Like a lot of university graduates, I definitely underestimated how competitive the job market really is. I applied for a few graduate jobs in my final year of university but struggled to get past online testing rounds or my nerves got the better of me in telephone interviews. I’d managed to get some internships lined up for the summer after graduation, so I hoped one of those might lead to a full-time role. While I gained some valuable experience and good feedback, the elusive permanent role never appeared. I seemed to get into a very frustrating habit of getting down to the final two candidates in recruitment processes, but never getting the nice phone call.
I also found myself nervous to apply for certain jobs due to their job descriptions. Phrases like ‘energetic’, ‘fast-paced environment’, and unspecified working hours made me question my suitability for the roles. I was born with a neuromuscular condition, which means my muscles are weaker than my peers, and I am more likely to get tired or fatigued. This is very manageable, and I now know that I can cope perfectly well in a rigorous professional environment. However, particularly after an interviewer questioned my reliability in regard to my disability, I feared I would finally get a permanent role, only to not be able to cope with long hours or to disappoint my workplace by not being energetic enough. I knew from my internships that I could do really well if I had the right support and an employer that saw the value in diversity.
I found MyPlus Students’ Club after searching for a way to find disability confident employers. I was also really impressed by how useful and relatable their advice and resources were. I quickly signed up, and a few weeks later received an email saying I’d won a day at one of their partner employers. I picked Accenture, who then very kindly invited me to an event they host called Tech Visionaries. From the outset, I had key contacts at Accenture who made sure the event would be accessible for me. On the first day of the event, I even met one of the contacts at Accenture for a coffee before the day began. This was great as it meant I could ask any last-minute questions and made me feel very relaxed and welcome.
The event was incredibly immersive. We were put into teams and worked on a real-world technology challenge and then had to present our solution to a panel of Accenture Managing Directors, who acted as clients on the final day. On the first day it had been explained that we would be assessed throughout the four days, but to try not to focus on that aspect and simply enjoy the event and get involved as much as possible. Particularly as I had won my place at the event, I was sceptical as to whether I was being considered for a permanent role, so I just focussed on gaining as much as I could from the experience.
My team couldn’t have been nicer. The challenge involved some coding aspects, and as no one from our team came with strong coding skills, we bonded over the challenge, and even initially named our team ‘Codeless’. Over the event, we created a client solution and then pitched it to the panel of judges and were even announced as the winning team.
The experience gave me a fantastic insight into Accenture Technology and its exciting future. Similarly, trying new things like coding or facing my nerves and presenting to Managing Directors, left me feeling very capable and confident in my abilities at the end of the event. It was very much an environment where Accenture wanted to see you succeed and gave you the opportunities and support to do so.
So almost a year after graduating, I will be starting at Accenture in July. The past year has flown by but has also taught me an immense amount about my own abilities and strengths, and what to look for in a potential employer. Out of everything I’ve learnt, there are three things I wish I knew earlier.
Firstly, if an employer isn’t willing to provide the adjustments or support you need, you probably don’t want to be working for them anyway. There are thousands of employers out there, and you will find the one for you.
Secondly, your disability gives you valuable experience and skills. My disability has given me 22 years’ experience in things like patience, communication, problem solving and analysis. For example, as part of my condition I struggle with things like stairs or low chairs. However, this means I can go into a new room and work out in a fraction of a second, using analysis and problem solving, whether I can climb the step or sit in a certain chair. These kinds of skills are easily transferable to business environments, and extremely valuable to employers.
Third and finally, paid internships are a fantastic way to gain professional experience and learn, without the physical pressures and expectations of a permanent role. You also get to meet so many new people. Employees at companies where I interned were immeasurably helpful in teaching me new skills and giving me career advice. I can safely say I wouldn’t be in the very fortunate place I am now without their advice and support.