By Carter Hammett
“Be brave enough to suck at something new.”
-attributed to Amy Storer
I’ll never forget the day, years ago, when we advertised a networking workshop and, expecting the usual smaller sample size, I prepared the usual 6-7 handouts for people who had registered for the workshop.
But then a strange thing happened. A few extra people who hadn’t registered appeared. And then slowly but steadily, that number continued to grow until we had about 50 people, mostly Asian new Canadians, in the room, patiently waiting for the session to start. While pleased with the turnout, we were just as baffled at the sudden rise in attendance.
Stepping forward I asked what attracted them to the workshop and what they hoped to learn from the session.
It wasn’t long before we learned the real reason for our crowded house: the audience was full of engineers and collectively thought that we were hosting a computer networking session. One person had shared the info with their friends and they in turn had passed it on to their friends. Apparently nobody noticed the irony of having alerted their own networks to the session!
This is indeed the magic of networking. Contrary to what you may think, networking isn’t really about finding a job—although it can lead you there—it’s really about exchanging information and cultivating contacts. Many people are happy to help people who are looking for information. Most of them however, don’t have jobs to offer. But networking can happen anywhere: at parties, in school, an elevator, riding a bus. The fact is you never really know who or what might you to a potential job opportunity.
Unfortunately a lot of job seekers living with invisible disabilities are intimidated by the very idea of talking to strangers. You might think you have nothing to offer, or have memory or processing issues, among other concerns, that get in the way.
Good news: you’re not alone says Karen Kelsey relationship manager with Lime Connect (www.limeconnect.com), a global nonprofit organization that rebrands disability through achievement. They accomplish this by attracting, preparing, and connecting high potential university students and professionals – including veterans – who happen to have all types of disabilities for scholarships, internships, The Lime Connect Fellowship Program, and full time careers with our corporate partners – the world’s leading corporations. The organization is well-known for linking job seekers with disabilities with employers looking at broadening their diversity strategies through networking and professional development events.
“Networking doesn’t come naturally for most people,” she says. “It’s a skill, like public speaking, that can be acquired over a longer period of time. The more you practice the better you get.
“It’s about building relationships and opportunities to get to know people, companies, roles and for them to get to know you as well. It’s really about exploring and getting to know each other.”
Kelsey likens networking to going out on a first date: “You’re anxious but excited at the same time. “
It’s important to consider the message you want to deliver and to whom and how. As such it’s important to “refine the narrative that people tend to share about themselves and spin those into messaging that’s both compelling and authentic.
“You have to figure out what you want to say and practice that,” says Kelsey. “Get feedback from someone you trust.” Ask what part of your story resonated most with them. It helps if the person providing feedback assumes the role of imaginary recruiter and can pick up on parts of the story that he can connect with.
Kelsey suggests rehearsing and practicing an elevator pitch and consider what points you want to convey within a two-or-three minute timeframe.
“It’s important to make yourself memorable,” she says. “Tell a story that makes you unique. Engage the person you’re talking to using all those interpersonal skills to speak and listen.”
That means putting yourself out there in as positive a way as possible for you.
It also means avoiding negatives. Kelsey acknowledges that it’s important not to negate your experiences but is adamant that there’s a time and place to properly do that.
“You want to make a good impression but you also want to find out what the expectations of the networking session is. If it’s black tie don’t show up in t-shirt and jeans. Presenting yourself face-to-face matters.”
Furthermore, there’s certain behaviours that job seekers with disabilities should be aware of.
Networking is really about showing the best of what you have to offer, and not about dwelling on the negative aspects of your life. Therefore, it’s important to identify what skills you have to offer and generally forget about discussing your disability, unless the context is appropriate.
If you plan on attending networking events, Kelsey suggests bringing a friend with you. This might help alleviate at least some anxiety about initiating conversation with strangers, but also create assistance if you find yourself triggered by something. That person can talk to you and help calm you down, provide a point of contact to check in with, or help you find a quiet place where you can collect your thoughts and maybe just breathe for a few moments.
Kelsey also advises that follow up is important.
Determine what’s a reasonable amount of time to follow up and don’t be afraid ask for email or LinkedIn contact info. Ask what might be considered realistic in terms of a response and then maybe add a few days to that. It’s a busy life so you need to give your contacts the benefit of the doubt. However, after the third attempt, you might want to consider letting that contact go.
“Some people forget or lose information they’ve collected during their information session that they need for follow up,” she says. “On the other hand, some people get ancy when they don’t get an immediate response and they follow up so often they run the risk of alienating the contact. This might be something they’ve learned to do because of persistence, but remember that there’s a fine line between follow up and harassment.”
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t convey all the messaging you wanted to during the conversation. “Give yourself credit for the fact that you went in the first place” says Kelsey. “The fact you went is something to celebrate. Networking is ultimately for the long run and not the short run.”
EXECUTIVE SUITE: How Executive Functions Impact You On the Job
by Carter Hammett
Iʼve got a friend who I love to borrow quotes from. Like a handful of people I know, she speaks and thinks in great sound bites and I try to steal from her as often as possible. One of the statements she frequently repeats, is “saying ‘focus’ to a person with ADHD is like saying, ʻoh, just cheer upʼ to a person with depression.”
If only it were that easy.
Focusing is one of the skills identified as an “executive function.” Lately, executive functions have been gaining traction in terms of public awareness. For the uninitiated, Executive Functions (EF) are, in short, the logic and problem solving centers of the brain.
In reality, they are more like a complex neurological ecosystem, one part relating to, and affecting another. Although they are often discussed in the context of ADHD—up to 90 percent of all kids with ADHD struggle with executive function issues–more and more health care professionals are beginning to take note of Executive Functions as a focus for treatment and further exploration of trouble-causing behaviours in both children and adults within a variety of conditions, including epilepsy.
“Psychologist Hadley Kolton defines EF as “the ability to initiate, plan, conduct and monitor the progress of complex tasks,” adding that the abilities to inhibit, shift and regulate your emotional state while performing those complex tasks form an important part of the process as well.
Looking at the breakdowns can be confusing, and when you start getting into specifics, downright overwhelming. Among the most commonly-affected areas, time, stress and emotional management, priority setting, organizing, multitasking, personal censorship, working memory and just plain getting started are often cited.
You can see how these items would have a huge impact on the job. Especially since many of the affected areas are deemed essential working skills.
So much so that a relatively new term, “Executive Function Disorder (EFD)” is now considered a somewhat reliable diagnosis, despite its absence from the latest edition of that psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
People living with the condition struggle with to “analyze, plan, organize and complete tasks with or without deadline,” writes Janice Rodden on additudemag.com “Children and adults with executive functioning problems struggle to organize materials and set schedules. They misplace papers, reports and other school materials. They might have similar problems keeping track of personal items or keeping their bedroom organized.” These are certainly lifelong issues that Kathy has struggled with.
Kathy 33, who also lives with epilepsy and borderline personality disorder, notes that prioritizing, memory and organization have always been significant challenges for her.
“When I was 18 I worked as an office manager for a gold mining company in Reno Nevada. I did events for them, organized parties and recruited volunteers for an annual fundraising run. Part of my job was to recruit volunteers from colleges and universities. I had to give a speech and was terrified. I have problems with verbal working memory and forgot everything. While there I panicked and wound up BS-’ing my way through their questions. Told myself I’d do better next time.”
Another problem area is trying to stay organized on the job: “when it comes to a work situation, I try really hard to keep my space organized but it’s a challenge. My brain feels like spaghetti.”
Memory has also been an ongoing challenge.
“I can be told something and if I don’t make notes, regardless of importance, I’ll forget.” she says. “I have to make a note where I can visibly see it. I constantly remind myself or ask someone else to remind me.”
These tend to be some of her bigger challenges and are among the broader issues faced by people living with EFD
Rodden writes that executive functions are also responsible for goal-directed actions that control behavior, motivate us to achieve our goals and prepare for future events. As such the issues people struggle with tend to center around self-regulating behavior.
Rodden identifies seven types of self regulation, including:
Self awareness (commanding self-directed attention)
Non verbal working memory (holding things in your mind long enough to guide behavior)
Verbal working memory (retaining internal speech)
Emotional – using words and images along with self awareness to alter how you feel about things.
Self motivation – motivating yourself to do things when no outside consequences exist
Planning and problem solving – (finding new approaches and solutions)
Organizing principles like this can help employees start to identify accommodations for themselves, and the good news is that these solutions are usually relatively inexpensive items that are used every day. For Kathy, it’s all about tools, she says. One of these are post it notes. “They’re really good for prioritizing. I grab a bunch and stick them all over my computer. I write everything down, If I’m on the job, I always have a paper and pen. If the boss says something, write it down!”
Kolton identifies methods like breaking jobs into manageable steps (chunking) and crib sheets that provide cues to next steps in a series of complex task, as among a range of tools that are helpful in managing executive functions.
“In real life, it’s about keeping things simple,” he says. “ Simplify that spreadsheet, make things less busy. You can literally go through every weakness and derive some form of accommodation for it.” It’s important to give yourself time and encouragement as you integrate solutions as they become identified. Although she’s better with time management now, Radu still feels like she can’t start her mornings properly because she remains so disorganized.
“I still can’t get organized without running like hellfire through the apartment,” she laughs. “I’m actually okay with boring jobs that have lots of repetition. It’s great for my brain. I’m also okay with being overqualified for a job too,” she adds. “Employers think I’ll leave but I’m good with being bored because I’m not running around stressed and always feeling like I’m drowning.”
Accommodations for some Executive Function Issues:
Modifying the environment
Providing quiet workspaces (or ear plugs, white noise machines)
Taking frequent breaks
Gauge attention span – how long can you maintain focused on a particular task before getting
Graded task assignments – within the attention span
Allowing “distraction time”
Developing a sorting system
Only focus on the most important things – Anything not critical should be discarded
Keep it simple, smart people!
categories and subcategories
timeframe for sorting
“rules for sorting” (What not to keep/keep) Think Marie Kondo…if it doesn’t bring you joy, dump it!
Select “high priority tasks” and schedule it into your calendar
What’s Your Preferred Working Environment?
By Carter Hammett
In my personal experience working with job seekers with invisible disabilities, I find environment is especially important. During career planning I find it’s an area that many people fail to take into consideration. The question is simple. What’s your preference? Many employers described their workplaces as “fast-paced” but that doesn’t jive if you start your day in the afternoon or your medication makes you drowsy.
Preferred Working Environments
With an invisible disability (epilepsy, diabetes), it’s important to be mindful of what self-care regimens need to be upheld (e.g. regular mealtimes, adequate sleep, medication dosages); and what working conditions can aggravate your condition (e.g. overnight work, irregular hours, heights or high altitudes), says Denise Feltham of DICE Assessments.
“This is particularly important when applying for “safety sensitive” positions (e.g. air traffic controller, bus driver, machinist) where there is a risk of injury to yourself or others. In terms of workplace communication, you may experience prejudice by coworkers who misjudge your access to accommodations as preferential treatment given that you show no outward signs of a disability. If the position is not safety sensitive, a deciding factor in whether or not to disclose is the degree to which your condition affects the duties of the job you are applying for.”
Work environments can generally be divided into four areas: location, physical conditions, hours of work and yes, your colleagues.
The first question is where do you want to work? How far are you willing to travel? Consider how much time you’re willing to travel back and forth. Shortly after graduating college years ago, I was offered a job in a small non-profit that helped people with disabilities. I lived in Toronto but the job was in Richmond Hill, in York Region, an hour-and-a-half commute north of the city. A decision had to be made. Do I settle on someplace smaller where I’ll have opportunities to bring my creativity and ideas to the workplace, or consider a larger place in the city that might be more structured?
I opted for small. And for the next four years, I travelled back and forth, 90 minutes each way. For a time it was worth it because I got to implement all kinds of ideas, some of them successful, some not, with the blessing of a supportive supervisor. After several years however, the novelty wore off, and travelling 60 hours a month to and from work lost its appeal. Still, a lot of experience had been accumulated, skills developed and this improved my employability.
There’s many variables to consider here. Are you a parent who perhaps wants your work to be close to services like hospitals and shopping? Do you perhaps need to work from home as an accommodation?
The next question to consider is what kind of physical conditions are important to you? Is the environment busy? Cold? Hot? Safe? Is it noisy? If you have auditory processing issues, perhaps you might need a quiet place in the office. Do you like a busy environment? Do you value privacy or shared spaces?
Next, what are the requirements of the job? Is there a lot of bending? Lifting? Are you standing for long periods of time? Are you sitting at a desk all day? Are you required to balance on a ladder or engage in climbing? What accommodations might be required under circumstances like this? Following this, you should be considering work hours? Is the job full-time or part time? Are you required to work shifts? Weekends? Holidays? Are you required to travel? Some people with mental health issues feel they can’t function very well because of the sedative qualities created by their meds. Likewise, some folks with epilepsy are required to take medication at specific times and so a dependable time frame is important to them. On the other hand, some people living with ADHD however, might thrive in an environment where shift work is required.
Your colleagues are also an important consideration. What kind of people do you want to work with? Do you prefer to work with folks who are creative? Helpful? By the book? Liberal or conservative? If you want to enter a helping profession, what kind of community would you like to work with? Don’t forget your colleagues are also part of the people you serve. “Inside and outside customers”
Agile Work Environments
During the last decade, agile work environments have been gaining a lot of traction. Simply put, an agile work environment is about optimizing the use of space by adopting a non-assigned seating model. It means transitioning from dedicated workstations for each employee to shared spaces that workers use on an as-needed basis. Pundits suggest that as much as 60 percent of traditional office space goes unused on any given day. The agile work environment provides the means for an organization to optimize the utilization of workplace and significantly reduce cost. Many companies are moving to activity-based working (ABW) at the same time as they implement the agile work environment. ABW gives people the freedom to choose the type of space they want to work in based upon the type of work they need to do that day. ABW spaces are designed for efficiency, productivity and collaboration. The current thinking is that these spaces are catalysts for creative thinking and stimulating ideas because they provide comfortable areas for people to interact. This idea sounds great in theory, but again, may not be conducive to the needs of people with invisible disabilities, especially if cognitive processing is expected to be quick. It could have quite the opposite impact on productivity.
Think carefully about these variables and add them to your list of considerations when mapping out your career.