Networking is a great way to boost your visibility during a job search or to expand your professional circle. While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed some aspects of networking, best practices and networking jitters still apply. Check out our guide to networking, tailored for individuals with disabilities.
Whether you’re in the market for a new job or are looking to make connections in your professional field, networking is a great way to put yourself out there and be seen by potential hiring managers (or future colleagues).
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the more traditional large-scale, in-person events, but the current state of smaller in-person events and virtual meet-ups still have similar best practices.
Networking can be nerve-wracking, but for some people with disabilities, there’s another layer of uncertainty that can lead to added stress. If you have a networking event coming up, fear not. Here are some networking tips to boost your confidence.
Research the Venue Beforehand
Networking involves getting out of your comfort zone. If you factor in not knowing the set-up or accessibility of the venue, those nerves can act up even more. Depending on your disability and accessibility measures you can reasonably take, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re comfortable with the venue beforehand and come prepared.
Alternatively, you may want to choose to attend events at venues that have better conditions for accommodating your disability. For example, quieter venues are more ideal for hard of hearing individuals, and less busy venues may be easier to navigate for those with autism spectrum or anxiety disorders.
If the networking event is virtual, there are ways you can prepare at home. In general, ensuring you have a well-lit, quiet space and a reliable Wi-Fi connection are good places to start.
You can also ask what the format of the event will be beforehand to know if it’s the right fit for you. For example, it might be more challenging for individuals using a voice to text tool to effectively participate if the event includes a large virtual room with many different voices in freeform conversation, as this might be more difficult for the technology to parse. However, if the networking event is done in smaller breakout groups or a more structured Q&A session, it would likely be easier to participate.
Initiate the Conversation
One major way we learn about others and how to interact with them is through the media. Unfortunately, representation of people with disabilities in the media has been limited at best and offensive at worst.
In GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV 2020-2021 report, it was found that out of the 773 series regulars on broadcast scripted series this season, only 3.5 percent have a disability. And according to the Ruderman Family Foundation, only “22% of all characters with disabilities were portrayed authentically by an actor with the same disability.”
If you have a visible disability, there’s a good chance your peers would like to chat with you, but are unsure how to appropriately interact.
You can help dispel any misconceptions about your disability by initiating conversations with your peers. It will give you a chance to showcase your confidence and skills beyond your disability. This helps ensure the conversation can remain on what’s important: your proficiencies and experience.
If Comfortable, Directly Address Your Disability
Similar to the above point, some people might be interested in chatting with you, but may be a bit insecure about their own behavior. In some cases, directly addressing your disability can help ease both yourself and your peers. "I've found that being candid about my disability and how it has developed me as a person can be a real ice-breaker," Neil McClanahan said in an article from The Guardian.
Of course, it’s entirely your decision, and if you choose to do so, how you do it is up to your comfort level. One useful resource is our blog post that includes tips on how to disclose your disability to employers.
Attend the Networking Event with a Peer or Support Person
Even if you don't have a disability, bringing a trusted person along for the networking event can ease anxiety and boost your confidence. A former coworker or industry peer may know the ins and outs and be able to help you meet the right people, break the ice, or simply offer a guiding hand as you do your thing.
If you have a disability, this person can also help you navigate. For example, translating for you in ASL or offering mobility assistance, especially if the venue is small or not entirely accessible.
Showcase Your Skills
Networking can be stressful and awkward for anyone. Just remember, it’s about making connections and showcasing your professional background. Conversation lulls or communication barriers can happen at the best of times, but staying confident will help people remember your skills and expertise.
Let Galt Foundation Help
Looking for your next job? Let Galt Foundation help. We’ve been in our employees’ shoes, so we understand the specific challenges people with a disability encounter when gaining and maintaining employment. With over 20 years of experience, we’ll support you through the employment process and match you with the right job opportunity.
We’re hiring a range of positions, including administrative jobs like administrative technician, office specialist, receptionist, and more, as well as roles in healthcare, food service, and many other industries. Check out our latest job opportunities here.
Feel free to get in touch with our expert team. You can reach us here or call us at 1-877-361-1277 – we’re always happy to help!