Applying for a job can be a nerve-wracking experience. You’re ready to work and show off your talents. Employers are seeking candidates with the right combination of skills to bring to their teams. How can you ensure that you make the connection that will help you get the job? What does it take to prepare for the 21st-century workplace – especially if you’re blind or visually impaired?
The experts at Career Launch have some advice for building a strong foundation – of skills and confidence – that will help you get there.
1. Discover what you enjoy, and what you’re good at
We all do better when our work is interesting to us, and when it plays to our strengths. Now’s the time to do some reflection and research to see how your interests and strengths translate to career opportunities. Use this knowledge in your job search. You may not be able to get to that dream job quite yet, but you can start on a pathway that could bring you there.
2. Practice your self-advocacy skills
Throughout your working life, there will be times when you have to advocate for yourself. In some cases, this may have to do with your visual impairment – for example, you may have to advocate for better access technology in order to perform the functions of your job. In other cases, it may be for the same things your peers are after, such as a promotion or a transfer.
3. Hone your communication skills
Written and verbal communications are among the key skills employers look for. Practice now: when writing emails, keep them crisp and logical. In your verbal communications, be clear, concise, sincere and friendly. Developing these habits now will help you during internships, volunteer opportunities and in your job search.
4. Use critical thinking and problem-solving skills whenever you can
Life presents challenges big and small, all the time. Try to anticipate problems in advance. Practice relying on your own research and analysis skills to push through problems, rather than relying on others to solve them for you. And when the opportunity presents itself, try solving problems for your friends and family. It’s a great mindset to adopt.
5. Develop your office technology skills
Strong tech skills are essential for most of today’s jobs. Employers assume that people entering the workforce are already competent in common office productivity programs, including everything from email, calendar, word processing and spreadsheet applications to internet search, Google voice, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other collaboration apps. Many jobs also require employees to learn specialized programs such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems or human resources information systems (HRIS).
Good technical skills can get you hired and help you get the basics of the job done. Having great skills will make you efficient and effective – and ready to troubleshoot and learn the new software programs you’ll encounter in the workplace.
6. Become proficient in your access technology
If you will be using a screen reader, screen magnification, braille display, or other access tech when working on the computer, become as proficient as you can with it now. That way, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on the work itself once you’re on the job. Employers have expectations for productivity – so the less time you have to spend on navigating and accessing documents, the more likely you’ll be to meet those expectations.
7. Get your typing speed and accuracy up to at least 40 words per minute
It varies by job, but most employers will expect you to be able to type 40 or more words per minute. The higher your typing speed, the more jobs you will be able to qualify for. Basically the faster and more accurately you type, the more productive you will be. And you’ll spend more of your time on the fun and valuable parts of the job: problem solving and projects.
8. Get comfortable with apps that will help you master your world
There are so many apps out there to empower and make life easier for people – of all abilities. Ride-sharing apps serve the general public, but can be especially helpful when you’re blind or visually impaired. Others, such as visual interpreting apps and object identifier apps – including Aira, JAWS Convenient OCR and Voice Dream Scanner – are specifically designed to make day-to-day tasks more efficient for people with visual impairments. Take advantage of them!
Even if your goal is to work from home, learning how to use these kinds of apps will increase your independence and improve how you navigate your environment. Check out options for orientation and mobility, OCR, PDF scanning and accessible reading. As the saying goes, “There’s an app for that!”
9. Create a process for staying organized and managing your time and tasks
When you have a job, you’ll be responsible for independently managing your time and your tasks. Develop a process now for keeping a running to-do list, and practice using it to prioritize your tasks. Make it a habit to use your calendar for meetings and appointments – and make sure you’re always on time! Check your email at least twice a day, and respond to all professional emails within 24 hours – even if it’s just to acknowledge receipt and let the person know when you anticipate being able to respond fully.
10. Start building your professional network
People build networks by developing authentic relationships with others, staying connected, and helping each other professionally. Make it your practice to connect on LinkedIn with people you meet – and then stay in touch. Over time, these connections can foster your career development: you’ll stay on top of job opportunities, get introductions, and receive mentoring and advice. And, ideally, you’ll be doing the same for your connections.
Aside from LinkedIn, peer networks on Facebook are another great place to make connections. Career Launchpad, a Facebook group moderated by the Career Launch team, is a safe space where people with visual impairments who are navigating the workplace can share their experiences. Come share your challenges, tips and success stories!
11. Remember to say thank you!
This advice is simple, tried and true: say thank you. It’s always important to send personalized notes or messages to express gratitude to someone for taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. Whether you connected with someone at a networking event, interview or somewhere you were invited to present, following up with a “thank you” goes a long way.
With these 11 tips, you’re on your way to being well-prepared for the workplace. When you’re ready to launch, check out Career Launch, our one-of-a-kind training and career services program, that was designed with one goal: help blind and visually impaired people, ages 18 to 35, land professional, career-track jobs.