As Prince Harry launches the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, it turns our attention to those people who go on to achieve great things in the face of adversity. There are over 11.6 million disabled people in Great Britain and over 34,500 of them are students in higher education across the UK (HESA, 2013). Universities and employers we partner with work extremely hard to attract and retain students and graduates with disabilities, and many have dedicated teams to ensure students and employees are looked after.
I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Jonathan Andrews, an English graduate from King’s College London earlier this year. He is a great ambassador for greatwithdisability.com and is looking to pursue a career in the legal profession.
Jonathan has kindly shared his pearls of wisdom with our readers on his experiences of applying to graduate jobs with a disability. Read his advice below…
Back when I first applied for a job, I had to weigh up whether or not to disclose my disabilities. Pretty much everyone I asked, including close friends and family, warned me against disclosure. They reasoned that I’d be covertly discriminated against during the application process – recruiters wouldn’t want to risk taking me on in case I wasn’t able to do the job properly, adjustments proved too costly, or I sued them for unfair dismissal were I to be let go. I understand why they gave this advice; they genuinely believed it, and felt they had my best interests at heart. And for a while, I went along with it and didn’t disclose.
As it turns out, their advice wasn’t totally wrong. I’ve found that when applying to small or medium-sized businesses or charities, it’s riskier to disclose – often, these organisations simply don’t have a budget big enough to make adjustments and are more hesitant to take on ‘unknown qualities’ due to fears over revenue. It’s a totally different story when it comes to larger firms, though. Whatever industry they deal with, they’ll always rather you disclosed. They’ve got the budgets to make adjustments with ease, after all. And they’re committed to increasing diversity within their organisations, since evidence shows it leads to increased profits. (That goes for state-schooled employees and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in general, as well as those with disabilities!)
So, if you’re thinking of applying for a job at a small business – it might be best to disclose, or it might not. It all depends on the culture, though I’d exercise caution and to only disclose if you’re sure they’ll be accepting. And it might be better to disclose after you’ve got the job, once you’re a ‘known quality’.
But when it comes to large firms – don’t be afraid! I’ve personally come across a lot of disability initiatives when applying to firms. In 2013 and 2014 Reed Smith guaranteed places for at least two disabled applicants on their summer vacation scheme, while Norton Rose Fulbright operates the guaranteed interview scheme. Reed Smith also work with EmployAbility, as do Herbert Smith Freehills, to widen access. And many more law firms – including all the Magic Circle – take part in ‘Open to Law’, an annual event for disabled students in their first or second years of university interested in a career in commercial law. A similar event, ‘Getting In’, focuses on investment banking; and if you’re still in Year 12, there’s also ‘Great Opportunities’ to consider. And it’s also worth signing up to Diversity Jobs, who deal with similar issues, and their blog site, ‘The Big Idea’, full of helpful tips for people with disabilities seeking employment.
To sum up – if you’re concerned about your employment prospects, don’t be! Just bear in mind when and how to disclose, and if possible get involved with these organisations and events. Disability shouldn’t be a barrier to a fulfilling and rewarding career, just like school background shouldn’t – so why let it be?