As a follow-up to my School Days video last month, I thought I’d also write about how I got a job after graduating from university.
My degree was in accounting and finance (in which I got a 2:1), so naturally I was looking for work in that field. It was the area that interested me most, and my degree would allow me to skip some of the exams of the official accounting bodies, which would be a great help.
But I was also open to other ideas and possibilities as well, if any came up. I knew that just having a degree in itself would be useful, even if it wasn’t directly related to the job I eventually went for. So I didn’t feel I wanted to restrict myself too much, just in case.
So when I graduated back in July 2004, I had no idea what I was going to end up doing. But I started looking around straight away. I saw an advisor at the Job Centre, and was put in touch with a guy called Kurt who was involved with a scheme called New Deal. New Deal was the government scheme at that time to help unemployed people get into work – and there were variations for young people, single parents, over 25s, over 50s and, in my case, the disabled.
Having focused purely on my education up to that point, as it was simpler that way, the thing I needed most to begin with was work experience, so we agreed to look for that as well as actual employment. The only work experience I’d ever done before was when I was much younger, shortly before my GCSE’s in school, when I spent 2 weeks at a building society, and 2 weeks at an auditing firm. Those experiences were useful and enjoyable, and I did very well at them, but they were a long time ago. So I needed proper, up-to-date experience. We also looked at potential companies and job openings in the area that I might want to apply for, as well as the possibility of writing some speculative letters to a few local firms, as you never know what can happen that way. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?
The main thing, though, was to get some experience, and there was a Work Prep scheme available with that in mind. It took a few weeks to get things moving, but in the middle of August I was introduced to a lady called Louise, who dealt with that side of things. She was really nice and helpful, and we had a particularly long meeting in early September, looking at the internet and the local job market, to see what was around, and so she could understand what I was looking for. My homework from that long meeting was a job application form to fill in, as I’d never done one of those before. But I gave it my best shot and she was very happy with it. So things certainly seemed positive.
Louise had told me that the aim was to arrange a placement within 4 weeks. And she kept her word, coming to me with an offer after just 3 weeks. She knew someone within the finance department of a local firm, and it turned out they were doing a new project for which they needed an extra pair of hands. So they were interested in meeting me for an interview, and I gladly went along. And, at the end of it, I was offered a placement for 8 weeks, which I happily accepted.
Incidentally, Louise had also contacted local accountancy firms as well, but apparently they didn’t take people on placements for less than 6 months. And the Work Prep scheme I was on only allowed for 2 months, so they weren’t an option. Which was a shame considering the degree I had – and yet it also worked in my favour as it happens.
The work placement I went on was very interesting and enjoyable, and everyone was really nice and friendly. Essentially I was assisting the finance team with a major upgrade to their financial system, by inputting data, editing documents, and stuff like that. And I was able to get on with it absolutely fine, I found it very interesting. Not only that, but they also wanted to give me something back, because of my degree. So a few days of my placement were spent with their accountancy section as well, which was great. Louise also popped in once a week to check how I was doing and, like me, was very pleased with how things were going.
So the placement went very well, and it was the IT side of my work that proved to be key in the end. I was picking things up quickly, learning new pieces of software quite easily, and completing work efficiently. And I also got on well with everybody. All of which got the attention of one or two people in the IT section of the company, as they felt I could be of use to them as well, especially as they also had to do work in relation to the system upgrade that I’d been helping with. So at the end of my work experience placement, I was then offered a temporary, paid contract with them. Which I was thrilled about, of course, as was Louise. Her work was done, as I now had a job, and I was very grateful for all of her help.
The contract was initially just for 3 months. But then it got extended, and then extended again… until September of the following year. By that point, they really wanted to keep me on permanently, but they had to create a brand new post in the department to make it possible. This had to go through Human Resources of course, which in turn meant that it had to be advertised openly. I couldn’t just walk into this new post, I had to interview for it. So there was no absolute guarantee that I would get it. My 9 months of experience in that department was certainly going to be an advantage – but there was also plenty I still didn’t yet know or fully understand. So I still had to do a fair bit of research into that area of work, in readiness for any questions that might come up.
All in all, it was a good experience having to go through the interview process, which was naturally much more formal than the work placement interview had been. This was for a permanent job after all. So it was a really big deal, and I was nervous about it, of course. But everyone there was very supportive, and I was comfortable and confident in my role by then. And I was interviewed by the two managers I had already been working with. So things were easier than they otherwise might have been. That doesn’t mean I was perfect in the interview – I fumbled a bit or forgot one or two things I should have remembered, as is to be expected in those circumstances. But I obviously did enough, as I got the position. And I’ve been in that permanent role for 11 years now.
I’ve been told since then that there were one or two other good applicants at the time, but I had come across as confident and knowledgeable, so my online research, in addition to the things I’d picked up on the job, had thankfully paid off. I also got the highest marks on the aptitude test that each applicant had been given at reception before being interviewed. It was nothing to do with the job, just a few logic puzzles asking you to find the next number in the sequence, pick the odd shape out of a group, and so on. But then I like doing puzzles and brainteasers, so that was right up my street as well.
Of course, things could have been very different, and if I’d been going through that process today, budget restraints may well have stopped them creating a new post. But as it happened, I was in the right place at the right time. They needed some extra help, which I was capable of providing, and the company were perfectly happy to take on a disabled person. Indeed, they’re one of thousands of UK companies who have earned the ‘two ticks’ accreditation for showing a commitment to employing people with disabilities. There is also now a ‘disability confident’ symbol that companies can earn, which I gather is replacing the ‘two ticks’ symbol. Either way, these accreditations are worth looking out for when job-hunting. And I haven’t had any problems with my employer – they’ve been very respectful and supportive, I’m happy to say.
I’ve also had invaluable support from the government’s Access To Work scheme, enabling me to get taxi journeys to and from work, magnification software for my office computer, and a CCTV magnifier that allows me to read physical documents on the screen. That has all helped me a great deal, and allowed me to do my job very effectively.
I do enjoy my job, because every task is different and every day is different, taking on everything from document creation and data management, to programming and system administration. And I’m part of a great team of people that I get on very well with. Things are going to change a bit in the near future, which then has the potential to lead to even bigger changes beyond that. So it’s impossible to say exactly what the future holds, or if I’ll still be in the same role in, say, 5 or 10 years time. It’s could be exciting to find out, all being well. But right now, I’m very happy that I have a steady job that I’m good at, with supportive and friendly colleagues, and I often get good feedback on the work that I do, which is very satisfying. It’s given me a lot of confidence as the years have gone on. So it’s been very worthwhile.
And I feel very fortunate, because I know it’s extremely difficult for many disabled people to find work, including friends of mine. The attitudes of many employers still needs to change, as there are still plenty who are too unwilling, afraid, uninformed or ignorant of the law when it comes to the employment of disabled people, or don’t know how to treat them even when they do employ them. While at the opposite end of the scale we have companies like Clarity, who Emily Davison highlighted recently, and they go above and beyond to employ people with visual impairments and other disabilities as their core workforce. They haven’t asked for a mention, I just found Emily’s video interesting, because they prove in a wonderful and positive way how valuable disabled people are in the workplace – as does any company who is keen to take on disabled employees as part of their team. We just need all employers to recognise that fact, that they’re people first and foremost. In other words, as stated in this Huffington Post article:
“When you start with the word ‘disability,’ you begin thinking about what the issues are, not what the abilities will be,” says the new CEO of The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Richard Ellenson. “It’s critical to understand that when you begin with that word, you’re looking for the wrong things.”
So I’m not trying to show off or anything like that. I know it’s unfairly difficult for many disabled people to find employment, and it could easily have been the same for me. I’m just giving my own experience of how things have panned out. I’m glad I took the opportunities that were presented to me, I’m thankful that people had the foresight to offer them in the first place, and I’m happy and relieved that things worked out as well as they did. They’ve allowed me to learn a great deal, gain a lot of confidence and experience, and make a lot of good friends and connections. All of which has enabled me to lay down some solid foundations, for whatever lies ahead on my career path in the years to come. It will certainly be interesting to see what the future holds. Time will tell. 🙂