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The graduate jobs market can be especially daunting for graduates with a disability – but there are many effective ways to ensure that a disability or health condition doesn’t get in the way of securing a great graduate job. Here are my top 5 job hunting tips for graduates with a disability:
Managing a disability or health condition in employment may require thinking about strengths and challenges in a different way to at university. Employers have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments so that a disabled employee is not disadvantaged by their disability, but they may not necessarily understand what you may need unless you clearly explain it to them. Use the following as prompts to start thinking about what help you might need from an employer:
Once you have worked out the possible implications of your disability in the workplace, you can look at how to share your disability(s) with an employer.
It’s entirely up to you at what point you want to discuss your disability with an employer - or whether you want to at all. If you think you would benefit from adjustments to an interview process it’s a good idea to talk about your disability at this early stage – but in many instances you may want to wait until after you’ve been offered a job before discussing reasonable adjustments when completing new-starter paperwork.
The employer will most likely only want to know about your disability in relation to the workplace – so a short, concise explanation of where you might need help, and why, is fine.
Think about any relevant positives associated with your experience of your disability - such as increased empathy for other people that will help with building relationships with customers, or determination and ingenuity that could be ideal for a problem-solving role. This will help the employer understand that disability isn’t necessarily a negative thing – plus they might also be impressed by your frank and up-front attitude.
It’s also worth practising talking about your disability with a member of your university’s careers or disability service (often, you’ll still be able to receive support from these services after you’ve graduated).
Remember that while talking about disability with an employer can be nerve-wracking, there have actually been instances where making a reasonable adjustment for one employee has lead to a productive change in policy for other staff (e.g. giving documents for review ahead of meetings).
You may worry that your disability is a serious barrier to finding suitable employment, which can lead to overarching negative thoughts and emotions that will impede your job search. To start to address this, write down your specific worries, such as struggling in interviews, or not being able to do a particular task well enough.
Once you have identified your concerns, you can start to make a plan to address each one individually.
The world’s most successful people didn’t achieve this level of success by themselves - even famous entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. What this should show you is that engaging with available support is invaluable.
This can include your university’s student services and careers services, and networking. Consider using social media platform like LinkedIn and Twitter to find people who are disability champions in your chosen career field. Even if you don’t know them personally, it’s a great idea to reach out and ask for advice on questions you may have as a disabled candidate in that field. These are people who are passionate about what they do, and while not everyone will come back to you, many will be happy to help.
It’s also worth identifying people who can offer you moral support for when the job search is hard, such as close friends or family members.
It’s normal for people to change jobs and careers throughout their lifetime - and what interests you now may not in 5 or 10 years’ time. Don’t put pressure on yourself to get the perfect job, or worry that your disability will prevent you from achieving it. Instead, identify your skills and attributes and adjust your focus to see where you can make the biggest contribution in the workplace. Doing something you’re good at is a key factor in job satisfaction – and can also help you to accept any ‘weaknesses’ you have.
Start by thinking of 3 - 5 personal achievements and list the skills and attributes that they involved. This can include acheivements like passing a driving test, doing well in a particular module, or starting your first job. Identify any common themes, and then think about how these strengths could be useful in the workplace.
This will also help you to look at further experience you may want to gain, or activities you’d like to get involved with – ultimately helping to build your confidence.
For a number of reasons, job hunting with a disability can be tough – but by working out a clear strategy, you can ensure that a disability or health condition doesn’t get in the way of your job search success.
This blog was written by Christian Jameson-Warren, Employability Development Officer at Loughborough University. Christian is co-lead on developing provision for disabled students at Loughborough, and has recently joined the AGCAS Disability Task Group, working with careers consultants from other universities to lead on best practice in supporting disabled students.