referral, or opportunity.
In the classes I teach I use Dr. Jed Baker’s “Preparing for Life” series. He offers different types of scripts that have proven beneficial for my clients. These can be used in conjunction with the one minute commercial to start building your personal network! Two examples of scripts are below.
Scripts for Networking:
Script for calling a friend, relative, current or former employer, teacher or supervisor:
Hi this is, ________________. I am looking for a job as a _________________and I was hoping you could help. Is this an okay time to talk?
Do you know anyone who may need someone who can______________________?
Do you know anyone else who might know of any job opening?
Would you be willing to be a reference for me? Would you be comfortable telling others my skills in____________ and some of my personality traits such as________________?
If so can I get your contact information for an employer?
Thank you for your time.
Script for calling someone who has been referred to you by others.
Hello this is__________________. I am a friend (or relative or acquaintance) of____________________. I’m looking for a job as a______________________ and he or she said that you might be able to help. Is this an okay time to talk?
Do you know anyone who might need someone who can_______________________?
Do you know anyone else you might know of any job openings?
In a previous blog we defined full disclosure of your disability, and accommodations. Often times individuals will have more than one disability, but only one of them may be a concern in the workplace. What I mean by this is that one disability may stay hidden while the other one is visible.
As I have worked through the disclosure process with my clients, they frequently only want to let one disability be known. To work through this we often use the SODAS method, which stands for: Situation Options Disadvantages Advantages and Solution.
The following is an example of the SODAS method:
Situation: I have more than one disability and don’t know if I should disclose all, one, or none
It has been said that transportation is the biggest barrier for individuals with or without a disability. This is a common barrier many adults seeking employment struggle with. Once all the assessments are done, and a job environment you feel you will thrive in is found, it is imperative that transportation be worked out.
In my experience it is vital to the success of obtaining and maintaining employment to have conversations before job searches or assessments are done with the job seekers, and their family/support system, to work out the logistics of how the employee will get to work. Once this plan is made then there needs to be a contingency plan set in place in the event something comes up that affects the employee’s ride.