This week’s post is from Jessica Luke who currently works as Social Media and Marketing Intern for Blind in Business who support people who are blind or visually impaired with finding work. Jessica is due to join British Gas’s Marketing Graduate scheme in October 2015.
The job market is saturated with highly qualified, shiny graduates desperate to prove that they’re better than the rest. It can be hard to stand out. As a candidate with a disability, you never know whether disclosure might have gone against you. I have a genetic eye condition and have around two per cent remaining vision. I have a degree in languages from Warwick, an MA in translation from Westminster and I competed in the London 2012 Paralympic Games but still job hunting was tough. Trying to find work can be frustrating, disheartening and time consuming, but with the benefit of hindsight and filled with the relief of finally having secured a place on a graduate scheme, I can share with you some of the things that made life a little easier.
1. Apply early: recruitment for graduate schemes is usually done on a rolling basis from September (with candidates starting the role 12 months later), so the earlier you can get your application in, the more chance you have of being invited to an assessment centre.
2. Ask for the help that you need. I was worried that disclosing my disability might count against me, when faced with so many ‘non-disabled’ candidates. However, I would say that it is better to perform to your best, than to pretend to see more than you can. If an employer is not forthcoming with support, they probably aren’t the right company for you.
3. On the flipside, don’t make out that you can’t do things that you can. It might seem like a good idea to skip the psychometric testing because you hate maths or to claim that you can’t see enough to give a flipchart presentation because you aren’t comfortable with public speaking. The skills needed to succeed at the assessment centre are necessary for the graduate role. It will only make your life harder later on. Think about how you can work on your skills e.g. through courses or workshops.
4. As a general rule, I would say don’t hassle HR staff about the progress of your application. It won’t reflect well on you.
5. However, you might have to be proactive about asking for adaptations to psychometric tests or the assessment centre tasks. If you want to talk this through with someone before approaching the employer, you could try talking to staff from Disability Support or Careers within your university.
6. Graduate Schemes are used to making adaptations for disabled candidates. It’s worth looking out for the Two Ticks logo*, which indicates companies who are positive about employing disabled people. Larger organisations tend to be members of this scheme. Smaller employers often need more help with understanding how they can help you compete on an equal basis with candidates without a disability. This said, competition on graduate schemes is fierce, so you will need top grades and as much relevant work experience as you can get.
7. Keep a list of employers and roles you have applied to, what stage of the application process you are at and when you are likely to hear from them. You will probably need to apply to multiple schemes to stand a chance of securing a place. If you start early and keep track of who you have applied to, you will seem more professional – and you won’t waste time applying for the same role twice. This might sound implausible, but if you send off several applications every week for six months, it’s easy to lose track.
8. See if there are any organisations that can help you. Try your university Career Service for ideas. A friend suggested that I get in touch with the charity Blind in Business, which helps visually impaired people into work. I had never heard of them, but decided that I had nothing to lose. They offered a personalised careers service and put me in touch with a visually impaired manager at BT, who gave me some great advice. Blind in Business offers help with CV writing, interview practice and assistive technology. Their careers service is free and I am working for them over the summer, before I begin my Marketing Graduate Scheme at British Gas. If you’re visually impaired and would like to find out more about Blind in Business, the website is www.blindinbusiness.org.uk. You can also hear more about my job-hunting experience on BBC Radio 4’s InTouch programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05nvfrc