The teenage years are a tricky time of life, especially when it’s time to transition from high school to the workforce. For some, it can be quite daunting to move away from the security of the school routine and start navigating the path to employment.
I still remember how anxious I felt about interviews and how clueless I was about what I wanted in a career. During those first few years out of school, I had a few different jobs in various industries and found trying to understand and decode workplace social conventions confusing.
For teenagers with diagnoses such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, intellectual disability and Developmental Language Disorder, these challenges are often compounded. It’s important to talk about and find ways to give them practice at engaging in some of the situations they may encounter when entering the workforce.
As a speech pathologist working with adolescents, I try to teach skills that will help in the real world. With older kids, I start with the basics by showing them how to find jobs that might be the right fit for them. From there, we work to develop techniques to win and keep a job.
Here are some of the things I’ve found useful to help teenagers transition from school to the workforce.
Job Interview Skills
1. Mind Mapping
A mind map is a diagram used to brainstorm ideas on a particular topic. It can be particularly helpful for teenagers with language disorders because it helps create new ideas, organise information, and show the relationship between different concepts.
- Start by using a mind map to visually document anything that might be relevant to a job interview, e.g. their education, volunteer experience, desirable traits, interests, and career objectives.
- Use this to open a dialogue and encourage the student to think creatively about themselves, their experience and future.
- Encourage students to draw connections between what might be discussed at a job interview and their own experiences, skills and positive qualities.
- Getting students to identify and elaborate on their own experiences and goals will help them to come up with responses to possible interview questions.
- The mind map can be used as a memory prompt to refer to during interviews.
2. Non-verbal skills
Most job interviews are based as much on first impressions and non-verbal communication as they are on verbal communication. It’s helpful for students to recognise and practice different ways of using non-verbal communication.
- Discuss and document the contrast between positive and negative non-verbal skills.
- Include things such as greetings, handshakes, eye contact, posture, nodding, and smiling.
- Model and practice not only the appropriate non-verbal skills but also inappropriate skills for the purpose of highlighting the difference.
3. Verbal skills
When it boils down to it, even though they might be phrased differently, most job interviews generally consist of the same types of questions. Some examples include:
- Why should we hire you?
- What do you know about our organisation?
- Give me an example of a time when you showed leadership/initiative/team skills.
- What type of person are you?
- What do you like to do outside of work?
- Where do you see yourself in X years?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Do you have any questions for us?
- Refer to the mind map strategy to tease out the student’s core skills and qualities and match them to these questions.
- Practice asking the same types of questions in different ways.
- Discuss ways a weakness might be a strength and vice versa. (This allows the student to see the way attributes can be interpreted and framed differently).
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Now comes the important step of bringing all these skills together. Give the student an opportunity to practice the skills in a safe and supportive space through the following strategies:
- Video modelling: show examples of good and bad interviews and get the students to identify appropriate and inappropriate skills. I often use this video
- Social scripts: model, discuss and encourage the student to come up with appropriate answers or ‘scripts’ they can draw on.
- Roleplay: conduct multiple mock interviews, video them and watch them back with the student. Get them to identify positive and negative traits.
5. Build a strong resume
Building a resume is an essential life skill, but like many important life skills, it’s not always taught in schools.
- Find a solid resume template and get the student to complete it by referring to their mind map.
- Often students have little paid work experience so encourage them to make the link between their school, hobby and sporting activities, career aspirations, personal qualities, etc., and the attributes valued in a job candidate. Use this to flesh out the resume and address relevant areas.
- Treat this as an exercise in building their independence, so encourage as much independent work as possible.
- Consider getting them to register a professional sounding email address (this is another great functional skill to work on).
6. Help them find an industry that suits them
Many students have no idea what they really want to do until they’ve tried a few different career paths. Sometimes working out what they don’t want to do is as useful as working out what careers they are interested in, so there is value in learning about different industries.
- Whether or not there is additional study needed
- The level of additional study needed
- The working conditions
- What career progression is available in that industry
Two resources I refer to are:
- myfuture.edu.au: This is a free resource managed by the Australian Government that catalogues thousands of careers paths. It includes a series of surveys that produces a profile of industries and careers that would suit the student based on their needs.
- willrobotstakemyjob.com: A bit of a giggle, but equally important to consider the future of different industries in a rapidly changing world.
Finding employment is about more than financial independence. It allows us to develop a sense of belonging and dignity, helps to create social networks and fosters independence. These are all things that are crucial to teenagers with language disorders. Giving them more time, more explicit instruction and more practice at using their communication skills is key. This will help ease any anxiety they may be feeling about these next steps, while also giving them the best shot at landing a successful job.
Mathrick, R & Norbury, C (2018). Breaking out of school: Two intervention programmes to support social communication skills for teenagers preparing to leave school. In S. Spencer, Supporting Adolescents with Language Disorders (pp. 195-200). Emsworth, United Kingdom: J & R Press Ltd.