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Top Takeaways From Our Webinar - Navigating an Online Coronavirus Landscape: College & Your Professional Next Steps

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired

Compiled by: Katie Ottaggio, CSP Engagement Operations Manager

Each month the College Success Program hosts a webinar on a topic of interest to high school and college students who are blind or who have low vision, their parents, and the professionals who work with them. This fall we are taking on the ways in which COVID-19 has altered the landscape for students in all facets of life: academic, personal, and professional. On November 18, 2020, the CSP rounded out this three-part series with a webinar on how COVID-19 has changed the professional landscape for college students and new graduates seeking internships or employment. CSP Mentor, Caitlin Mongillo, interviewed Breandan Ward, Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU Wagner and Certified Leadership Coach, Khadija Bari, Student Career Coordinator at VISIONS/Services for the Blind & Visually Impaired, and Samantha Stephens, President & Director of First Job Austin.

In case you missed it, here are the top takeaways from this informative webinar. You can also view this webinar in its entirety by clicking here.

To read the top takeaways from the 1st webinar in this series - Navigating an Online Coronavirus Landscape: College Academics - click here. You can view the recording of this webinar here.

To read the top takeaways from the 2nd webinar in this series - Navigating an Online Coronavirus Landscape: College Social Life - click here. You can view the recording of this webinar here.

Opportunities aren't limited in your home office.
COVID-19 changed the plans of many, particularly college students preparing for summer work and internships. As companies began moving to virtual landscapes, students had to become creative and adaptable as internships and jobs were made remote, delayed or cancelled all together.

The first factor in the internship landscape to change was the shift to working from home. There are some positives to this, including no longer having to travel to a workplace or being geographically limited, so opportunities across the country are now viable options.

Here are some websites where you can find internship and volunteering opportunities:

Start creating positive habits and stick to them.
As tempting as it is to sleep in, stay in your pajamas and binge watch your favorite show for days at a time, you aren't doing yourself any favors in a professional sense. Some day you may need to go into a physical office setting, so it's good to get into habits now that will prepare you for that, and will also make you feel more productive and motivated in the meantime.

Set your alarm, get up, shower, brush your teeth and get dressed. The simple act of wearing normal clothes will help you feel more business-like and ready to tackle your job hunt or internship responsibilities.

Set reasonable guidelines for yourself when job hunting.
Looking for a job can be daunting, overwhelming and sometimes heartbreaking. Consider setting guidelines for yourself to follow each day of your job search. An example can be to set a timeframe each day, say 3 hours, Monday through Friday, and aim to submit 3 applications each day. Then, even if you haven't made your goal but you know you've worked hard during those three hours, let yourself go. Don't pressure yourself to submit as many applications as possible or job hunt during all the waking hours of the day. Incorporate fun or rejuvenating things to do into each day so you have something to look forward to.

"LinkedIn is your brand."
Consider LinkedIn to be your brand, a representation of who you are. So, you want it to be good, right? Make sure it's up to date and accurate.

Network until you can't network no more!
Use LinkedIn to connect with everyone you know. Maybe your high school music teacher's neighbor's car mechanic's brother-in-law is looking for an intern. The point is, you never know where an opportunity will come from until you connect with that teacher, neighbor, car mechanic, or brother-in-law on LinkedIn. People want to help, so make sure you reach out and ask for it.

Consider making a spreadsheet of everyone you've ever know - family, friends, roommates, neighbors, former camp counselors, your hairdresser, former scout master, your 5th grade teacher, the neighborhood barista, etc. Track them down via LinkedIn, not where they're working, and connect with them. Send them a quick note with your elevator pitch: say hi, let them know your year in college or that you're graduating and are prepping for your job search/looking for an internship/job, and politely request they keep you in mind if they hear of anything.

Also, begin following companies and organizations you are interested in working with. You can also follow alumni groups, trade associations, industry associations, etc., and look for connections you may have there. Research a company's diversity and inclusion initiatives to see how you can help in this area.

For non-profits or smaller companies, don't be afraid to call and connect with the department or person listed in the job posting. You can also tap into your vocational rehabilitation counselor to see if they have opportunities you can look into.

"You've reached the voicemail box of..."
Though it may seem like a small thing, make sure your voicemail is updated and professional. Even in an increasingly virtual world, people still make phone calls. If you aren't able to answer the phone, make sure your voicemail doesn't turn them off. Be sure to include your name and sound professional.

Balance your job hunt with self-care.
Mental health and self-care are more important than ever. You need to find a way to balance taking care of yourself physically and emotionally both with your job search and, once you're hired, your job responsibilities. As you build your weekly routine, incorporate recreation such as weekly Zoom get-togethers with friends or virtual fitness classes. Putting it on your calendar will greatly increase your chances of following through, and you'll be so glad you did.

While many things have changed due to COVID-19, much remains the same.
So much of our lives have changed in the past year, so it's easy to lose sight of what remains the same. When it comes to applying for jobs, you still need to be razor sharp not only about your experience and knowledge, but also the values that matter to you. Even with a raging pandemic, your values shouldn't have changed much. These are the rocks you can hang on to during this difficult time - who are you, and what do you care most about?

You want your interviewer to remember you positively, so, considering your values, think about the one to three words or phrases that summarize you. Maybe you have a great attention to detail or go the extra mile. Make sure these phrases appear in your application and interview, and after you are hired, make sure you stick to them during your daily work.

You may not be on campus, but Career Services is.
It can be easy to forget what is available when you aren't physically on campus, but your college's Career Services is still there and ready to help you. They can connect you with opportunities to explore as well as provide information on career fairs that may have moved online.

Additionally, there are many external resources you can turn to for help and support during the job-seeking process. Besides LinkedIn or Indeed, there are lots of other job sites that can help you find a position. Do some research. There are often Facebook groups for specific industries where jobs will be posted or networking can happen. There are still kind people in this world who want to help others get jobs, review resumes, direct you to online job fairs, and network. Google "free job networking groups" and find people that are willing to help.

Interview preparation is still the same.
In the past, virtual interviews weren't really something we worried about. Now, they're almost our only option. One thing that hasn't changed is the way you should prepare for your interview. Research the company and their values. Dress professionally. Prepare for unique questions such as "Describe yourself in a few words." Download the online meeting platform and test it out, preferably more than a couple minutes before the start. Be mindful of your surroundings including your background and noises. You may want to tap a family member or friend to help you get set up prior to the interview, and make sure they don't run the vacuum when you're on your call!

For students who are blind or have low vision, spend some time with your device's camera angle. Using a laptop or a smartphone on a stand will help ensure your camera doesn't shake or move around. If you're using a smartphone and don't have a stand, make sure you have something steady to lean your phone against. Practice with a family member or friend to ensure you're in frame.

When you're applying for jobs or interviewing, research your audience. Do your homework on the organization and if possible, the person you'll be speaking with. Each company is different and you need to do your best to find out some information about that specific company. Maybe diversity or global reach really matter to them, so include something on how that relates to you in your application and interview. This can create a sense of resonance that your values fit with theirs.

Get to know your audience by talking to people who work there, searching online for news and information, so you can build a picture of who they are, what they stand for and what makes them tick. Do your homework so you can press the right buttons when it comes to writing applications and having a good interview.

To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question.
Well, really, the question is more about when to disclose your blindness or low vision. For everyone this is a personal choice. You can include it on your resume or cover letter, share during a phone screening, or discuss it in your virtual interview. The choice is yours. Generally, it's a good rule of thumb to disclose your visual impairment when it relates to the position you're applying for.

When you do decide to disclose, it's not about just letting them know that "by the way, I'm blind." It's also about identifying the tools and accommodations you use to do the job, so you'll need to be aware of what those are or could be. Do you use JAWS? A magnifier? Certain lighting? You need to be aware of all of these so you can advocate for yourself. It's possible you may be the first person who is blind or low vision to work for them, so take that as an opportunity. Not only are you there to do a job for your employer, but your employer is also there to help you.

While this may not happen for a long time, you may want to consider disclosing before you arrive at the physical office for an interview, particularly if you'll need accommodations within the building, guidance to the door, etc.

Your disclosure is also an opportunity to outline your qualifications. What makes you a good fit for the job? Maybe you're interviewing with a company that serves people with disabilities. Well, you have lived experience in that and can relate. You can mention your disability and how it's an advantage to the position.

If you're uncomfortable disclosing directly or if the job you're applying for does not have to do with disabilities, you can do so indirectly by including your leadership experience, participation in extracurriculars, memberships in associations, awards received, etc. in the organizations for the blind that you're a part of. You aren't specifically saying you're blind or have low vision, but are showing an affiliations that leads the hiring manager to connect the dots.

You've got the job, now how do you stand out in a virtual world?
Just because you got a job doesn't necessarily mean you should sit back and relax. Whether you're in an office or not, you'll need to adapt to your new working environment and how you'll be interacting with colleagues. Read the news and stay up to date with what's going on in the world. Review trade magazines and follow industry blogs and social channels. Keep up with research, attend virtual conferences and webinars. Not only does this allow you to actively participate in conversations but it shows your supervisors that you're really invested in your role.

Be the person who comes in early and isn't the first to leave. Be known for being coachable, open, and ready to take on the next task. When volunteers are asked for, volunteer. These are little things that can make a big impact, get you noticed, and make your name top of mind for promotions and recommendations.

Feedback is your friend.
Some people are afraid to ask for feedback in case they hear something they don't like. But you should look at feedback as an opportunity to better yourself. Ask your boss or colleagues for feedback on things you could do better or differently. Be open and curious about what they have to say and really evaluate what you want to do with that information.

A positive that comes from the pandemic...
Consider disclosure for a moment and the fact that those who are blind or have low vision have had to go through this additional process for an interview that our sighted peers have not. We have to be better prepared. In a COVID world, almost everyone has been forced to work from home. A lot of change is expected and that's difficult for some people.

People with disabilities have to adapt every day of their lives. Whether our disability arose during our youth or adulthood, we have had to adapt to an external world that is not as we need it to be. That's a strength. Even though there are clear challenges that COVID has brought to all of us, there are a lot of adaptable practices we've had during our lives that have given us skills that put us in front of the so called "mainstream". The little adjustments and adapting and learning new things can sometimes be exhilarating and sometimes frustrating, but you're experience in this has trained a muscle you can now tap into. You have a strength that many others don't have, which is a positive you can include in your applications and interviews.