Milla graduated from Essex University and was a recent winner of our “Win A Day” competition. She spent her day with Accenture and has written this blog to share her experience and advice.
My journey from being a university student to a graduate ready to enter work has been a long road. It has been stressful at times but also very rewarding. I’m going to outline my story first before I offer to you some of the things I learned over the years.
So first off, I’m an autistic woman with ADHD. So, in other words, I’m neurodiverse. I went to university as soon as I left school. One reason why I went was that I couldn’t do anything else. However, I knew I needed to remedy this as my employment chances would be lower if I didn’t have work experience. Yet after four years I managed to gradually push my boundaries and acquire more experiences to the point where I am employable and stand a good chance of being successful. How have I become confident about finding graduate work? Well, I followed this advice which I’ll pass onto you:
Understand what your needs are
This is important. Employers will expect you to know what your needs are so you can request adjustments. So, take the time to evaluate yourself and work out what your strengths and limitations are. This includes asking people who know you well for their advice.
For instance, if you are physically disabled office-based work may be more suitable for you. Your strengths may be things like an ability to focus very intensely on office-based work for long periods productively. Sometimes your disability could even be an asset.
Once you know what your needs are, you can then prepare to work out what jobs you would be best suited for as well as what adjustments are required for you to work. This also extends to support services offered like the UK government’s Access to Work.
Volunteer work is a good starting place
I got off the ground through a volunteer role for an online gaming publication. This is a good idea as it means that people can commit to as much or as little as they like to become more aware of what they can do. In a volunteering role, this will be at no financial or employability cost because this is to be expected in a volunteer role. Best learn the ropes now before the real deal!
Own your disability
Disability is not a bad word. If you are reading this you are probably disabled and if so, it is perfectly okay to label yourself like that. As a disabled person, you will by your very nature have limitations. You can’t overcome your disability; however, you can learn to deal with it the best you can. This includes embracing your strengths. If you try to hold back even though you need adjustments, you will fail to succeed.
Employers will notice if you’re hiding something. Disability is nothing to be ashamed of. If you embrace who you are, you will be more confident and this will affect both your work and how you are perceived. A confident employee is an employable one. In other words, be yourself.
Not all employers are disability confident but many are
About the above, yes some employers aren’t supportive of hiring disabled employees. This can’t be glossed over despite various laws and schemes in place to change employer’s attitudes. To get around this, do your research. Firstly, sites like MyPlus Students’ Club offer a directory of disability-friendly employers. Glassdoor can give insight into how former employees were treated there. Good employers DO exist but you have to find them. If an employer isn’t supportive of your needs, they aren’t a good employer to work for and you are better off elsewhere.
Get plenty of helpful advice
This one is very important. I had one pervasive issue and that was I have a lack of appropriate family support. Many of my relatives are not in work for various reasons which means they lacked relevant knowledge. Some were worried about me succeeding as they weren’t aware of what support exists for disabled employees. Hence much of their well-meaning support wasn’t helpful. I subsequently had a very skewed view of the workplace.
This changed when I went to Accenture for a day as the recent winner of the “Win a Day” monthly draw at MyPlus Students’ Club. I went to their office and actually realised that many of my perceptions are wrong. I can get the support I need in an inclusive, globally-minded environment. I now feel more confident as a result as I have seen first-hand there are indeed companies that would enable me to succeed as myself.
University careers centres are an excellent place to help get advice as they monitor the job market closely and know of specialist support like MyPlus Students’ Club. Online sites like reed.co.uk are also helpful. Engaging in disability groups to get advice from others with similar support needs is also recommended.
Gain some other advantages for your CV
Work experience isn’t the only thing that can help improve your employability. For example, learning another language is in high demand especially in a fairly monolingual country like the UK. Other things that are part of your university experience can also count such as peer mentoring schemes or study abroad programmes. I studied abroad as part of my degree so if you have the means and ability to do so I highly recommend it.
Sometimes you just can’t work, and that’s ok
I feel this is important to mention because a lot of disabled people who can’t work feel shame because they can’t provide for themselves despite their best efforts. Or sometimes they can only work part-time, for themselves or on a volunteer basis. That’s OK. Your worth is not defined by your career or productivity. Disability affects each person differently and if not working is the best option for you, people should respect that and not judge.