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Job Search: Identifying Your Skills and Traits

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Whenever you are lost, the first thing you look for is a map. Once you finally get it unfolded, you look frantically for your destination. This is an important step, but it overlooks an even more important step: looking for your current location (that's why you always see those big YOU ARE HERE marks on public maps). If you don't know where you are, you can wander for a long time without truly knowing whether you are getting closer to your destination or farther away.

This is true if you are looking for a store in an unfamiliar mall, for a street in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or for your "true vocation." In the latter case, it's particularly important that you take the time to determine your current location.

Exercises for Self Assessment

In order to help you begin this journey of self exploration, several exercises have been provided here for you. Keep these completed exercises, because you will use them later as you begin your job search.

Write Your Career Autobiography

Get a binder (or a computer disk) and write your career autobiography. This autobiography should include recollections about your education. What courses have you taken? Which courses did you like? Which did you dislike? What do you remember learning in those courses? What have your long term goals been? What were some of the things you said you wanted to be when you grew up?

Your autobiography should include a section on the projects you have worked on as a part of your jobs, internships, or volunteer experiences. Again, it should include your memories of what was fun or enjoyable about the projects, as well as the parts that you remember less fondly. Take the time to reconstruct in your mind the successes you had. Remember the feelings you had as you tackled the projects: Frustration, Exhilaration and Pride.

Part of this effort should include an inventory of the skills you have developed and any special skills that you have picked up along the way. Also, record those bumps you have felt, and failures or difficulties you have experienced. If you overcame those setbacks, recall how you did it and write it down. If you walked away at the first sign of failure, record that. If you tried repeatedly without improving your result, record that as well. This exercise is extremely valuable, because it forces you to think about valuable experiences you have had in your life, probably jogging some old memories that you might otherwise have forgotten. This kind of introspection, if approached seriously, will give you a keener insight into what you have to offer an employer. It will help you observe your personal character from a more objective distance.

When you have a disability, it is extremely important to take the time to examine your strengths and weaknesses. The fact is that everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability, can score themselves on a variety of different skills and abilities. The most important thing you can do is to identify honestly what your strengths and weaknesses are, and to focus on the strengths. That is not to say that you should ignore all of your weaknesses; in fact, my suggestion is that you do quite the opposite. Take the time to identify your weaknesses, and then look for ways to address them.

It is quite likely that if a weakness is related to your disability, you have already begun to find ways to make accommodations for it. Perhaps you have a reading disability. If so, you may have already developed strategies for addressing that disability. If you haven't, it may be worth discussing with a rehabilitation counselor how you can learn to use some of the available computer technology or text taping services so that you can access information that is currently in text (printed) form. Another resource available to you to help identify possible accommodations is the lob Accommodation Network.

Identify Your Skills and Traits

Consider the following skills and rank yourself on a scale from 1 to 5.

When you have completed this exercise, look back over your list again. When you come to a skill that you enjoy using, circle the number that corresponds with that skill. Then create a page in your binder with a listing of the circled 4s and 5s. These should be the skills you focus on. To add validity to this new abridged list, ask a friend whose opinion you really value to assess the list objectively. A former teacher may fill this role as well. See if there are any discrepancies between you perception and the perception of others. Keep in mind that if there is a conflict, it may be because your friend has never had the opportunity to see you using a particular skill.

When you have completed this list, and when you have asked for objective feedback, move on to the next section in this chapter, "Know Your Weaknesses."

Know Your Weaknesses

Coming to a better understanding of your skills is of extreme importance, because it is the foundation upon which you will build your job search plan. It is also important to take an objective look at your weaknesses. Scores of 1 or 2 are indicators of possible areas of weakness. Your weaknesses may or may not relate to your disability. Regardless of the source or cause of the weakness, it's helpful to determine which weaknesses may be a factor in your job search. If a weakness stands in the way of your goal, you may want to address it.

Re mediating a weakness may be as simple as practicing a skill you rarely use, or as involved as taking classes at a local university or adult education program. By addressing the weakness before you begin your job search, you show the prospective employer that you have a good self understanding, and that you are being proactive about self improvement.

In your binder, draw up a list of your weaknesses and ask someone, perhaps the same person who helped give you feedback on your skills and traits (that is, if you are still speaking!), to look over your list with you. Again, an objective look may be helpful. Sometimes we are our own toughest critics. What you may list as a weakness because you know you can do much better, someone else may see as an average ability. When you have completed this exercise, move on to the next section that will examines disability assessment issues.

Assess the Issues Relating to Your Disability

In addition to your weaknesses, you should also address issues relating to your disability. You need to examine your disability and the way in which it may manifest itself in your job search. You may find that the disability has no impact at all on your choice of career. In fact, many people with disabilities have been employed for years, and their supervisors and coworkers have absolutely no idea at all that they have a disability. In other cases, a disability will require some accommodations. For example, a person with diabetes may need to follow a more rigid eating schedule to facilitate the maintenance of their blood sugar levels. In other cases, a disability may require some direct modifications to the workplace (such as the width of doorways or the height of a drafting table) or the way that tasks are accomplished (such as voice recognition software to aid data entry and word processing).

By considering the ways in which your disability may affect your work, you can anticipate potential questions in a job interview. This will give you the opportunity to fashion your responses in a way that will impress the employer with your preparation and your self understanding. It may also help to put the employer at ease with the thought of hiring a person with a disability.
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By using Employment Crossing, I was able to find a job that I was qualified for and a place that I wanted to work at.
Madison Currin - Greenville, NC
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