I’m about to finish my time at University so I’ve been looking into getting a proper, full-blown, ADULT job! Scary as it may seem, it can definitely be made easier for those of us who might find it a little trickier because of different disabilities. I wanted to write a blog about how I’ve started to explore the transition from student to professional life, and the tools I use to make it more accessible to me.
First Off – The Dreaded CV! (And Applying!)
CVs are often really difficult. I was lucky enough to have written a template at college at sixteen and so I now simply adapt it whenever changes need to be made. It can be really difficult to even start out typing a CV, which is difficult anyway, but even more so if you have a disability. One of the things I’ve found the most useful is to use my Mac computer. I enlarge the screen and use bold text to write out what I need to, as well as sometimes using VoiceOver for backup. Then when the CV is ready to be printed, I put it into a more suitable font and it’s done. Easy!
There’s always been a bit of debate as to whether to include your disability on a CV. Personally, I choose not to, because I want the employer to get to read me on paper as me – and not see my disability as the first thing that jumps off the page. Similarly though, I don’t really hide it either. A lot of my work experience happens to have been within the disability sector and my CV obviously reflects this. It doesn’t really bother me because if employers want you, they want you – it’s as simple as that. It’s completely personal choice whether to reveal your disability on your CV – for me though, I just prefer not to.
I also get help from Blind in Business, a charity that helps visually impaired people get into work. There are quite a few of them about and they can be a great way to get help in finding work, which can be more difficult if you have a disability. I’ve found the one that I’m involved with to be a great help and they’ve stuck with me all the way through three summers at University and they’ll be there when I graduate too which is fantastic. The key with applications is to just keep trying! I know it sounds boring (and it is!) but if you don’t try, you’ll never know! Another clever tip, particularly if you’re looking for voluntary work or an internship, is to email companies directly. Again I use accessibility features on my Mac to do this. Sure, you might not always get a response, but you only need one or two replies and then you’re on your way to a potential interview and possibly a job. I did this during the summer of my second year of University and after about fifty emails, it finally paid off. So don’t be put off by rejection, keep trying – it really works.
Next – Presentation
Although a sobering thought, looks and the way you present yourself do count for quite a lot in the world of work. A lot of the jobs that I’ve applied for and worked in ask for a smart-casual dress code at least. This clearly means no jeans (or no jeans that don’t look smart at any rate!). Due to my visual impairment, I’m very aware that my putting together of outfits will not necessarily make me look like Kate Moss every time! So I always get my Mum or a friend to make sure that I look presentable before I walk out of the door – and believe me, they’re honest! If they weren’t available, now I’ve got my iPad, I could use the Color ID App to help me distinguish colours, but it still wouldn’t tell me how the clothes look as a whole outfit, so my best bet is still to ask. My go-to outfit, both for work and interviews, is smart trousers and a blazer with a checked or brightly-coloured shirt underneath and sometimes a trilby hat. Smart? I think so!
It’s the same with make-up as well as clothes. Anyone that knows me knows I love experimenting with very bold eyeliner and lip gloss – but this isn’t appropriate when you’re looking for a job. My Mum told me to tone it down a bit and I’ve taken on that advice. Again, I always check with her that it looks OK before I leave the house. Thanks Mum!
The Interview Room (Being the Guinea Pig!)
This is always the trickiest part of the process for me. Finding the location of the new place is often a struggle, however I’ve got used to it and have strategies to help me get there independently. Firstly, check the email that’s been sent to you by the organisation – they often detail a train and tube station that they’re closest to, and sometimes a bus route too. When I went for the interview for my Internship with a charity in my second summer of Uni, this is what I did first. I also looked up the route on Goggle Maps using my Mac, which is a great way to find the way to somewhere new. With the info about the train stations, I travel to the nearest one and then pick up a taxi from there. Yes, a bit more expensive – but it’s totally worth it if it’s the difference between getting to your interview and not making it at all!
It’s a good idea to call the place that the interview is being held in to check accessibility – this is especially important if you are a wheelchair user, or if you have a carer accompanying you to the interview, to make sure that they can make the necessary arrangements. I haven’t done this before, but it’s occurred to me that I probably should do in future, to ask for someone to take me to the interview room, for example. Arriving late or even on time often doesn’t look so good either. Not only that, but I’m very aware that with my disability, it might take longer for me to find my way around. I can get quite anxious and jumpy as well, so it’s a good idea to get there a little bit early to settle any last minute nerves. I always aim to get there about twenty to thirty minutes before the start of my interview so that I’m ready.
When it comes to actually being interviewed, I like to think I’m not too bad at it! I always take my cane in with me and lie it pointedly on the table – this makes it a talking point and it’s then easier for potential employers to ask questions if they want to. Because of my visual impairment, I often find reading social cues and body language very challenging, and so I’ve had to learn my own rules about how to behave in interviews. Even if I can’t make direct eye contact with the person, I always look in the direction of their voice to show that I’m listening to what they’re saying. I also try to appear confident – even though I might not be inside! Confidence is something that can be worked on but in interviews it’s important to show it. My final tip is to always ask a question at the end of the interview. Employers often ask if there’s anything you want to ask them – never say ‘no’ and leave! Always think of something – it shows that you’re engaged and want the job.
Finally – Getting into the Workplace!
This is the really exciting bit! Getting into the office (or wherever you’re working) and meeting new people and being the ‘newbie’ is less scary and more fun! When I did my internship, I really enjoyed getting to know everyone on a professional level because it wasn’t really something I’d ever done before. Finding my way around the office was a bit scary at first, but the golden rule here is if you’re not sure about something – ask. I’ve always found that people are very willing to help and often know that you are new to the job. If you need any adaptations to the office to help you, first of all, ask your employer. Another good thing to consider once you’re in a job is the Access to Work scheme. This can pay for equipment and practical support ( such as a helper or taxis to get you to work) if you have a long term disability or health condition. I myself haven’t made use of it yet, because I’ve only ever really done temporary work, but when I get into full time employment, I’m definitely going to apply for a grant. I always take all my magnifiers and telescopes with me too, even though they make my rucksack clank! They can come in handy in really unexpected situations, so it’s important to have any aids ready to use.
The three magic phrases in the workplace for me are: Ask, Aids and Access to Work! Happy job hunting everyone!
Do you have any experience of trying to find a job? Tell us about it in the comments.
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