By Helen Cooke, disability consultant and director of MyPlus Students' Club.
The application stage is the first interaction between you and the employer. It is therefore important that you present yourself in the best way that you can. The information to include in your application and how it should be phrased are two important considerations for every applicant. If you have a disability or long-term health condition, there may be extra factors to consider such as:
- Requesting reasonable adjustments and support in the recruitment process.
- Including mitigating circumstances in order to explain elements of your application.
1. Share what is relevant to obtain the adjustments you require.
When progressing through the recruitment process, one reason for being open with an employer about your disability is to get the support and adjustments that you may need. So, think about the information you can provide that will enable the employer to understand what you need and why.
I had to ensure that there was wheelchair access and an accessible toilet when I was applying for graduate jobs. My succinct openness statement went along the lines of: ‘I am a wheelchair user as a result of a childhood spinal tumor.” Obviously I could have written pages about my situation – but it wasn’t relevant and it wouldn’t have helped them to support me any better than what they did.
Top tip: Resist the urge to provide too much information and avoid using medical terms / jargon that won’t mean anything to those reading it. Share only what is relevant to obtain what it is you require, and use every day language that people will understand.
2. Research the recruitment process and request 'reasonable' adjustments.
Employers often talk about ‘reasonable’ adjustments but how do you know what is reasonable to ask for? A good question to ask yourself is ‘what do I need in order to demonstrate my potential?’ The key word here is ‘need’; if you need it rather than simply want it, it is likely to be reasonable.
To work out what you need you will firstly have to find out what the process involves. You should then challenge yourself to think broadly about what you need at each stage of the process remembering that adjustments go way beyond extra time and access. Other adjustments include (but are not limited to) the use of a PC, the provision of an interpreter, a change in format to the interview and an orientation visit.
As a wheelchair user, I remember requesting a parking space to be reserved and ensuring that there was access at the venue including an accessible toilet. If I were requesting adjustments now I would also ask to ensure that the desk be an appropriate height in order that my knees can fit under it. In addition, I would request that the breaks are sufficiently long enough to enable me to use the toilet and get a drink since I often found that by the time I had used the toilet it was time to start again.
3. Prepare an 'openness statement'.
Once you are clear about the adjustments you are going to request, you then need to work how to request them. Following these 3 steps is a great way of working out what to say:
- This is my disability / condition
- This is the implication for the recruitment process
- As a consequence, this is what I require.
Using these 3 steps you can put together your ‘openness statement’ which you can share with employers as and when you need to.
4. State genuine mitigating circumstances, and ask an employer to take them into account.
If you have a disability, you may have a genuine reason which prevented you from, for example, achieving certain UCAS points or gaining relevant work experience. These are termed mitigating circumstances and you may wish an employer to take them into account if you are concerned that you will otherwise be rejected.
While one concern may be that stating mitigating circumstances is akin to a ‘sob story’ and will be viewed negatively by an employer, the fact is employers recognise that some individuals have very real and genuine reasons why they do not meet the minimum requirements for a role. In these cases, employers are keen to take mitigating circumstances into consideration as they recognise that they may otherwise be rejecting talented individuals.
If you have genuine mitigating circumstances you will need to find a way of informing an employer. An effective way to do this is to write a short paragraph that objectively explains the mitigating circumstance, why it occurred, what has happened since and anything else you could potentially include to demonstrate that your application is worth a second look. You do not want anyone to feel sorry for you; you just wish them to recognise that you are potentially a suitable candidate despite not meeting their minimum requirements.
Top tips: Inform the recruiter of your mitigating circumstances as early in the process as you can to avoid being rejected from the recruitment process, and be very clear that your mitigating circumstances are as a consequence of your disability.