Q&A with Heidi Belanger
The International Dyslexia Association asked recent college graduate Heidi Belanger for her thoughts on transitioning from college to the workplace. Her advice in this Q&A is based on her experiences as someone with dyslexia entering the job market, but many of her tips are helpful for all college students and recent grads.
Photo courtesy of Bridgewater State University.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Heidi. I was born and raised in Massachusetts and currently live in Boston. I enjoy running, tennis, and going to the beach. My favorite books are To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice.
When were you diagnosed with dyslexia?
My sister and I had transferred into Bedford High during our junior year. Within the first two weeks of school, two separate teachers acknowledged mild symptoms of dyslexia and monitored our activity throughout the academic year.
We were 17 years old when officially diagnosed with dyslexia. It was senior year of high school, and we both had just submitted college applications.
Do you think being diagnosed with dyslexia at that age influenced how you started your post-college job search?
It was difficult to accept my diagnosis. I always had to advocate for myself, which made it more difficult to accept the accommodations. I remember swallowing my pride and handing over my documentation papers to the Disability Services Office.
I learned a valuable lesson in college; help is not a sign of weakness, but self-awareness and maturity. I had been academically alone and never realized how much I struggled without assistance. Acceptance empowered my personal success within the classroom and beyond.
With a similar mindset, I valued people and their guidance throughout my job search. I utilized resources such as recruiting agencies and mutual connections.
What were your experiences as you sought internships and employment? How did you advocate for yourself, and what (if any) tough decisions did you have to make?
I was introduced to the Washington Center for Academic Seminars and Internships through the career fair at Bridgewater State. It was an opportunity to work and live in Washington, DC for an entire semester and receive my last 15 credits through BSU. I worked closely with Career Services, Disability Services, and my Academic Advisor through the application process. I sought signatures and letters of recommendations.
The Washington Center was the student-to-professional transition needed to comfortably ease myself from the classroom to the workforce. I wanted to make the most of this opportunity. I walked into my internship with expectations and projects for myself. My internship introduced me to strategic writing, social media, and life outside the classroom. I learned how to establish a work/life balance, while still in student mode. The Washington Center consisted of the internship, evening class, professional development workshops, and completing a portfolio.
I worked hard, so I could play harder. Nights and weekends consisted of monuments, museums, the gym,and going out with friends. Whenever things became overwhelming, I refused to let my disability take away from the experience.
How did potential employers respond to your disclosure of your dyslexia?
It is part of who you are: Embrace it! I realize that you can choose whether or not to disclose a disability, but I honestly feel that there was nothing to be ashamed of. Dyslexia should never define you, but simply enrich your sense of self.
I have become a strong, hard worker because I had to be. Potential employers would respond positively to my disclosure, due to my previous experiences. My disability has only encouraged me to work smarter and develop qualities.
What advice would you have for others with dyslexia as they look for internships and jobs?
Patience has never been my best quality, but somehow I managed to graduate college and secure my first full-time job. I experienced failure and disappointment often enough; applying for positions and getting rejected hurts, but it is part of the process.
Make sure that you are on LinkedIn, so recruiters can find you and assist with the job search.
More generally, based on your experiences, how do you think college students and recent graduates can be successful in making professional connections and securing internships and employment?
Utilize every resource offered on-campus, especially Career Services. They helped me create my LinkedIn profile and establish my professional network while I was still an undergraduate.
Networking can be scary but is necessary to meet new people. I would sign myself up for networking events. It was an opportunity to practice the soft skills (i.e., handshake, eye contact, elevator speech). Of course, come prepared with personal business cards!
Never give up on yourself, even when others might!
Heidi Belanger is an administrative assistant at M/C Partners. She is actively involved in her sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, and has enjoyed running since high school. Heidi currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Photo courtesy of Tricom Associates.
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