Celine’s PACE mentoring story – getting a foot in door

Group photo of mentees and mentors at 2018 PACE closing event. Australian Network on Disability banner in the background.

Image: Mentee Celine and mentor Elissa at AND’s PACE closing event.

When Celine first heard about the Australian Network on Disability’s PACE Mentoring program in 2018, she was looking for an opportunity to increase her employability and gain insight into her desired field. Now in 2020, Celine – that’s me is working with the Australian Network on Disability (AND).

In 2018, a 21-year-old me was studying Media and Communications at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and looking for an opportunity to build on my skills and familiarise myself with my desired industry. I’ve seen and heard about the difficulty of securing a job after university and I didn’t want to graduate feeling doubtful and not workplace ready, so that’s when I applied for AND’s PACE mentoring program.

PACE (Positive Action towards Career Engagement) is a 16-week mentoring program which connects students with disability to leading Australian organisations. The PACE mentoring program is designed to help jobseekers gain vital workplace exposure, develop their skills and expand their networks. Mentors and mentees meet approximately 6-8 times during the 16-weeks, at any day and time of their choosing to discuss experiences, skills and career pathways, and essentially work on developing the mentee’s personal and professional development.

Shortly after applying for PACE I was matched with Elissa, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Settlement Services International (SSI). Elissa and I spent time getting to know each other first then began setting goals and planning our sessions. My goals primarily involved improving my performance in the job application process and getting my ‘foot in the door’.

“The PACE mentoring program sounded like a great fit for us to give leaders the opportunity to build their skills and support our diverse workforce and communities.” said Elissa.

“We believe that any mentoring program needs to focus on the goals of the mentee, and this message was reiterated by AND also. That way, each leader operating as mentor is focused on supporting the individual mentees in what they wanted to achieve.”

Elissa reviewed my resume and cover letter, conducted mock interviews, and we worked on capitalising on my strengths and improving my weaknesses. To develop my networking, Elissa gave me a tour of her workplace, and told me about her role and career story, as well as those of several colleagues. I found that hearing how people have gotten to where they are is motivating and helps inform my own career steps. We alsodiscussed how I could approach sharing my disability with employers.

Through the PACE mentoring program, I grew both personally and professionally. I learnt how to capitalise on my existing experience in the job application process and discovered what makes me unique – which is incredibly important in such a competitive landscape! My distinguishing factors are the diversity of my experiences and skills by the way.

“What I saw in our time together was a growth in her [Celine’s] self-confidence and a renewed vigour to keep persisting in her search for her dream role, taking opportunities that will support her to do that along the way.” said Elissa.

Experience isn’t as valuable as it could be without self-awareness and the ability to highlight key skills that are relevant and advantageous to an employer. PACE Mentoring helped me build on skills such as time-management, discovering my strengths, and showed me how to highlight my relevant experience to suit various job applications and interviews.

I also feel more comfortable in the work environment now that I have an insight into daily business operations and the workflow in the Communications department. Networking with various people also taught me about patience and optimism, as many people have backstories where they’ve experienced adversity or multiple career paths.

PACE doesn’t only provide benefits like these to the mentee, it also develops the mentor’s organisations’ leadership and disability confidence, and enhances skills such as managing diversity, coaching and listening.

“I gained a deeper understanding of some of the personal and professional challenges students have in making the leap into the workforce and seeking full-time employment. There is a lot out there to support short-term placements but finding that one organisation willing to give you that first permanent opportunity can be tricky”. said Elissa.

Something a bit more unexpected is that PACE informed me of theaspectsof my degree that would likely be applied in the workplace such as journalism, branding, campaigns, and skills in research, data analysis, and situational analysis.

In the past, I have found that my disability can be a barrier to finding employment. Other than disability narrowing down my job search due to requirements, it’s the mental barrier which sometimes deters me from applying. I have anxieties about my capability and about sharing my disability with employers in fear that it will reduce my chances. Whether that’s true or not is a different story, that’s why having an accessible and inclusive organisation, including the application and recruitment process is important.

“SSI is a Disability Confident Recruiter recognised by the Australian Network on Disability and that’s something we are proud of. There are always ways to improve and everyone has different needs and circumstances, so we want to learn from that. We aim to continue to grow our presence as an employer of choice for someone with lived experience of disability.” said Elissa.

AND regularly offers growth opportunities and at this stage of life, students such as me are often doubtful in a competitive job landscape. We like opportunities that improve our employability, whether that be through work experience, or programs that motivate or enhance self-belief.

When I saw the opportunity to be a part of the AND team, I jumped for it, especially as I had previous experience with them at PACE, a very ‘foot-in-the-door’ move. I’ll be writing about my time at AND and also about more opportunities for students and organisations so check in with me in a month or so!

About PACE Mentoring

PACE Mentoring offers a unique opportunity for professionals to build their leadership skills and disability confidence by mentoring talented jobseekers with disability.

Any employee of an AND Member organisation can become a PACE Mentor. All they need is a willingness to share their experiences, skills and knowledge as they support their mentee to achieve their career goals.

If you’re looking for an effective way to build disability confidence and engagement in your organisation, contact Program Manager Isabel Heiner on 03 9621 2276 or isabel.heiner@and.org.au, or visit our PACE Mentoring pages to find out how it works.

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