My Dream Job: On the Importance of Networking
Hello, I’m Alec Frazier. I’m autistic and have been a self-advocate and an advocate since I can remember, although definitely professionally since I gave my first speech in third grade in 1994. I am currently the Director of Autistic Reality, my own advocacy and consultancy firm. In this blog, I will discuss disability employment and the importance of networking.
Individuals with autism are often passed over for employment. In some cases, it is because we are not as socially adept as others. In other cases, it is because we may have unusual quirks which employers can find less desirable. As such, we can be completely capable of carrying out a job, but get turned down time and time again. Eighteen is seen as the age of majority, but I did not get my first paying job until at least 10 years later, and it was for an agency run by the disability community.
More frequently, my applications were turned down, or even ignored. For six years, while I was in university, I lived in a Rust Belt town and, at one point, submitted at least 150 applications in a row and received not one response. Over the years, I built up a very solid list of volunteer activities and other work. Some of my work, such as volunteer work for an independent living network, was actually more intense than some of the paid staff, and this was acknowledged by my superiors. However, they lacked the ability to pay me.
Finally, having obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in disability studies, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area to pursue a career and advocacy.
I was not disappointed. Three days after moving to our nation’s capital, in late 2016, I was invited to the White House for a business conference on disability in the media called Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0. At this conference, I met Jd Michaels, the Executive Vice President of BBDO Worldwide, an international advertising firm. Although I continued pursuing employment in other venues, Jd and I continued communicating regularly, sometimes emailing, sometimes talking by phone, and sometimes Skyping.
After a few months, Jd approached me with a job offer: he hired me as an editor for an anthology of writings by authors with disabilities. In addition, I told him that I had a number of writings that I wished to get published, and he agreed to help me with that at no cost to myself, and in such a way that I could receive all of the profits. These essays are varied in character, from pop-culture reviews to academic papers. In fact, this blog will go in my book, which is titled Veni! Vedi! Autism! It will be out in about a month.
Jd has been an amazing employer. He has provided me with all of the tools I need to succeed. I have writing disabilities, so he has provided me with Dragon NaturallySpeaking software so I can dictate my papers and even blog entries like this one. He has even provided me with camera batteries so that I may better publicize my experiences, hotels, meals, and travel so that I may attend conferences and even photo shoots to publicize our work.
I finally found a job that provides me with stability and everything I need to succeed. Want to know how many times I applied? The answer is zero. Networking got me this position. It is my firm opinion that at least 50 percent of gaining employment is networking.
Below are some of my best networking tips:
- Do you know of a conference for people in your industry? Go! It might help to set aside a small budget to pay attendance fees, although a number of them are free.
- Does someone you know someone in “the business”? Inquire about them and try to get that person’s business card.
- Follow up regularly on business contacts and potential business contacts.
- Consider getting your own business card. There are services that can provide you with a number of free formats to choose from, and you will only have to pay printing and shipping. There are also more expensive cards, which are more customizable.
- Are you good at social networking? Consider creating a page for your business. Make sure it is a page, however, and not a group.
- Find out more about LinkedIn and join it, and regularly update your profile! It can be helpful with almost all of the ancillary parts of seeking a job, including resume building, networking, and staying apprised of current situations in your industry.
- Is there somebody you want to get to know? Someone you want to be aware of your work? Schedule a lunch date with them! People often have lunch hours free from work and would be glad to get to know you during that time.
- Is there an agency that governs your industry? Follow it!
- Do you have viewpoints that you wish to share with the public? Start a blog! Platforms like Blogger are more professional and less redundant.
- Is there an association of people in your business? Join!
- Think you’re ready for the next step? Start a website! Make sure to trademark a catchy, unforgettable URL!
There may be fees associated with conferences and memberships, but the benefit is by far above the loss of any money you may spend. Just remember to choose wisely.
Similarly, beware of scams. There are actually scams that promise to publicize your business and, before you know it, you will be out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Overall, go with sources, companies, and entities you know and trust. Never be afraid to ask others for their opinions or advice.
These are just some out of many tips about networking. Instead of focusing exclusively on resumes and applications, it is important that we train job seekers with disabilities to engage in proper networking. That will allow everyone to truly shine and maximize their potential.