October 2008

Next week AHEAD has its 20th Annual Conference. It is our 20th Anniversary. Yep, we’ve been around 20 years now. With luck we’ll see another 20, though I’d hope by then we would be dealing with different issues, and will have seen as much change as has happened in the last 20!

AHEAD or its projects usually have at least one conference a year, and this year, our big one is focusing on teaching and learning. It is of course also a celebration of our 20 years, but that’ll be the night before. On Wednesday the 29th, we’ll be getting down to business and discussing what we do well, and what we could do better to ensure that students with disabilities get the full college experience.

Quoting from our brochure (accessible version here) for the conference “In order to ensure that a student with a disability has the same quality of learning experience in third level, a ‘whole college’ approach is required; the lecture hall, the library, the discussion group and in particular the academic and administrative staff. This conference will explore how good quality teaching and learning practices together with the innovative use of technology not only reduces the barriers for students with disabilities but are good for all students.  The keynote speaker is Professor Tom Collins, NUI Maynooth and other speakers include Dr. Chris Singleton, Hull University  and Dr. Jen Harvey, DIT.”

It should be an interesting day. Personally, what I’m looking forward to most is hearing what the Minister for Education has to say, and the panel discussion, chaired by Karen Coleman – she always get interesting perspectives from people.

If you’re interested in attending – you can download our forms & brochure here or just email ahead AT ahead.ie

To be honest, its been a bit chaotic round here, I’m in and out of the office continuously (see all the posts about careers fairs) So the blog isn’t getting the attention I want to give it. This will change – I promise. A quick run down of the next few weeks.

  • Next week is the big AHEAD conference (that’ll get a post or two of its own)
  • The following week, I’m at a conference abroad as part of another project. I’m really looking forward to it, because its all about Disability Legislation and Higher Education – and I’m interested to hear what other similar organisations to ourselves have. Ideas, inspiration, discussion, enthusiasm – it’ll be great!
  • We’re also moving offices, and carrying out some small techy improvements that week. (Update: new contact details etc will be up then, phone & email won’t change)
  • Ongoing in the midst of all of this is the budget drama that has everyone watching money disappear into lots of different places. What this means for disabled people, education, grant schemes etc, really isn’t clear. If I figure it out – I’ll get something up on it. Anyone else get it?
  • I’m also trying to carry out a review of the careers fairs – how to make them more disability friendly. That’ll be a long term work in progress but any thoughts welcome.

Did I mention chaos? (very orderly obviously and I’ll try line up posts so you don’t have to suffer any of it)

Following on in the same line as previous posts on careers fairs – I’ve talked about how to make the most of them, but what if they’re not an environment that suits you? I know that for some people Careers Fairs aren’t ideal – me I could never hear a word someone said – but there’s nearly always some use in going. All the tips still apply – you are there to get information and there is plenty to be had, verbally or on paper. Plan your day and make the most of it.

I’m at the GradIreland fair tomorrow and one thing I’ll certainly be trying to do is come up with constructive advice/ opinions I can pass on to the organisers of ways to make them more friendly to people with disabilities. I’ll write them up and I’d welcome comments.

If you’re there tomorrow by the way, please drop over and say hello!

It’s very easy to go to a careers fair, pick up a lot of paper, some nice pens (anyone heard the RaboDirect ad “oh I do like a nice pen”? – love that ad 🙂 ) But how does that help you in your job search?  Careers Fairs can be really useful events – for you and the employer.

So here’s some tips on how to make the best of your time if you are attending as a jobseeker: (GradIreland also have a very good article on this here)

A careers fair is an excellent opportunity to do a lot of the background research, to make an impression on someone who matters, to figure out whether this is really a company for you. You can find out what vacancies there are, how to apply, even discuss the application procedure in detail (maybe pick up some key buzz words for that company). You can find out names of HR people, which means you can address your letters, or phone up and look for the right person. You can find out what the company is currently working on – major projects/ developments, which will make your application or interview sound more knowledgeable. You can find out what they’d offer you in terms of training, support etc. Just don’t ask ” what have you got for me?” – maybe ask, if I was working for you, what training would I get, what would you expect from me?

If you’re serious about using a careers fair to make contact with companies in your area, or to do research about the opportunities available to you, be prepared to make a good impression. Many companies do send their HR people & managers to run the stands, do be aware that they can be the one you’ll meet if you go to interview. Dress smart. Take notes. Have some key questions ready. Use the time wisely.

Some of the tips I’ve gotten from employers include

  • Don’t go up to the company asking what they do in a general sense – most fairs have a book given out at the entrance that describes the basics about the exhibitors.  In fact, a lot of fairs will list exhibitors beforehand on their websites, you can use this to prioritise some companies and prepare for talking to them.
  • Do be aware that you may not get as much time as you would like with an employer. There may be many students there waiting for you to finish, or you may have to wait to talk to the employer you want.
  • Do be careful about what you say or more importantly how you say it, i.e, Don’t make it about you – no “what can you do for me”
  • Do treat it seriously. If an employer thinks you’re only there for the free stuff, they’re not going to take you seriously.
  • Don’t give out your CV all the time – a targetted CV, tailored for that company is always better. Ask where you can send it instead (noting the details) and use the time to talk to the employer so that what you send in is better. Also, some company’s will not accept CVs on the day.

So there’s some things to think about and into careers month we go!

(edited to take in some extra feedback)