I have been through the graduate recruitment process twice. Once during my last year at university, however I decided that it was not the right time for a career and so instead I set off to travel. The second time, a few years (and continents) later, it was after I had been diagnosed with cancer.
I have experienced the recruitment process as both a disabled and non-disabled candidate. My diagnosis is stage four, meaning cancer will never not play a part in my life. My indefinite treatment demands some of my attention daily; this could be 15 minutes taking medications, or 15 hours hoping the nausea will ease. If I had not taken the time during my second recruitment experience to think carefully about what I needed from a potential future employer and the training contract, I would not have ended up in a firm that could support my specific needs. I would not have found Mayer Brown, a firm that has gone beyond all my expectations to assist me at the start of my career. Without this support I would not have been able to juggle my full time treatment alongside a full time training contract, and to have qualified recently after two years.
Here is the advice I would give to anyone who has a long term disability trying to find the perfect graduate placement.
1.Self-doubt is self-fulfilling
It is so easy to question yourself at the best of times. Even the most confident of your peers will occasionally question their abilities. Having a disability can add to this self-doubt. The result, if you are not careful, is that you will inevitably talk yourself out of the job you really want, and into the job you think you can do and you will end up selling yourself short.
In 2019 I questioned if my training contract would be too much, and if instead I should start as a part time paralegal first. The senior partner told me frankly my diagnosis was not a good enough excuse to give up the training contact, and she was right.
There are two important truths to keep in mind here. The first, is many people with long term disabilities are not ‘getting better’. Our conditions, diseases and disabilities do not go away. Instead, we learn to manage them. I have not cured nausea however I have learnt when I will be at my best (and my worse) and to juggle my work commitments around that pattern. You will not always get it right because you cannot plan for everything, but you do not need to, even those without a disability have unexpected problems from time to time. Do not get to caught up trying to find the ‘right time’ to start your career.
The second is that is it entirely possible to fail at something you didn’t want to do, just as much as failing at something you do. You have nothing to lose trying to do something you love doing, because you’ll fail a lot quicker if you’re already doubting your abilities due to your disabilities and your heart isn’t really in the job you settled for.
2.Location, location, location
You know what you want to do, now the question is where. There are two considerations you should think about when deciding where to apply; your medical needs and your support network.
The big smoke isn’t always the answer. So many great companies, including law firms, marketing agencies and banks have regional offices. Don’t assume you need to be somewhere like London to access the amazing jobs. If your medical team, along with your family and friends are all going to be 400 miles away, then moving so far might not be the best plan. Working as a graduate is hard at times even without a disability, so it’s important to have support close by outside of work.
That said, moving could be exactly what you need. My graduate placement provided me with private health care. I wanted to access specific doctors and treatment options only available in London. Moving made sense in my situation. I could be minutes away from my new hospital and medical team, much closer to work, and I still visit and call my friends and family when I need a boost of support.
3.Veneer or sincere?
You know what, you know where, now it’s the who question. From my own experience and from fellow trainees in the legal field, I think it would be fair to say that while many companies claim to be inclusive, not all really follow through. My key advice here is to do your homework. Do not get caught up on the name or high salary, because if you haven’t found a company that truly wants to assist you to reach your full potential, you risk working with barriers you might struggle to surmount.
Organisations like MyPlus are a great way to get a deeper look into the support and opportunities companies claim they offer, and to assess how it reflects in practice. Companies should also publish their employee demographics publicly. If you look at these over a few years you can study if the numbers are changing and see if more disabled employees are joining the staff.
4.They can’t help what you hide
You know what, where and with whom; now you need to address the ‘with’. What do you need help with? I know this is so much easier said than done, but I am a big advocate of being upfront from the start about any additional support you will need when employed. We are all, me included, worried that showing this vulnerable truth will expose us to a rejection that we can’t prove was due to disability. I do not think this is paranoia and suspect this happens more often than people want to acknowledge. However, I believe you should tell the company you are applying to your situation for three reasons:
It gives you a chance to explain how manageable and reasonable adjustments, often very simple alterations, can make a significant impact on your working options, providing you with the same opportunities as your peers, and allowing you to become a valuable member of the team and the company. It’s a chance to get your voice heard first, loud and clear.
If you don’t disclose at the start, when will you? Many people find it too hard once in employment. They stay silent during probation, and then struggle on for months and years. The result is your job will become much harder, juggling the work, your disability and the secret of it. You risk feeling unable to ask for the additional help and support you need, which could impact on things such as your quality of work and appraisal.
If the company (behind closed doors) does reject you based on your disability, then would you have ever wanted to have worked for them in the first place? I wouldn’t. If they can’t see the potential in you then more fool them. I have had the great privilege of working with people with various disabilities. Our different experiences inevitably give us a different perspective and a good work force need this. You deserve to work for a company who embraces the benefits that come from a truly diverse work force, not just the one styled carefully on the glossy front page of their brochure.
5.It will be alright in the end
And if it’s not alright, it’s not the end. Rejection is a part of life, disabled or not. If things do not go right first time (or second, third or fourth) do not stop trying. Admittedly life can feel more challenging with a disability, because it is, but there is a shift happening. Persevere and do not compromise, because when the right company hires you, it will be worth the journey. If it was not for the support of Mayer Brown and the incredibly kind, understanding, encouraging (and funny) colleagues I get to work with every day, I would not have completed the last two years and qualified in March.