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Bridges Winter 2011_Event Recap: OSRAM Sylvania Discusses True Partnership Between
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Event Recap: OSRAM Sylvania Discusses True Partnership Between
Colleges and Employers

When I read the description for Working Together: An Employer’s Perspective on Advancing Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, I was intrigued.  Among its goals, the workshop hosted by OSRAM Sylvania planned to address “what ‘true partnership’ means (hint:  it’s not just a once a year mailing to fulfill EEO requirements).”  What?  Going beyond basic requirements to tackle a challenging issue?  Tell me more…
I had the pleasure of visiting OSRAM Sylvania’s North American Headquarters in Danvers, MA on November 22, 2010, where my colleague and I were welcomed by several bright orange shirt-wearing employees.  The workshop was delivered by Maureen Crawford Hentz, OSRAM Sylvania’s US Manager of Talent Acquisition.  Maureen has a long-standing interest in promoting opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and it was clear from her presentation that she understands the potential barriers to hiring, whether from the candidate, career services, or employer side.
Throughout the workshop, Maureen engaged the group, which ranged from career services professionals to disability advocates and other employers, in a lively discussion covering disability accommodations, university/employer collaboration, issues relating to “hidden” disabilities, and ways to help students with disabilities navigate the job search process.  Maureen encouraged us to set aside our PC-conscious hesitancies and participate in an open, respectful dialogue that welcomed any and all questions. 
I learned (and re-learned) many things that will help me in my work with students.  Here are a handful of my favorite take-aways from the program:

University/Employer Collaboration

  • OSRAM Sylvania cited the following as a good example of true partnership: When turning down a recommended applicant with a disability because he did not meet the BQs (basic qualifications), they communicated these reasons to their career center contact without fear of reprisal
  • Many employers don’t realize that the average workplace accommodation costs less than $500, and the majority cost nothing whatsoever! (Most expensive = interpreters for deaf employees)
  • To get noticed by an employer, Maureen suggests “flashmobbing” the employer’s ATS (Applicant Tracking System), meaning that if enough students apply to enough jobs with a given employer, that employer will start to pay attention
  • Maureen does not recommend that students call to check the status of their applications (OSI is too large for that).  Instead, she says that they’ll talk to job developers (career services staff and others) after you’ve sent a significant number of people their way

Individual Work with Students
  • The handshake and elevator script are important pieces in the beginning of the employer-candidate interaction chain.  You may need to give more attention to these items when working with students with disabilities, e.g., someone who has a disability on the autism spectrum may need help making eye contact or “synching,” i.e., mirroring the employer’s actions to achieve a connection
  • Students won’t get accommodations if they don’t ask for them!  e.g., Without asking for an accommodation during the interview process, a student with Asperger’s might simply be labeled as someone with poor social skills
  • If appropriate, the career advisor could call the interviewer and explain what to expect during the interview, e.g., “John has ADHD, so you may need to re-direct him from time to time if he gets off track”
  • Students should know how to describe their disabilities and the accommodations they need (both during an interview and on the job), not just “I need an accommodation”
  • Coaching references is extremely important when working with individuals with disabilities, as the recommender can often take care of the “elephant in the room,” e.g., “I know you might be concerned about Jane’s hearing impairment; here’s how we tackled that issue…”
  • Maureen encourages students to join professional associations and LinkedIn groups covering fields of interest.  She also suggests finding career-related blogs using sites like or a Blogger search
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and am grateful to both Maureen Crawford Hentz and the OSRAM Sylvania staff for providing me with a concrete framework for how employers can (and do) practice what they preach.
Susannah Krenn is an Assistant Director with Tufts University Career Services.

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