Career Resources for Students with Disabilities

Barbara Hewitt, Senior Associate Director 

Searching for a job or internship can be daunting for everyone – but can be even more so for individuals with disabilities.  Questions about when and if to disclose a disability or how to ask an employer for an accommodation are very personal and often have no simple answers, but happily there are many resources available to help you through the process. 

Lime Connect ( is one of the premier organizations working to assist students in this area and “rebrand disability through achievement”.  Check out their website ( to read their blog and also find specific opportunities from employers actively seeking to interview and hire students with disabilities. By the way, Lime reports that 90% of disabilities on campus are invisible – including ADD, dyslexia, depression, medical conditions and many others – and all individuals with disabilities are encouraged to take advantage of The Lime Network. 

There are also lots of resources closer to home! If you are a Penn student with a disability and have career-related questions, please schedule an appointment with a career services advisor ( serving your particular school.  We are happy to help you with all the various steps which go in to the career development process (career exploration, career decision making, preparing resumes and cover letters, interviewing, etc.). Our services are of course confidential so feel free to share any concerns you might have related to a disability.  We also offer a variety of links on our Resources for Students with Disabilities webpage ( and maintain a listserv to which we post career-related items particularly relevant to Penn students with disabilities.  If you would like to be added to this list, please send an email to Barbara Hewitt at and she will be happy to add you!


Navigating the Job Search with a Disability

by Dr. Fatimah Williams Castro, Associate Director

Our diverse student body requires job search and career planning tools that support a range of groups and particular needs, from international students to students with disabilities to students researching abroad. The job search can present various opportunities and challenges, as you make new professional contacts, hunt down job leads, submit applications, and interview with employers. Our goal at Career Services is to help streamline this process for all students and postdocs so you can thrive on the job market.

So last month, I spent some time focusing on our career-related events and resources for students with disabilities. Here are a few resources that may interest you:

  • Lime Connect offers a helpful tool to search for internships and full time employment. Also, the USAJobs gathers and publishes federal job openings for job-seekers with disabilities.
  • Take a look at the list of job boards on our site such as Enable America and Getting Hired, which publicize job announcements from for-profit companies and other organizations.
  • Career Services regularly hosts panels and workshops on the academic job search and expanded career job search. To request accommodations such as interpretation, you may contact The Office of Student Disabilities Services at Weingarten Learning Resource Center at 215-573-9235 or Just be sure to request services at least three business days in advance of the event you plan to attend.
  • Career Services Listserv for Students with Disabilities: Career Services occasionally receives information about positions and career opportunities from employers particularly interested in connecting with students with disabilities.  All students who consider themselves to have a disability are welcome to be included on the list. If interested in being included on the listserv, please send Barbara Hewitt, Senior Associate Director of Career Services, your Penn email.  Listserv members will remain confidential and only the list owner will be able to view who is on it.

There you will find positions like the one just posted for NASA Student Interns with Disabilities for Summer 2015. NASA is looking to increase the number of students with disabilities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers through its internship programs. Positions available for students up to the doctoral level in STEM fields. You can register for an account anytime at the One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI): NASA Internships, Fellowships, and Scholarships (NIFS) at

We support students and postdocs in preparing for all aspects of the job search, application and interview processes. If you have questions or would like to work directly with a career advisor, call us for an appointment at 215-898-7531.

Wishing you success in your job search!


The “Foreign Culture” of Job Searching

CultureRecently I was reading a career book when one sentence jumped out at me. “In many ways, conducting a job search is like adapting to a foreign culture.” Aha! I thought. This is exactly what career exploration and job searches are like for a number of the international students I advise (actually, for almost all students to some extent, since most students have not yet had full-time professional jobs, so it can be a “foreign culture” to them too).

Adapting to new situations is not unusual for university students. Luckily, most of you are able to rely on the advice of friends to interpret what we advisors suggest to you during orientation sessions and workshops. Some of you are brave enough to raise your hands and ask us, “What exactly do you mean?” or “Can you give us an example of how yoFish master-art-adapting-foreign-office-cultureu would actually do that?” Often, it seems easier just to ask your friends after the session. The problem is that, depending on the topic (careers in this case), your friends may not know much more than you do. (Or what they know may be very specific to their individual experiences.)

What I appreciated about this book is that it gives clear and specific instructions about how to actually do whatever is suggested. It doesn’t assume that the reader has the experience (or the social skills) to inherently know how to implement many career suggestions. It even gives examples of common mistakes.

Here’s one:

“Adam is like many job seekers I coach: frustrated and discouraged. He graduated near the top of his class with a degree in computer science. With some help from his father, Adam put together a resume, drafted a cover letter, and began applying for software testing jobs on internet job boards. After sending more than 40 resumes, Adam received an invitation for a telephone interview. Confident about his technical ability, Adam anticipated no problems answering questions.

The interview did not go as planned. Adam hadn’t kept a copy of the job advertisement, and had a hard time answering specific queries about his qualifications. Since he hadn’t done any research on the company, he wasn’t prepared to explain why he wanted to work there. When asked about whether he had experience using a specific tool, Adam responded, “No,” even though he was proficient with one that was very similar (and could have called attention to this.) The call lasted ten minutes.” (Bissonnette, 2013, p. 16).

Sound familiar to anyone? This skilled young graduate didn’t realize that he was entering a foreign culture, the world of work. All of us who explore new cultures need to learn their languages and norms in order to interact with the people native to those cultures. Here’s one cultural example for Adam’s case. Job applicants need to understand that simply wanting to work at a company is important toFit that employer. It helps the employer determine if you fit their company culture. Yes, you need to have the skills necessary for the work, but once an employer has determined that you have the skills they need, they want to understand why you want to work there. Responses such as, “Because you’re a famous company” or “I’ve always wanted to work for a company like yours” are not sufficient. Your response needs to indicate both what you know about the company and that you’re enthusiastic about working for them. Adam could have said something like, “For one of my class projects we tested a programming language you use, so I was interested in reading more about your company when I saw this job posting. When I read about your projects, the languages you use, and how you invest in new employees, I knew this would be a good fit.”

The book goes on to provide specific examples and definitions and to point out common errors. As another example, there is a section on mistakes made during interviews that focuses on four common errors: “long, rambling responses to questions,” “very, very short answers to questions,” “being unprepared,” and “not showing enthusiasm.” I know from the many mock interviews I’ve conducted that these are frequent mistakes among all students—in any class year, in any degree. Just explaining your skills isn’t enough. Preparation is essential so that you know what types of answers are appropriate and that you know a lot about the job and company. Being authentically enthusiastic is key.

So, for full disclosure now. The reason this book so carefully explains the norms of this “foreign culture” and provides many examples, clear explanations, and detailed worksheets is that the targeted audience of this book is those of us who find social skills difficult to understand and master—namely those on “the spectrum” with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’m not trying to say that I think most students struggle with development of basic social skills. I am trying to say that this book might be helpful to many students, especially those who want to understand how and why to communicate with potential employers—in other words, how to understand the employer’s culture. The author attempts to “explain the ‘whys’ behind aspects of the job search that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome find confusing or silly.” (Bissonnette, 2013, p. 19). How wonderful to have a resource such as this for students on the autism “spectrum” who are exploring their career options! But, I’m also excited that there are tips in this book that I find potentially helpful for any student navigating a “foreign culture,” especially international students who want to find job opportunities in the U.S. Actually, I think many students might benefit from this book’s straightforward advice. For all of us it can sometimes be confusing to understand and adapt to a new culture.

The book is The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome: Find the Right Career and Get Hired, by Barbara Bissonnette, published in 2013 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers (London and Philadelphia). The quote in my first paragraph above is from Bissonnette, 2013, p. 12. The four examples of interviewing mistakes are from Bissonnette, 2013, p. 136.

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