By Nikoletta Erdelyi
There’s life beyond graduation, but it may not be in the job of your dreams or a Bay Street boardroom. Disability or not, in today’s highly competitive job market it’s unlikely that you will be walking into everything you’d expect. And that’s perfectly okay.
Many of us have come to believe, perhaps wrongly, that our post-secondary schooling is the only thing we need to land the perfect job. But that couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to searching for gainful employment.
While college and university qualifications are tremendously important for enhancing employability, having a degree is no longer enough to differentiate you from other candidates during an interview. Nowadays, in order to make an impact you must have solid interpersonal skills, demonstrated community involvement and a sincere passion for your ongoing development.
Students preparing to transition into the workforce had better be well prepared for the realities of life beyond the classroom. And it seems to me that, degree aside, one particular characteristic that can make a difference to a person’s employability is tenacity—an attribute that is a largely undervalued and underestimated part of the skill set of people with disabilities. This tenacity comes into play when it comes to keeping your spirits up and not giving into your disappointment and frustration during the requisite series of applications and interviews. This, my friends, is simply part of the career-hunting process.
Expectations meet reality
Coming out of university, I had intensely romanticized what a communications position in a corporate culture would be like. I simply couldn’t wait to find my place in the industry, working with clients and discussing grand campaign strategies. And did I mention I was going to change the world for the better as well?
Instead, there were long hours spent writing cover letters, sleepless nights before interviews and half of my closet scattered on the floor in an attempt to put together the perfect outfit—all for what would turn out to be a series of rejections.
In the end, it was not my communications degree that landed me a job but my willingness to learn new things and adapt. After a handful of unsuccessful interviews, I decided to research the most commonly used software in my field, and through online tutorials I learned how to use Adobe InDesign and Hootsuite.
I volunteered and got involved in public speaking about paediatric health care, something for which I always had a strong passion. I had the chance to share my perspective in social media campaigns, and signed up for a two-day course that certified me to teach others about patient safety. Suddenly, I was not consumed by my frustrations or the lack of job offers. Rather, I was actively involved in initiatives I cared about, which in turn stimulated my mind and led to important contacts that built my professional network. And, surprise, surprise, it wasn’t too long before the world opened up—I had more to talk about in interviews and the job offers started to flow.
Nikoletta Erdelyi is currently working at Ryerson University as the diversity projects lead for Magnet (magnet.today). She is a recipient of an Ontario Arts Council grant and is getting ready to publish her first novel, The Electronic Sticky-Notes That Saved My Life.
Tips to help with your job search…
1. Make a list of what matters most
Whether you have to put up with a long commute, late hours or working behind a computer screen for most of the day, no job is perfect. Having an idea of what is most important to you (and a potential employer) will help you to find a role suited to your needs. There is only so much you can change, but are there some practical considerations to keep in mind? Is being able to walk to work at the top of your list? Would you prefer not to have to engage in public speaking or to travel? Would flexible hours or a 10 a.m. start making a difference?
2. Expect effort, persistence and sacrifice
You won’t be offered an entry-level position just because you are a person with a disability. Today’s labour market is extremely competitive and many graduates, including those with master’s degrees, begin their careers with internships or positions that they may feel are beneath them. My advice: Use these opportunities to build skills, relationships and a professional portfolio. Landing your dream job takes time, hard work and lifelong learning.
3. Take a deep breath—and have fun!
A job search is stressful and there will be days when it feels hopeless, so it is crucial that you give yourself time away from résumé tailoring to nurture yourself. If you’ve been thinking about learning how to cook or starting a YouTube channel, now is the time! Once you land a full-time job it will be far more difficult to carve out time for the things you enjoy—so take this opportunity to spend time with friends and family, sleep in a bit or complete a course. Finding balance can be a challenge and working can be stressful, so indulge in the pleasure of an unstructured day while you can!