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Transition to Work: Helping Teens Prepare for Typical Employer Questions

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By Paul Gerber, Ph.D.

"When we train you, can you tell the trainers how you learn best?"

Employee training is commonplace in competitive employment. Change is constant, and new ways of doing things are frequently introduced to employees. Whether it is new paperwork, more advanced computer applications, or innovative sales strategies, training to update skills is important. An employee with LD is expected to participate in training and articulate her need for specific training accommodations if necessary. This knowledge is usually an extension of a young person's understanding of how she learns best, which she probably figured out while in school. For example, she might let the employer know that she learns best by listening to training content, or by seeing a skill modeled. She might indicate that written materials work better for her when they include graphics that organize or emphasize the important points, such as bullets and boldface print.

"Can you work well with people?" "Can you work on a team?"

A lot of what happens in the workplace has social and interpersonal underpinnings. Whether interacting with colleagues and supervisors or communicating with clients and customers, social skills are very important. The learning disabilities literature is filled with research that demonstrates that, from childhood to adulthood, persons with LD demonstrate deficiencies in social skills. In employment settings this can determine whether a sale is closed, an order arrives on time, or a bottleneck in production is cleared up.

Employers are very interested in social skills, and they track them from the interview process on. It is important for an individual with LD to understand her social and communications styles and to demonstrate proficient social skills during the interview and on the job. For example, during a job interview, it is important to be able to establish rapport with the interviewer, to listen carefully, and to stay on point when responding to a question.

"Can you be given a lead role in a work group?"

Not surprisingly, much of the transition literature focuses on getting one's first job. Yet once hired, an employee is often expected to eventually take the lead on some projects, which opens up the possibility of job advancement. Therefore, it is important for employees with LD to see beyond their initial job role and to envision taking the lead when asked. In order to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities for job advancement, it is important for a young person to be aware of her interpersonal style, and how it can be used to develop an effective leadership style.

"Are you an organized person?" "Can you describe your organizational style?"

Because workplace efficiency leads to greater productivity, organizational style becomes an important criterion for hiring an employee, as well as for evaluating her performance. A young person with LD should be able to articulate her style, whether in time management, task management and tracking, or meeting deadlines. The key is to know one's style and be able to describe it in order to show how individual organizational style will mesh with the tasks or overall purposes of the business or organization.

"Can you work as well as the next person?"

When an employer asks a question like this, the challenge for the young adult with LD is to be able to hear the question behind it, without becoming upset or defensive. What employers often wonder - perhaps unconsciously - is, "Am I taking a risk in hiring this young person?" It's up to the young adult to approach the question positively and matter-of-factly. The key is to communicate self-confidence, as a means to instill confidence in the prospective employer or boss. In order to do this, the young person must understand, be articulate about, and be able to convince the employer of, her strengths and abilities, and her knowledge of effective ways to "work around" her LD in the job setting.