One of the scariest experiences in life is finding a job after college. Sometimes it feels like the more you apply, the more you get rejected. This is even harder when you are part of an underrepresented group. The job market is very tough and even though you may have the educational experience, you can still be stuck with a low paying job.
My job search experience was one of the main reasons why I decided to get into a career in Human Resources, specifically, Diversity and Inclusion. I struggled when I was applying for jobs. It was already hard being a woman of color, but I have a learning disability and society also sees me as presenting with a physical disability. I noticed that if I applied for a job and decided to “Check the Box” identifying that I have a disability, I never got a job interview. But if I applied for a job and did not “Check the Box” I would get the interview. Other times, I would apply for a job, have a great phone interview, and then go into the office and read on the hiring manager’s face a look of disappointment. That was a heartbreaking experience.
I remember one time during an interview, a hiring manager asked me If I had “gotten into a car accident recently”. I had to explain to her my learning disability, and her response was “does that mean you can’t read?” Because of comments like this I used to stop myself from marking the “Check the box” part of job applications. I was able to hide my learning disability, but I couldn’t hide being a black woman or how others perceived me.
As I grew in my career, I learned to be more open about my learning disability. I learned to accept and embrace my life as a “Triple Threat.” The bad experiences in my life drive me each day in my work. I’ve learned that there aren’t many people like myself who are “Triple Threats” in many organizations; and if they are in the workforce, they are often not in positions to help make changes to support and lift up others with learning disabilities. I am passionate about Diversity and Inclusion within the workforce, because I want to be a voice for others like myself and ensure everyone has a fair chance. I make no apologies for who I am anymore. I have learned not to see my disabilities as disabilities, but as differences. While I do not have it all figured out, I am still learning, and want to share some tips to anyone who may be a Triple Threat like me self. “Triple Threat: Black (Woman), Educated, and Different
1: Be Yourself
Whenever you are applying for a job, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Confidence is key. I struggled in my job search because my confidence was destroyed by my experiences with bad human resource recruiters and hiring managers. They made me feel self-conscious about myself and I was afraid of what they thought about me. Someone eventually gave me advice in my career search that helped me: “if they are not willing to accept who you are, maybe that’s not the company you want to work for.” I realized, why would I want to work for a company that doesn’t accept me for who I am? If you are uncomfortable about disclosing, that’s okay. Disclose what you feel comfortable disclosing—when you feel comfortable—and be confident in your choice. This may be easier said than done, especially since economic circumstances often don’t give many of us the opportunity to pick and choose where we work.
2: Be the Game Changer
Educate your co-workers. Lack of knowledge is what drives stigma around disabilities. People are not aware of [what you need/what you experience] it mainly because it does not affect them. Go to your Human Resource Department and ask about their Employee Resource Group/Affinity Group. If there is not one, that is an opportunity for you to create one. Sometimes it takes that one person to step up and make a difference.
3: Apply Pressure
Self-Advocacy is key. Make sure to request and review your employee handbook. Know your rights as an employee. Look at your benefits, and if there are services within your handbook that you need, do not be afraid to ask. Also, if there are services and benefits that you think your company should provide, propose those services be offered. Write a proposal and speak to your head of Human Resources and benefits department. Show them what other companies offer that they could be offering, and be sure to let them know how these benefits would benefit employees as well as the business.
These words of advice aren’t comprehensive, but they come from my own experience as a triple threat trying to make her way in a fulfilling career. While I don’t have it all figured out, I’ve learned that I am most happy in a job when I am able to be myself.
Alyssia Jackson is a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. A version of this blog was published on the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Blog.
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