Duets: Brian and Nancy

  • Article by: BY GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2012 - 3:41 PM

Job hunt leads to loyal coach

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Nancy Cohen works with Brian Walsh on job skills at the Minneapolis Public Library.

Photo: JIM GEHRZ, Star Tribune

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Brian Walsh is building his résumé. Nancy Cohen is building his confidence.

Every week for nine months, Brian has caught a bus to the Minneapolis Central Library for a 15-minute check-in with Nancy, a job counselor with Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota. Nancy and Brian discuss networking and appropriate dress for interviews. They tweak Brian's résumé and do mock interviews: "I'm 28," Brian says. "I'm looking for a job in retail. I love customer service and being busy."

Once out of work herself, Nancy knows it can be tough to stand out. "The competition for jobs is still fierce, so people really do need to tighten up their presentations," says Nancy, who spends every Wednesday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at the downtown library's Jobs and Small Business Center.

When you have autism, as Brian does, the challenges could feel insurmountable without a champion in your corner. "That goes immediately into the victory column!" Nancy says of Brian's recent in-person interview for a sales job. "There was something they saw in your online application." That a promised second interview hasn't materialized doesn't faze her. "Check your voice mail every day," Nancy says. "I will," Brian says.

And so it goes, week after week, the job coach and job seeker building skills and a special bond. "When I don't see him, I miss him," says Nancy, of St. Paul. Today, the duo playfully tussle over whether his four-hour-a-week volunteer job at Arc's Value Village in Richfield should fall under "work experience." Nancy says yes. Brian says no. Nancy wins. "I think volunteering should be elsewhere on my résumé," says Brian, who worked for Wal-Mart for "three years and three months" before being laid off in 2011. "But she has a good point."

The point Nancy most eagerly makes is that Brian has considerable strengths. A master of public transportation, he keeps track of dozens of bus and light-rail routes, sometimes helping drivers guide riders to desired destinations. Exceptional attention to detail. He is punctual, arriving for his 3:15 meetings no later than 3:03. Crisp time-management. In kindergarten, Brian taught other students how to read. He got his first e-mail address at age 12 (16 years ago, mind you). "Weave that into interviews," Nancy suggests. He will. And one more thing, she adds: "Remember what I've taught you?" Of course Brian remembers. "Start. Keep going."

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