Marketing Clients With Disabilities To Employers
By Brent Warman.
I work as an employment services coach at a not-for-profit agency in Calgary, Alberta, supporting developmentally disabled clients with their employment needs.
I’m often asked what it takes to be successful in finding work for my clients. My answer to that question is that it involves the ability to “think outside the box.” Many of the strategies and tactics I’ve developed are not part of any formal job description, but they’ve led to many successes – for me, for my agency, and especially for my clients.
Cultivate a Positive Attitude
Maintaining a consistently positive attitude is vital to success. I approach each client case believing that the individual is employable and knowing that I can facilitate meaningful opportunities through making the right contacts and connections with employers. It is about being proactive and putting forth the effort to take charge, rather than being reactive or passive.
I find that when marketing my clients, it helps to approach employers from the perspective of the “glass is half-full” rather than the “glass is half-empty.” It takes work to evolve a mindset from the conviction that something cannot be done because it looks overwhelming to the belief that there may, in fact, be possibilities.
Know the Client
It is important to support and prepare the client as much as possible so that he or she is able to clearly express the positive value that a potential employer will receive. I take the time to thoroughly learn about my clients before marketing them to employers. I find out about their skills, interests, natural talents and abilities, values, and preferences (both environmental and geographical).
I’ve cultivated different sources in order to learn about my clients, too. It helps if I’ve worked with them previously, but if not, then I may confer with colleagues who’ve worked with the client, or with staff at agencies who’ve provided housing and life-skills support. Talking with these folks is very useful if the client has verbal and/or written communication challenges.
I use brainstorming as a technique to come up with possible options as to where the client might work based on the skill set he or she has. I also use career clusters from various reputable online sources to generate ideas, and then narrow down the options to two career areas.
Create Service Plans & Résumés
A client service plan provides focus about the goals of the client. Successful work placements happen when clients fully buy-in because they recognize that their goals align with what’s being offered via the right work opportunity.
An essential document for marketing clients to employers is the résumé. The targeted résumé promotes a client’s skills, talents, and experiences while focusing on addressing the needs of the position, employer, and industry.
I like to research possible employment scenarios using online job boards and search engines such as Indeed, along with employer-specific job boards. Google searches can also reveal possible employers, even if the company does not have current job postings.
I read the labour market reports published online by federal, provincial, and municipal governments. The information in these reports is helpful to understand where industry demands are. The business news sections of various media sources can provide information about specific organizations, and reveal business trends that may offer potential for my clients in the long-term.
It is important that when I’m out in the community marketing clients that I am professional in my appearance and conduct, and in my verbal, written, and non-verbal communications. I am the face and representative of my agency and the clients I support. I focus on establishing credibility with employers so that I earn their trust and confidence.
I believe that being authentic and true to myself allows me to do my best work with clients and employers. I feel empowered to utilize all my strengths and creativity and am fortunate to have been given the flexibility to “think outside the box.” I’ve learned that, by being my true self, employers sense my enthusiasm and sincerity regarding the clients I market.
Refine the Skill of Making Contact
In order to market clients to employers. I take the time to develop an effective, targeted contact strategy to connect with employers who present the best opportunities for my clients. I use whatever means necessary – emails, phone calls, in-person visits, social media platforms – to make these connections. The end goal is to meet in person with hiring decision-makers.
I observe that many of the successes I have in securing employment for my clients happens through the hidden job market. I seek out people in organizations to learn information that would benefit my clients in terms of where they could add value and meet the needs of potential employers. I never underestimate the value and importance that the employees I contact may have in terms of their ability to influence placements. I look at relationship building as a long-term investment, where there can be mutual benefit through creating a win-win situation.
Be Present (Listening & Intuition)
One of the keys to success in my role is the ability to listen. I practice two-way conversation, rather than simply asserting my thoughts. By listening carefully, I’m able to uncover the needs of the employer. As a bonus, hidden opportunities often present themselves through the conversation.
I also listen closely to the needs of my clients. This is vital in order to make a successful placement. Some of the clients I work with do not have strong verbal skills, so I look for other cues by observing behaviors and body language.
It also helps my work when I pay attention to my intuition – my gut feeling. I like to see the work environment up close to get a vibe for what the client might experience. Most of the clients I support need an environment that is stable, organized, supportive, and inclusive.
It takes practice to be able to put oneself out there when contacting employers and persuading them to offer work to my clients. I motivate myself by visualizing the client showing up for the first day of work. He or she is beyond happy and has a big smile of gratitude. That scenario can only happen when I take action, and sometimes that means being assertive (while always remaining professional, of course.)
It definitely takes perseverance to be successful when marketing clients to employers. Getting someone on the path to employment is about being able to carry through to the end despite twists, turns, and detours along the way. I have had the experience of communicating with employers for several months or even for more than a year in order to keep the doors of possible placement open.
Arrange “Observation” Field Trips
I enjoy taking my clients on field trips to have them observe various working environments and the people working in them. It is interesting – and helpful to the process – to ask questions of the clients to get their reactions to the work they’re observing.
Set Up Job Shadows and Work Experiences
Arranging for job shadows, where the client can be immersed in a real work environment, is worth the effort. Job shadows allow the client to sample, through hands-on experience, what it would be like to actually work in the job, and whether or not it is something they’d like to pursue.
There is some controversy surrounding the phrase “work experience.” It may invoke the idea of doing work for no pay, but I support work experiences when they provide value by offering opportunities to enhance learning and skills-development. Ideally, at the end of the work term, the client will be hired by the employer. Even if it doesn’t work out that way, the client still benefits by being able to add the recently acquired skills and experiences to their portfolio.
I’ve learned that it can’t be all-work-and-no-play when my clients accompany me into the community as we search for work opportunities. Mixing business with pleasure creates variety in the day. I have worked with clients who like to visit parks, libraries, shopping centres, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. as a reward for their job search efforts. Utilizing the adventure approach creates opportunities for the client to develop stories, and for me, the bonding that occurs definitely makes the job search more interesting.
There are times when situations do not work out according to plan. Flexibility and resourcefulness are key to success in cases where plans must change in order to meet the needs of the client and the employer. Unpredictability is inherent to my role and I’m often forced to implement “Plan B” and even “Plan C “ in order to create a successful placement.
Rejection happens and shouldn’t be taken personally. There are often factors beyond our control. I take the lessons from rejection and learn from them to improve on the next opportunity to market a client.
Following a job placement, one of the ways to strengthen the relationship with an employer is to follow-up and to keep promises that were made during initial meetings. Following-up can make the difference in whether or not an employer chooses to take on future placements from the agency.
Rely on Your Team
A large part of the success in marketing clients to employers comes through being a part of a team of dedicated, like-minded people. My team is always there for advice, support, and information. I wouldn’t enjoy the success I do if it weren’t for my extended team.
When, as career development professionals, we practice thinking outside the box, more of our clients will be able to realize their employment dreams and desires. By taking our out-of-the-box ideas and putting them into action, we’re helping to create an inclusive world where everyone, regardless of their challenges, has the opportunity to contribute and feel valued.
Brent Warman is a proud member of Career Professionals of Canada. He has extensive experience providing career coaching and employment services in the not-for-profit sector, at a post-secondary institution, and in private practice, serving clients from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life. Brent is a Certified Career Strategist (CCS) and a Certified Résumé Strategist (CRS).