Steve Bone is a Careers Consultant at Leeds University, he supports students applying for graduate opportunities and advises his careers colleagues on inclusivity. In this blog, he highlights observations of the additional challenges faced by students with disabilities and shares advice on how to overcome these.
When supporting students with a variety of visible and invisible disabilities, what strikes me is that a positive approach to the application process is key. Successful applicants reflect on their ABILITIES and communicate these positively, alongside their disabilities because they want employers to see their potential and be prepared to make reasonable adjustments for them in the workplace.
Remember, you have something extra!
Applying for a graduate job is challenging because it’s a highly competitive market; have I understated this? For prospective candidates with a disability, it may seem even tougher! But what if this is a matter of mindset? Is there a way to rise above the mental obstacles? I recently met with an undergraduate who had successfully applied for an internship, he had dyslexia but was not aware of it and I wanted to know how he managed this disability throughout the application process.
He revealed that this was achieved through putting in additional hours, resilience, heightened verbal communication skills and problem solving; just the type of skills and attributes graduate employers seek. Upon discovering he had a disability he made the decision to tell the employer and will now have support during his summer internship.
Start by choosing the right employer.
Research thoroughly and you’ll find progressive employers whom you can be open about your disabilities with. Not only are you protected against discrimination by the Equality Act 2010, employers are looking to recruit individuals with diverse skills and experiences, so be sure to provide examples of the abilities you have developed through managing disability.
You should get to know the application process so that any adjustments or support that you require at interview can be requested in advance. Prior to starting, you may also wish to discuss what adjustments are needed at work and how you can seek support from your future colleagues.
How helpful the employer is can be determined by the following:
- ‘Disability confident’ symbol (on disability friendly employers’ job adverts)
- Does the job advert affirm they are an equal opportunities employer?
- Is there an equal opportunities policy on their website?
- Do they offer application forms in different formats?
Choosing the right employer is vital if you are going to be valued for your ability and have a successful career with support when you need it. Consider the employer’s attitude to employing disabled people. Do they make adjustments so candidates can compete equally?
Ask the right questions
Speaking to people who work for an employer (especially recent graduates) will help you to judge how disabled employees are valued and included. This can be conducted as an informal conversation about diversity, exploring their view on the benefits of a more diverse workforce. Asking broader inclusivity questions (e.g. about gender and ethnicity) will help you to understand the organisational culture and their commitment to inclusivity.
Meet people by attending events
Employer presentations on campus, recruitment fairs and alumni networks (‘The Leeds Network’ at Leeds University) present opportunities to have these conversations. If their customers are diverse, the organisations themselves will be more serious about diversity. Ask to speak to the person responsible for diversity, especially if the contact details are not on their website.
Going beyond diversity, think about whether the employer is right for you, your values, personality and the way in which you work best. Small to medium sized organisations may provide more flexibility in terms of workload as compared with larger corporates, you just need to explore your options and find out what works best for you!
Should I be open about my disability at the application stage?
It is your decision whether and when to be open about a disability and a careers adviser can help you to explore the pros and cons, so that you can make that decision. There are some exceptions, for example, if you have a condition like epilepsy that has health and safety implications – beyond these exceptions it is up to you.
A graduate I saw recently was advised by her friend not to be open about her disability on application forms. After numerous unsuccessful applications she decided to ignore this advice and successfully applied and got a great graduate job!
Take time to write a quality application
Research complete you can now start writing your application. Written applications come in different formats, generally it is a covering letter and CV or an application form. Here are some general pointers:
- Application form questions are generally based on your interest in the role and organisation (commitment), competencies (skills) and personal strengths (behaviours).
- Have you researched the organisation thoroughly enough to address your interest in them and the role?
- Examine the job description: what specific skills and attributes are they looking for?
- Select recent and relevant competency examples from your university life and degree, extra-curricular activities and work experience. The ‘STAR’ approach here is an ideal way of articulating your skills.
- Quality check your letter writing etiquette – how to structure and avoid minor mistakes that will put your application in the ‘no’ pile e.g. ending your letter ‘Yours faithfully’ when writing to a named person, grammar and spelling errors. Structure, format and write your CV succinctly. More tips here on writing applications
Checking before pressing ‘send’ is a must! If you have a disability that affects your written communication skills (spelling and grammar) have your application checked by someone else before sending and use all the resources at your disposal.
This is now a commonly used term associated with being successful in the workplace and you may need more of this than other applicants. Legislation will support your path to employment but you cannot rely solely on it. Be persistent, curious and learn how to articulate your added value, abilities and diversity. In addition, make good use of disability services, your careers service and other support available! Take a look at these useful websites.