A Career Fair Goal for Job Seekers

Once upon a time, going to a career fair was about getting in front of a human resources representative and delivering a ‘elevator speech’ about one’s skills and experience. This sales pitch ended with a resume being offered and the effort just didn’t seem to be complete if the recruiter did not accept it. On the company side, career fairs presented an opportunity to cast a recruitment net, take a sneak peek at candidates, ask a few basic questions to gauge if they could fit into the work environment and make meaningful contributions.

Those days are long gone.

Web-based job boards changed the face of career fairs. Instead of spending time developing a focused recruitment effect to fill current vacancies, the company job board allows recruiters to spend more time focusing on the ‘employer of choice’ business care to share with candidates while referring them to list of current vacancies that they might find interesting.

There are a few obvious benefits of this approach to exhibiting at career fairs. The first is doing away with the need to process paper resumes after returning to the office. the second is that it offers increased flexibility in staffing the exhibit table by doing away with the need to have the recruiters responsible for those vacancies to be represent. Finally, asking job seekers to apply online ensures that they identify the roles of choice rather than expecting the recruiter to determine where they fit in.

The benefits doesn’t translate to the job seeker side. Leaving an exhibit booth without submitting a resume makes the engagement feel incomplete. The job seeker doesn’t have closure that one expects from attending career fairs because the job search hasn’t taken a step forward.

Seeing that company job boards will not go away, job seekers now need to approach career fairs differently. They should use career fairs more as information collecting exercises, than attending with submitting applications as the primary goal. Instead of packing resumes, they come to career fairs with a collection of questions that will help them learn more about the jobs they are interested in, the compensation, the company and the hiring process. This information will help them decide if the company is one that they would fit in well, as well as, helping them submit applications that are stronger than what can be done through an elevator speech.


Wage subsidies; Don’t do it!

The labour market is bleak for people who do not match the traditional ‘script’ of the Caucasian Canadian male. Foreign trained professionals are forced to take survival jobs due to barriers that prevent them from landing a position that matches their capabilities. Despite their advances, women still have yet to make real headway at the top levels of corporate Canada. The employment of youth is unacceptably high and getting worse. The labour market barriers for people of Aboriginal heritage still exist on so many levels that it still makes more sense for them to do business within their nations rather than keep pounding on the door.

The solution is at hand! The government should just pay employers wage to hire qualified workers from these groups. The use of wage subsidy programs will make all the barriers that they encounter dissolve overnight.

Now that you stopped laughing…

Seriously, doesn’t that proposal sound rather offensive? It does to me. It does to many in the disability community. This is why I’m opposed to the use of wage subsidy programs for people with disabilities.

But my views on wage subsidies isn’t shared by many in the community. There are people in the community, usually people without disabilities, who this that giving money to employers to hire people with disabilities is fine. To illustrate, I asked one self-professed diversity ‘champion’ why he supported wage subsidy programs for people with disabilities. He said “because they are disabled; employers need to be shown that they can work.”

Excuse me. isn’t that what the job candidate recruitment process is supposed to do? It was designed, after all, to make sure that the candidates who match the job requirements are those that receive job offers.

To this, the subsidy proponents point out that people with disabilities are stigmatized and placing clients in jobs at low or no cost to an employer helps smash stereotypes. However, if the use of wage subsidies is an effective approach to expanding employment opportunities, why not apply it with ethnic groups, different religions and so on? Why is it limited to only people with disabilities?

This use of wage subsidy programs for only people with disabilities smacks of second-class citizenry.

What the wage subsidy proponents do not seem to understand that a this approach to employment does not foster an employer’s commitment to the worker. The relationship is one of It’s more of servitude that makes workers feel exceptionally compelled to ask ‘how high’ each time the manager says ‘jump’. This is because they have fewer protections than what full employees enjoy. It’s a pre-probation, probation period that employers can end at anytime without penalty. This is why subsidized jobs tend to end when the funds are exhausted.

An alternate to subsidizing wage is to expand employment opportunities by training a person with a disability to do a job. This does not force a qualified worker to jump through hoops that other diversity groups are not expected to undergo. This was the principle behind the Skills Training Pathway of the CIBC Career Access Program (CCAP-STP) that I created while leading the CIBC’s Diversity Outreach and Intake Program.

I designed the CCAP-STP to provide six weeks of intensive training to selection job seekers who otherwise would have been competitive in the banks recruitment and selection process. The participants entering the program showed foundational skills but fell short in the areas of training and/or experience. Job ready candidates we’re not accepted into the program; they were referred to job competitions that they had a reasonable chance in becoming employed.

Although the CCAP-STP was fully funded though my recruitment budget, there is nothing stopping government and employers from creating a similar program. This is preferable solution to workforce barriers for people with disabilities that doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that comes with buying employment opportunities for people with disabilities.


Fear and Loathing in the Job Search

Finding a job is a huge challenge in today’s economy. Getting a foot in the door is something that all job seekers want but many don’t realize how they inadvertently reduce their chance for success.

Having designed and led a diversity outreach and intake program for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), I’ve reviewed hundreds and hundreds of applications from job seekers. One thing that I found is that most common reason that an application does not make the ‘first cut’ is ta failure to demonstrate how the applicants fulfill all the required qualifications.

Many of those candidates may have well been able to do the job but resumes that implied a match sold these candidates short. This is because recruiters cannot analyze resumes for qualifications when the candidate has failed to make them obvious. The onus is on the job seekers to make sure that their cover letters and resumed comprehensively demonstrate that they satisfy all the requirements.

Demonstrating a match to job requirements is even harder for job seekers with disabilities. it harder because, as a population, those with disabilities tend to have fewer opportunities to gain the same level of work experience as job seekers without disabilities. Worse yet, many employers desire progressive work experience, which means that there is an obvious, upwardly mobile connection between each position that the candidate has help. In this area, job seekers with disabilities are disadvantaged. Many of us have held jobs for a number of years longer than most workers or moved between a number of survival jobs, which does not offer evidence of advancement.

Of course, job seekers with disabilities almost never get feedback from recruiters as to why their applications don’t generate employers’ interest.  Employers are reluctant to meeting with job seeker with disabilities who request for such information because they fear that it could lead to a human rights complete. Without such feedback, job seekers are left without an ability to grow from the experience. Instead, the develop a loathing about their prospect in the labour market and, for some, themselves. At this point, they start to give up.

This can be avoided if job seekers with disables become more mindful of the jobs that they apply and learn how to provide examples that make their competencies and attribute stand out above the crowd.

The first step in this process is to create a career journal that lists all the jobs that were have held, the skills gains in each position and the accomplishments achieved. Then write a narrative about each of those job experiences and compare them to the requirements listed in the job posting.

Once an opportunity that close matches their experience, the next step is to use those narratives in the cover letter that accompanies the resume.

It’s won’t be easy to do all this but it can be done!


On disclosing a disability

The debate on how people with disabilities can disclosure* is one that seems to be without an end.  There are many differing opinions on how and when a job seeker should inform a prospective employer of a disability and request an accommodation. While my thoughts will only toss another voice in the mix but I’ll provide them in case they offer reassurance to someone who needs it.

For starters, informing an employer about one’s disability is on the same level as giving out a credit card number. It’s personal and should be shared only on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Shopper don’t walk into a store waving their credit cards to store clerks. They only take it out when ready to pay for an item. It’s not the store clerk’s business to have shopper’s credit card information before that point. Managing information about a disability is much like this. Employers do not have a valid reason for knowing if a job applicant has a disability until they plan to conduct a job interview, offer employment and when a job accommodation is needed. Even then there are conditions that should be met before an individual self-identifies.

For example, a deaf person should not identify as a person with a disability during resume submission because the application may never reach the point where the two parties meet.  However, self-identification may be in a deaf candidate’s interest after receiving a job interview invitation — but only if an accommodation (e.g. interpreter support, assisted listening devices, etc) is needed.

Those with disabilities that are apparent (e.g. wheelchair users, etc.) should also follow this approach. There is no valid reason for an employer know about the existence of a disability until they decide to meet with the individual.  At that point, the candidate must decide if self-identification is needed to help ensure that he or she has a beneficial meeting.

* I prefer to use “identify” or “self-identify”over “disclosure” because the latter suggests that having a disability is a dark secret or an undesirable state. 


Why organizations need a Chief Accessibility and Inclusion Officer

Over the past 20 years, the disability community has witnessed a steady increase in the number of businesses making equity statements as a way to communicate their support. They usually follow the refrains of ‘valuing differences and the creativity, productivity, and service excellence that people with disabilities offer’ or being ‘strongly committed to fostering diversity within our community’. Such statements are nice words but the disability community views them as empty ones when companies don’t have a practice framework to ensure that people managers live by them. Ensuring disability inclusion requires action – not just talk.

“But we have a diversity program” some have exclaimed when I make this point at meeting with employers. While diversity programs are great for raising acceptance of most diversity groups, they are seldom effective when it comes to people with disabilities. There are a few reasons for this.

The first thing is that, unlike groups based on culture, gender, religion, complexion and so on, disability is distinct in the way that its members tend to require adjustment to the work environment or how the work is done that goes beyond being tolerant and/or providing recognition for their differences. Employers must expend time and/or resources to remove accessibility barriers. The amount of resources required to make these adjustments depends on how the physical work environment, organizational culture and the function of the individual’s job interact with the employee’s disability and its severity.

Although it’s been said that the average accommodation cost less than $5oo, the price tag can sometimes go into thousands of dollars in cases that involve renovations or consumable accessibility services (e.g. personal support workers, Braille translation, audio transcribing, sign language interpreters, etc.). This creates a disincentive for employer that does not exist with the other diversity groups.

The second reason that including disability under the diversity banner is not effective is that disability is an individualized experience. Where people from one culture can use the diversity program framework to draw strength from others from the same group, people with disabilities to not gravitate towards others with disabilities on the basis that we are different from those who do not have one. This is even true when two persons share a similar disability. There is no bonding factors such as shared a language, folkways and/or values within the disability community – just shared behaviours. We with disabilities have stronger bonds with others from the cultures passed down to us from our parents than we do with other who have disabilities. (Note: Deaf Culture is the only exception among the disability groups because its members do have a shared language and values. All of which are passed peer-to-peer within the residential school setting.)

The final thing is that all cultures have their own way of responding – often negative – to the existence of a member who has a disability. While the views of people with disabilities has been generally sympathetic with cultural differences, the treatment people with disabilities has been, historically, that of over-institutionalization and being either shut out of the work force or segregation in the type of work we could be offered. As everyone knows, culture does not change overnight and certainly not with the creation of a diversity program or with drafting of an equity statement. So when disability is groups with the other diversity groups, its needs are commonly overlooked. (Those who disagree should ask a few persons with disabilities how high up the see disability sitting on the diversity totem pole!)

In view of the disability experience, which is something that most people without disabilities cannot fathom because it’s hidden from them, it’s not surprising that promoting accommodation policies and the use of equity statement do not encourage people with disabilities to be more open about their conditions. Nevertheless, becoming aware of this experience helps clarify why people in this equity group are reluctant to inform employers about their conditions when ever possible.
For the reasons listed above, employers seeking to build workforces that are truly equitable must create a framework that demonstrates not only their value for the talent and skills of people with disabilities but also that they have a process to integrate them in a manner that leads to opportunities to rise in the ranks.

To create such a framework, employers must take disability inclusion out from under the diversity umbrella and establish a program to address the issues that are unique to employees and job candidates with disabilities. Such a program would have accountability assigned to a Chief Accessibility and Inclusion Offer, preferably a person with a disability, who would have resources available to ensure the removal of barriers to not only accessing the environment but also to opportunities for advancement. Companies that create such a program would demonstrate that they are seriousness about fostering inclusion.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own and I do not claim that are consistent or reflect to views or policies of any organization that I’m currently work for or those that I have supported in the past. 

Accessibility: Understanding Communication

Helping employers fulfill their obligation to provide disability-related accommodations is something that is routinely expected of human resources professionals. Organizations look to human resources as the experts on the ‘human’ side of the workforce and supporting disability accommodation process clearly falls into that domain. However, the range of disability types that exist is as broad as how it affects an individual’s ability to function in the workplace. This makes it impossible to become an expert in all the possible job accommodations that are available.

As a result, human resources professionals may be asked to source out accommodation options for a disability type that they haven’t the slightest close on how to get started. This is especially true for employees who are deaf. The condition is one that often creates panic for human resources professionals when they asked to ‘book an interpreter’.

This is understandably a challenge for those who haven’t been exposed to people with deafness and other levels of hearing loss. Unlike purchase of a ramp to remove a barrier for wheelchair users, removing barriers to communication access involves a lot more than calling a contractor. This article lays the ground work for providing communication access by describing the communication constructs that exist in the workforce.

The first thing that human resources staff must understand is that the provision of sign language interpretation must be linked to not only to the employee’s job related duties but also the other areas that can have an impact on the individuals career. In addition, conversations that occur on the office or work floor do not have equal weight in terms of the employer’s obligation to accommodate.

Some types of conversations have a greater need for communication access support than others. To assess which types have priority, one must have a basic awareness of the communication levels occur in the workplace, which are formal, facilitative or casual.

Formal Conversations

Formal communication takes place during job interviews, performance reviews, training sessions and all other conversations where it is critical that everyone fully understands each other because miscommunications can have a detrimental impact on the relationship. This makes providing sign language interpreter essential.

Facilitative Conversations

Facilitative communication involves sharing of information that, though important, is not as formal as those cited above. Examples of a facilitative conversation include a project update meeting between a manger and an employee, an assembly line worker asking a co-worker for a hammer and so on. While each party must be able to understand the other, this level of conversation tends to be spontaneous and intended facilitate an activity.

There are times, however, when providing a sign language interpreter is recommended during for conversations at the facilitative level. This includes shop safety talks, business networking events, conference speeches/workshops and so on. An interpreter would ensure that employees with hearing disabilities have an opportunity to be fully engaged in the event.

Casual Conversations

Hearing and deaf employees share a responsibility to make conversations work at the casual level. This is because the goal of such exchanges is to develop or maintain relationships between people. Casual conversions include friendly talk between colleagues, typical lunchroom ‘chit-chat’, water cooler gossip sessions and other random workplace exchanges that are not directly related to the work. Trying to provide a sign language interpreter for every exchange that occurs on this level would not only be a logistical nightmare, it tends to be outside an employer’s duty to accommodate.

Even then, there are times when employers may be obligated to provide a sign language interpreter at events involving conversations at the casual level. For example, company celebrations or holiday parties can be considered work-related events because they have a goal of reaffirming or building team cohesiveness. Without an interpreter being present to provide access in a complex conversational milieu, deaf employees would not enjoy an equal opportunity to network or establish new relationships with new colleagues. They become spectators to the festivities – not participants.

In closing, being able to identify the setting that the conversation will take place makes it easier to predict when communication access is needed and set the accommodation process in motion before it becomes a contentious issue.


Job Interview Tip: Hold the Horses

One pitfall that makes job seekers stumble during the job application process is bringing up salary and benefits while still going through interviews. This usually happens at the point during the interview when recruiters ask “Do you have any questions for us?”. That question entices job seekers, especially those unemployed, to leap at the chance to ask about the salary range that comes with the position.

Bringing up salary during an initial interview is simply not good because it gives an appearance that money, not the work or the company, is what matters to the individual. Moreover, there is nothing to negotiate during the interview stage. The initial interview is usually just the first of several and those hurdles need to be cleared before a job offer is made. Employers seldom make hiring decisions when the candidate is still in front of them. Managers choose who to make a job offer after all candidates are gone and after reviewing notes to determine which candidate presented the best match for the job and company.

Candidates who interview smart avoid shooting their toes off with salary and benefits questions by preparing an interview guide of queries related to the company, department and the team. This approach will leave an impression that the individual is collecting information to make an informed decision about working for the company and increases the chance of reaching the negotiation stage.


The opinions expressed in this article are my own and I do not claim that are consistent or reflect to views or policies of any organization that I’m currently work for or those that I have supported in the past. 

Accommodations and Job Interviews

While I was reading comment posted in the discussion board for deaf and hard of hearing professionals, I came across on where one individual asked the other members “When applying for a new job and scheduling a phone interview. Do you tell the interviewer up front that you are hard of hearing or do you attempt to go through the interview with the call without informing them?”

For me, I’ve always been frank about my being a deafened person and the need for sign language interpreters during interviews. My own experiences are different from the norm as work in the field of diversity and inclusion.

Nevertheless, I understand why other people in the hearing loss community (i.e. deaf, deafened and those with varying levels of hearing loss) may feel very reluctant to request interpreter service, Video Relay, Communication Access Real-time Translation for an interview. After all, jobseekers with disabilities are often advised to avoid mention that they have a differing condition when applying for jobs. This is out of a concern that if the disability is made known, it becomes a screening metric that eliminates them from competition.

This concern is a valid one. There has been tons of research that shows that stereotypes about disabilities can influence recruiters and hiring managers if the condition is known at the application stage. In fact, I once designed and lead a (successful) positive measures program to counteract this bias while employed with a large financial institution.

Although I believe that people with disabilities should not mention their conditions in the application, it’s for a different reason. When applying for a job, the cover letter or resume should only focus on the match between the candidate’s skills to the job requirements. In those documents, any space that is not used towards selling the candidate’s skills only sells the individual short.

The whole world changes when a job candidate is contacted by an employer to do a telephone pre-screen or invited to an invited to job interview. At this point the employer has determined that the applicant has the necessary skills, at least on paper, to do the job. The telephone pre-screen is meant to confirm the documents validity and the initial interview is intended to find out how well the candidate performed in the past. For this reason concealment of a disability or failing to request accommodations can prove to be fatal to the candidacy of someone with hearing loss or deafness.

Consider the communicative nature of job interviews. Candidate must be able to effectively respond to interviewer’s questions. This means that candidates with hearing loss or deafness who try to ‘pass’ when they need some sort of accommodation only places them a severe disadvantage.
Ways that passing can hurt a candidate’s chances include:

      – having to frequently ask interviewers to repeat themselves forces them to do most of the talking instead of listening for examples of the skills being offered to the company. This could come across as being less capable than the other candidates; and

– the question heard might actually be one quite different than what the interview posed, which means that the candidate could lose points for not providing the right example.

Either way, the candidate will have wasted a good part of the limited time available during a 50 minute job interview (or 30 minute telephone pre-screen) on bluffing and/or trying to comprehend rather that showcasing what they can do for the employer.

Worse yet, passing can result in a loss of leverage if there is a bona fide case of discrimination. On a legal level, candidates who need a disability-related accommodations but fail to request they are provided during the interview will have no recourse should they be eliminated from the competition for reasons other than those based on skills and experience. They have given a discriminating company a “get out of jail free” card that the legal system will honour because the employer can claim that they did all that they could do to ensure fairness.

So what are job applicants supposed to do? The answer is simple. Job applicants who have a hearing loss or are deaf should always request the accommodation they need when invited to an interview. In cases involving a telephone pre-screen, ask that the conversation is postponed till the necessary accommodations are provided. This will ensure that the supports are in place for both parties to be fully engaged while assessing the candidate’s potential to join the company.

One must be aware that requesting disability-related accommodations that, sometimes, employers may eliminate candidates who request accommodations. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are still plenty of jerk employers out the community. But having an interview invitation withdrawn after requesting an accommodation gives the candidate evidence that an act of discrimination had occurred, which is the basis of a human right complaint and/or other legal recourses.

Regardless, the risk of encountering a discriminating employer should never make on fear asking for accommodations because having the supports in place is the only way you can give yourself a fair chance at landing a job.



Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in post is my own and do not claim that it reflect that of my current employer.

Playoff Game Rule: Throwing an incomplete pass is not an option

The New England Patriots had the ball at their own yard line with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl Football player reaching to catch a football that just bounced off the ground incomplete.XLVI. The New York Giants were biting nails because mere four point lead is never safe when Tom Brady has the ball in his hands. After all, Brady was no stranger to come from behind victories.

Fortunately for the Giants, it didn’t work out for the Pats. Brady’s final pass was deflected and the ball bounced on the ground but bounced nowhere nearly as high as the hopes of those residing in the City of Boston.

Job interviews are like trying to get throw that winning touchdown during a playoff game. Just like football teams trudge through the regular season collecting wins and overcoming adversity for a chance to make the playoffs, job seekers who have reached this stage have already passed a few hurdles to get where they are. Being invited to a job interview is to make the playoffs and a false step can knock their candidacy from the running and they must take steps to ensure that they do not fumble the ball with the goal line in sight.

They are many ways to create turnovers during a job interview. The most common ones include being late, dressing inappropriately or forgetting to bring a list of references. While these embarrassing missteps don’t reflect well, job candidates have been known to overcome them win the job. However, some mistakes are just as fatal to a job seeker’s candidacy as throwing an interception when time is running out of the game.

Not Doing the Homework

One of the first things that I explored while interviewing job candidates is their knowledge about the company that I represented. Surprisingly, candidates tends tend to know very little about the company that they applied. There is no excuse for not having checked the company website to gain some knowledge about the organization and products. No one as

ks job candidates to memorize the names of the executive management team. However, demonstrating an understanding about what the company does and how it’s structured demonstrates a real interests in joining the team.

Blabbing through the Interview

During the average interview, a job candidate does most of the talking but being too eager does hurt. It can come across as sales pitch rather than a conversation. I once had an interviewee describe how much she loved dogs and her mothers

Doberman breeding business despite that it had nothing to do with the job that she applied. Job candidates can do well to focus on describing how well he or she has preformed the work with a previous employer because the recruiters are not interested in a life story.


Being nervous during an interview is natural because such conversations are inherently provoke anxiety. it’s also natural to lose focus when describing experience because the mind is split between describing and monitoring the interviewer reaction. During interviews, I’ve seen many candidates talk for long periods without actually answering the question that I asked. Job candidates can avoid this by ensuring they understand what the interviewer seeks to learn from the answer, come up with an appropriate example and then delivering it in a concise manner.

Avoiding Accountability

Very few job seekers have perfect records. Recruiters have seen many candidates with spots on their resumes. The way job candidates can overcome this is the take accountability for the situation as honestly, accurately as possible but don’t dwell on it. The worse thing a candidate can do is avoid accountability of the experience. Heck, I was once fired for tearing the roof off an elevator. However, I don’t waste my time explaining that the shop owner didn’t provide elevator operator training. My description of that experience is, instead, usually “I was young and inexperienced at the time”.

Going for the Hail Mary Pass

Asking about start dates, vacation benefits, salary and employment related items will kill a job candidate’s chance faster than it takes to walk out the door. Not only is the interviewer not yet as the stage to start talking about these issues, it comes across as being to either arrogant, eager or needy. One candidate that I referred to a hiring manager had a great interview but fumbled at the door by tossing out his salary request as his hand grabbed the door knob. His application file came back to me with feedback with “solid candidate but too eager”. Job candidates should have a game plan that includes promoting their experience and learning more about the role. They need to stay with this game plan through the entire interview and all the way home no matter how well the session went. The only time to start talking about salary and start dates is when someone says “we would like to offer the position to you”.

Deaf people have more pressing issues.

Image shows a parking stall with a painted wheelchair user indicating that it is reserved for people who have physical disabilities.

Deaf people are being asked to fill out a survey that asks how they feel about being given access to parking spaces that are reserved for people with disabilities.

Although I completed the survey, those who wish to advocate that deaf people are permitted to park in these reserved spaces better think again because I find the whole concept rather preposterous.

The spirit behind reserved parking spots for people with disabilities is to remove a barrier for those who have difficulties with physical mobility. If deaf people (or those with hearing loss) who can drive, park and walk unrestricted using one effectively takes that spot away from someone who needs it.

I can just see it happening. A deaf person cheerfully pulls into a reserved parking spot, hops out and strolls into the store while a vehicle with a wheelchair user inside or a elderly passenger is forced to park a good distance away from the entrance.

Those who campaign for access to these spaces “because we deaf” do the rest of us a disservice because this exceeds the boundaries of reasonable accommodation. Advocating reserved parking privileges emits an egocentric odor that can leave a foul stench on all deaf persons.

We have bigger fish to fry than this. We need to increase the number/use of sign language interpreters/Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), We need equal access to job opportunities. We have to fight for enhancements to television and movie captioning. So let’s focus on those very important areas rather on something that will recreate a barrier for people who have fought to have it removed in the first place.