PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS – AND TAKE YOUR TIME, SAYS EXPERT
Graduate job-hunting can feel especially daunting if you have dyspraxia (also known as developmental co-ordination disorder, or DCD). Being clumsy, forgetful and having a less-than-brilliant sense of direction might not fill you with confidence – but being a dyspraxic graduate can also present a positive opportunity to impress an employer by explaining the challenges you’ve overcome. Graduate Fog asked dyspraxia trainer Maxine Roper (who is dyspraxic herself) to explain…
1) Remember you’re not that different
“Ultimately, many of the feelings and anxieties that dyspraxic graduates experience will be just the same as any other graduate jobseeker – the difference is in the intensity of them because we have such peaks and troughs in our abilities. The same with errors we make. They’re mostly the same errors anyone else can make but it’s the higher frequency of them that can cause problems. Luckily, there is much we can do to manage those problems and maximize our chances of being successful in finding a good job.”
2) Know your strengths
“Like dyslexics, dyspraxics often have very clear-cut strengths and weaknesses. This can help us know what works for us quicker than those who are ‘all-rounders’. Dyspraxic strengths can include empathy, original thinking and determination. An entrepreneur with dyspraxia once told me ‘Most people are only really good at two or three things. You just need the right workplace for your two or three things.’ The clearer you can be about what yours are – with yourself and potential employers – the better.”
3) Take your time with applications
“Dyspraxics can find time management a challenge, and we struggle with time perception too – meaning we can feel pushed for time when actually we aren’t. Take your time. If you’re rushing or not concentrating you’re more likely to make errors – most commonly typos, missing words, misreading words, misreading forms or missing out sections by mistake. These are all results of our co-ordination and visual-spatial awareness affecting attention to detail. Always ask someone to check your application, or read it back to yourself aloud. Make sure you’ve filled in all sections of forms and attached everything they’ve asked for. If you’re emailing an application, always double-check the email address too. I once missed out on a job I really wanted because I emailed ‘.co.uk’ instead of ‘.com’ by mistake. A week later I got a bounce notification – but by then the deadline had passed! Now, I know to check the ending of addresses and take extra care over dots and hyphens. I also know that I could have called them to explain what had happened. Who knows, they might still have accepted my application.”
4) Seek out supportive employers
“Employers who have signed up to the government’s Disability Confident pledge are specifically committed to supporting disabled employees. Like dyslexia, dyspraxia is considered a disability under the Equality Act, which protects you from discrimination at work. The Business Disability Forum’s list of members can also guide you towards disability-friendly firms. Great With Disability is another good resource.”
5) Consider SMEs
“Small to medium sized companies (SMEs) can feel friendlier for dyspraxics, and there are fewer people to get to know and impress. They can also be more flexible about the nature of your role, and it can be easier to change jobs or win a promotion. Just remember that smaller companies may have less experience recruiting disabled candidates so you’ll need to be clearer and more proactive about asking for ‘reasonable adjustments’ (see point 7), and helping them to understand what your condition means. When explaining this, talk or write as though you are telling a new friend and give specific, everyday examples rather than using jargon.”
6) Consider disclosing
“You’re not legally required to disclose dyspraxia (ie. to tell a potential employer that you are dyspraxic) and there is no hard-and-fast rule about when to disclose. It depends on the job and how much support you think you might need in the application process. If it involves several interviews and assessment tasks, it’s good to disclose during your application, or when you’re offered an interview. If it’s less formal, you may prefer to wait until you’re offered the job. Having said that, I think a positive disclosure early on shows confidence and self-awareness. It is also a chance to sell your strengths and talk about the challenges you’ve overcome, which I find employers are often really impressed by.”
7) Request ‘reasonable adjustments’
“You’re legally entitled to what’s called ‘reasonable adjustments’ at interviews. For example, if an interview involves a written test or group exercise, ask for more detail so you know what you might need. There is no law on what’s considered “reasonable” but psychologists and other experts do make recommendations. As a guide, for assessment tasks, you should be allowed five minutes to read the instructions before you start, five added minutes for every fifteen, or fifteen for every hour. Companies should use timed tests sparingly and fairly. They shouldn’t give you minutes to do something when someone in the job would have hours.”
8) Allow extra time to get to interviews
“Many dyspraxics will admit that our sense of direction isn’t great – and having to attend interviews in lots of different locations (sometimes in the same week) can be a shock to the system, especially if you’ve come from a small town or university campus where everything’s on your doorstep. Being late for an interview (or arriving in a panic) is stressful for you and a really bad look in front of a potential employer – so don’t risk it! Give yourself plenty of extra time to get where you’re going, especially if it’s in an area you’re not familiar with. You could even go and check out the location the day before.”
9) Ask questions
“Dyspraxics can lack confidence, especially if you’ve been job hunting for a while. A good way to look more confident than you feel is to ask a few good questions at the end of your interview. Find out what a typical day might involve, what training you’ll be given and how easy it is to move around within the company or develop within an area you’re particularly interested in. Doing this will turn the interview into a conversation, which can feel more comfortable.”
10) Find out what to expect
“Dyspraxics have to work extra-hard to process information, especially in unfamiliar situations or in groups. This can make us seem a bit tense or distant when we first meet people. At interviews, try and remember to look keen and engaged even if you’re feeling overloaded. If possible, try to find out as much as you can beforehand about the format of the interview or assessment, so you’re not surprised by a large panel or an assessment exercise.”
11) Practise talking about yourself
“Dyspraxics sometimes find it hard to think on our feet and this can be especially challenging early in your career when you haven’t had much experience. At my first graduate job interview I was completely thrown by the opener: ‘Tell me about yourself’. Think about the jobs you’ve done and skills you’ve gained. Ask those who know you well to point to strengths you might not have noticed, or achievements you might not remember. It’s good to have a few stock answers up your sleeve. Just tweak them so you make sure they definitely answer the question that’s being asked.”
12) Keep your cool
“Many dyspraxics report a sort of ‘brain freeze’ when under pressure. It’s the result of a slower speed of processing and organizing thoughts – it’s a bit like having too many windows open on your computer, and the whole thing stops. If your brain freezes during an interview or assessment, don’t be afraid to politely ask for questions to be repeated or clarified. It comes across as mature, gives you thinking time and is much better than awkward silences or tripping over words. Similarly, if you spill or drop something, reacting calmly can turn this into a positive. Act quickly and offer to help rather than spend too long apologising. Ask for a tissue if you need one; or better still, have one in your pocket just in case. Then try to smile, say “Sorry about that” and carry on. If there’s nothing you can do, just let them worry about it afterwards and focus on your interview. Nobody’s hiring you for your nimble fingers!”
13) ‘Road test’ roles by trying paid internships, shifts or cover
“Dyspraxics can be especially anxious about failure, so the idea of a formal ‘probation period’ at the start of what we hope is going to be a permanent job is not appealing. A less formal introduction to a new job and workplace – like a short internship, shifts or holiday cover – can feel more comfortable. If you start off on a temporary casual basis you can work towards something more permanent if it works out (or leave gracefully if it doesn’t). If you’re concerned about how you’ll handle certain aspects of the role or not sure about disclosing your dyspraxia, this is a great way to find out if the work is right for you without the pressure of a formal probation period.”
14) Be realistic
“Your degree gives you choices, so it makes sense to put your energy into what you’re best at rather than struggling with something difficult that doesn’t play to your strengths. For example, many dyspraxics have problems with driving, so even if you’ve passed your test you probably won’t be allowed to drive commercial vehicles. Some retail, factory and catering work will be off-limits for health and safety reasons. If you need a ‘stop-gap’ job while you hunt for a graduate job, baby-sitting, house-sitting, pet-sitting and dog-walking are dyspraxia-friendly alternatives.”
15) Look after your mental health
“Dyspraxics can experience anxiety and depression, especially if you’ve been diagnosed late. Counselling or career counselling can help if this is holding back your job search. There are coaches who specialise in dyslexia and dyspraxia – some are dyslexic or dyspraxic themselves. It’s not cheap, but can be a good investment if you can find the money. Once you’re in work or self-employed, you can get free coaching through Access To Work but the service they offer depends on where you live. Most areas have free or income-graded counselling services funded by local councils, or you can charities such as the Dyspraxia Foundation or Mind.
And finally, remember…
16) It gets easier!
“Getting your first graduate job is often the hardest part – once you land that, your confidence will rise quickly. This is especially true once you’re past being asked to do filing and really basic admin (Dyspraxics often struggle here, but if you say you’re not very good at admin people think you’re just being a snob – so make sure you explain that isn’t the case!). The other good news is that once you find the right employer, you’re likely to climb the ladder fairly swiftly – especially if your employer can be flexible about tailoring your role to what you’re best at. Dyspraxics – like dyslexics – tend to be better at the skills in senior jobs such as creativity, strategy, negotiating and delegating. A good employer will see your confidence grow and discover your hidden talents, and they may even decide you’re more suited to a different role than the one you were originally hired for. This tends to happen when employers realise we weren’t designed to be the skivvies – we were made for bigger things!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maxine Roper is a freelance journalist and dyspraxia trainer www.maxinefrancesroper.co.uk
* WHAT DID WE MISS?
Do you have any tips for dyspraxic graduates? If you’re dyspraxic, what are the main challenges you face when job hunting? And how do you try to overcome those? Do you disclose your dyspraxia to employers – and, if so, when? Share your stories and experiences below, thank you!
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