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1. Classes, 2. Placements ….3. Job??

May 3, 2013

Happy Better Speech and Hearing month everyone! I cannot believe that it is already May. The second year speechies are out in the world finishing placements and getting closer and closer to the awaited day of trading in the title of “Student” for “Speech Language Pathologist”! With the change in title, however, comes a great big new step: finding a job! I can’t believe that soon we will all be getting paid to continue to practise and learn in this field.

The task of finding a job is a daunting one, and, having no experience myself in getting a real life speech pathologist job, I sought out the expert opinions of those who do. Erane McManus, manager of the Communication Disorders Department at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, and Karyn Forst, an SLP team leader with Alberta Health Services were kind enough to give me some advice to share about what employers are looking for and how to make yourself stand out to land your dream SLP job!

1. What is one of the first things you look for when you are interviewing someone for a position?

Erane: Someone who has prepared – if you don’t know much about the organization to which you are applying, find out.  Even a casual search of the internet will yield key information about the purpose, philosophy and activities of most organizations.  If you know someone who works there, or a classmate had a placement there, call her.  Employers understand that people need jobs, but we want to know that you have an interest in the work over and above a paycheque.

Karyn: Be confident and articulate when sharing your answers. Dress the part and ensure you look professional. Don’t be worried if there are a few people in the room. They will do their best to make you comfortable. They will do lots of writing. Just keep answering the questions!

2. Besides putting together a resume and coverletter detailing all prior work experience, what else can an applicant do to make themselves stand out above the rest?

Erane: At some point in an interview, you will be asked why you want to work at that particular organization – have an answer ready.  You may also be asked what special qualities, skills or attributes you will bring to the organization, so think about what is unique about you.  Chances are, many of your classmates have also applied for the same job, so the knowledge and skills you learned at school will be about the same among you.  Identify an experience you’ve had that has informed your world view in positive, relevant ways, or a unique skill or characteristic that will make your contributions special.  Finally, be able to articulate what you are passionate about – why did you become an SLP?

Karyn: Share experiences that make you unique. Talk about projects and experiences that you are proud of and learned from.  Think about qualities that make your personality great. Try to think of specific stories that reflect those qualities. Document your stories so that you can share real life experiences that you have had. Think of the stories that you are proud of and why you think you handled the situation well. In addition, think about times that a situation did not go well. Write down what happened and how you handled it. Think about what you did well to handle the situation and what you would do differently in the future. Try to find out as much as you can about the organization that you are applying to. Many organizations have values that guide the work that they do. If you know the values of an organization you can see if it is a place that you would like to work. You can also share your experiences that align with the values that the organization follows.

3. What are some things that would really impress you during an interview?

Erane: A confident, friendly, approachable manner that indicates you are open to new experiences.  Practice your handshake and your eye contact.  Be willing to show your personality, so the interviewers get a sense of who you are as a person.  We typically assume you have a basic level of content knowledge based on your successful completion of the degree.  Show us how you approach your work – are you organized and systematic?  Then show us that in your responses to questions.  Are you empathetic and sensitive to your patients’ and their families’ experiences?  Then be sure to include that.

In addition, thoughtful questions for me are always impressive.    Generic questions like, “can you tell me what a typical day is like?” might be informative for you, and that’s fine, but they don’t tell me that you’ve been thinking.  More specific questions like, “I understand that this organization has undergone some significant change in the past year – can you tell me more about how the transition has been going, and what you expect in the coming months?”, indicate that you’ve done your homework.

4. What sorts of things did you do when you were looking for and applying for jobs?  

Erane: I was lucky – my first two jobs were consecutive maternity leaves at a hospital where I had my final placement.  My advice is to treat your placements like an extended job interview.  Even if you don’t see yourself working at that location or even with that population, you may need to ask your supervisor for a reference.  And, even if you don’t, the person interviewing you might know your supervisor – it’s a small world!

Karyn: Talk to your supervisors about possible jobs, as well as other students. Look on the CASLPA and other job search websites. Take the opportunity to try something different. Don’t be scared to take a temporary position just to try it out. Don’t say that you are only going to work with a certain population. All experience is great experience. Think about opportunities to work in rural locations, or try the inner city, work in a classroom setting. Everything you try can be taken into another job!

5. Do you have any advice for new grads starting the job hunt? 

Be persistent and be patient.  Many SLPs start in positions that are temporary or part time, or in locations that aren’t their first choice.  For example, if you want to work with adults, but your position is with children, learn all you can from that experience.  Look for opportunities to acquire transferable skills and knowledge – there are many.  And if you still want to make a move, prepare yourself by continuing to develop skills and knowledge in your preferred area, even if it’s on your own time and at your own expense.

Karyn: You are on an interview with every interaction you have while in a practicum. This is your opportunity to impress an experienced SLP. If they enjoy working with you they will want to be your colleague and they will help you find the position that you are looking for! Find a mentor. If you have a supervisor that you really enjoyed working with ask to stay in contact with them. Or when you have your first job try to find a more experienced SLP to bounce ideas off of!  If you had a good placement with a supervisor ask them if you can use them for a reference before you leave the placement. Make sure you let them know when you are using them as a reference so that they can expect a call.

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What great advice from two individuals who have definitely been in our shoes and behind the hiring desk as well! I also sought out the advice of a recent graduate, Sarah Anderson, to get her take on searching for a job:

“Keep an eye on the websites of the specific areas you want to work in. I wanted to work for a school district so I would look at the online postings for school districts in the area. Apply early to the jobs you find! Jobs go quick and make sure you apply to them all even if they aren’t ones you really want because it is very competitive.

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Besides the searching, resume building and interviewing, new grads also need to look into the province/state specific regulations in the areas they hope to work. Each province may have different requirement, for example, supervision hours or additional paperwork that needs to be filled out. Make sure to look into this and start the process early, it would be terrible to find your dream job only to be turned down because you hadn’t done your research!

While this post may not be a complete guide to getting your first job, hopefully there is something you can take away! For those readers who have been through the process, what tips and advice would you give to brand new SLP’s stepping out into the world of a professional career? Leave a comment below!

– Adele Courchesne

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 3, 2013 11:58 am

    Wow! Another great post 🙂
    This got me so excited just thinking about someday being in that position and it’s so nice to know what to do before even entering into the whole process. Thanks so much for sharing such useful information with us; I absolutely love this blog! 🙂

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