At a glance
Young adults with learning and thinking differences may need help managing the process for finding a job.
It’s important to customize the resume for each job being applied for.
Personal connections can help young adults find out about jobs. But they may need help reaching out.
Searching for a great “real” job can be hard for anyone. But young adults with learning and thinking differences may face extra challenges.
Young adults may have trouble coming up with a search plan, or keeping track of when to follow up. Discussing skills and abilities on a written application may be hard for them.
With a little help, however, they can overcome these difficulties. As they go through the following steps to find a job, you can lend a hand.
Finding out what jobs are out there
Online job listings are an important source for leads, so be sure your child knows where and how to find them. But many jobs aren’t advertised online. One of the best ways for anyone to find a job is to ask their personal network.
Suggest that they make a list of everyone they know who’s connected to the field they’re interested in. It should include your friends and colleagues, too.
Even if there’s no job available, an informational interview can be a good way to find out more about a company. And it helps your child get an inside track on jobs that may open up in the future.
Young adults who are entering the workforce straight from high school may have access to a job coach or counselor. This person may have contacts to help with the search.
Young adults who have graduated from college can reach out to the school’s career center. They can still access alumni networks and job leads even if they’re no longer on campus.
Reaching out to people may be especially hard for young adults who struggle with social skills or who have difficulty making conversation. Knowing exactly how to go about it can help them feel more confident.
Crafting a targeted resume and cover letter
Figuring out how to present yourself on paper can feel overwhelming. And it can it be particularly hard for young adults who have trouble organizing their thoughts or initiating tasks.
When creating a first resume, it can help to have a job in mind. Pick a promising job ad or description and make a list of all the requirements it describes. These may include skills, experience, or personal traits.
Brainstorm together: Which qualities from the list does your child have? Draw on other jobs, volunteer work, related courses, and extracurricular activities.
These notes should serve as a good starting place for drafting a resume and cover letter. The basics of these may not change from job to job. But your child should customize both the resume and the cover letter for each job being applied for.
For each application, use key words from the job’s requirements on the resume. The cover letter should briefly explain why they’re interested in that particular job. And it should include reasons they’re well suited for it.
Make sure someone proofreads your child’s resume and cover letter before it goes out.
Getting references lined up
Your young adult should think about who can act as personal references. It’s important to line up at least two adults who can speak positively about your child’s abilities and work ethic.
Help your child brainstorm people to ask. Former employers are ideal. Teachers are also an option. (It’s best if the course they teach relates to the job.) Family friends are the last option.
It can be handy to have references in writing. That way potential employers don’t have to track anyone down. But some will want to ask specific questions. So advise your child to have current phone numbers and email addresses ready, too.
After identifying some people your child would like to provide references, it’s time to contact them. It may be hard to know what to say, however. You can help your child come up with scripts for both email and phone contact.
Making a personal connection
In some industries, like retail and restaurants, it’s fine simply to show up and ask to speak to the hiring manager. Young adults who are comfortable going this route should be sure bring a copy of their resume.
You may also want to discuss how dress appropriately. This is especially important for young adults who have trouble reading social situations. And if flexible thinking is an issue, you may want to walk through what to do if the manager can’t speak right then.
Let your child know that it’s probably OK to bring an application home to fill it out. (Make a copy so if the first draft isn’t perfect, you have another one.)
Practicing being interviewed
Knowing what to expect can help interviews go better, especially for people who get nervous in social situations. You might want to do an internet search for popular interview questions. If possible, find a friend to conduct a mock interview. Ideally, this should be someone your child doesn’t know well.
Should your child disclose learning and thinking difference during the interview? Nobody is obligated to do so. They can always bring it up with HR later.
But people may want to bring up their learning and thinking difference at the interview. It’s a good idea to be ready to discuss the strategies they use to manage it. And they should give an example of how they’ve been successful using these techniques.
Following up appropriately
Young adults who struggle with organization may need a reminder to send a thank-you note or email after the interview. In a week or so, they can follow up with another email to check in and emphasize their interest.
As your child’s search progresses, suggest regularly refreshing the list of contacts, meeting with people, and pursuing more than one job at a time. The more people get their name out there, the greater their chance of landing employment.
Finding the right job can take time. Encourage your child to stick with it.
Brainstorm ideas and jot down notes to help your child get started on the resume.
Practicing common interview questions builds confidence.
Your child can bring up learning and thinking differences in the interview — but doesn’t have to.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.