Getting a graduate job when you have dyslexia
Whether or not to inform a potential employer about your dyslexia is a big decision. Dr Elizabeth Bradley, careers adviser for disabled students and graduates at the University of Central Lancashire, explains, ‘Each person’s dyslexia is different but people assume they know what it is, so there is a fear for graduates with dyslexia that they will be judged wrongly.’
According to the NHS, approximately 10% of the British population has dyslexia to some extent, making it one of the most common learning difficulties. Yet students with dyslexia often worry about informing potential employers of their condition.
You are not obliged to disclose dyslexia, especially if you feel it won’t affect your ability to do the job. Elizabeth says, ‘Disclosure is a personal choice and you have to decide what feels right for you.’ The equal opportunities section of application forms usually asks about ‘a long-term condition that affects you on a day-to-day basis’. If you’re applying for a job where your dyslexia won’t affect your ability to do the tasks every day, you might not feel that it is relevant.
However, one student with dyslexia told TARGETjobs, ‘It’s very important to be incredibly open because it will help you out in the end. There’s no point in being discreet.’ There are a range of adjustments that can be made to the application process, so if you feel you need extra support, don’t shy away from requesting it – it may make the difference between getting the job or not.
You should also bear in mind that if you don’t disclose your dyslexia and you then have difficulties with the application process, it is usually not possible to ask for it to be taken into account retrospectively. For example, if you fail an online test and then ask afterwards for the effect of dyslexia on your score to be taken into account, the employer may not be able to help.
Consider which stage of the application process you feel is the right time to disclose dyslexia. You may be able to include it in the equal opportunities section of an online application form. Alternatively, if the employer requests a CV and covering letter and you decide to disclose dyslexia in these documents, don’t just state it – expand on it. If you’re applying for a job involving working in disabilities or equal opportunities, your dyslexia is relevant and could help you stand out from other candidates, so point this out.
You may prefer to wait until you’re invited to interview, when you can bring it up on the day or make a quick phone call beforehand. This way you’ll be able to explain face to face how your dyslexia affects you and how the employer could offer extra support in the workplace.
Above all, don’t view your dyslexia with negativity or dwell on the issue throughout the application. Instead, sell your experience as an additional benefit to the employer. Perhaps you’ve shown determination despite your difficulties or you’ve become a creative problem-solver when you’ve found ways around obstacles. Give specific examples from your experience to back this up.
Think about your strengths and how they are selling points, and draw up a list of them. This will help you articulate them in your applications. Elizabeth explains, ‘Dyslexia affects everyone differently so read through your educational psychology report. It will remind you where your strengths and weakness may lie.’
Then think about the support you may need in the application process and in the workplace. Would you need similar support to what was available to you at university? Are there any adjustments to the application process, such as more time for online tests, that employers could reasonably make?
Consider applying to employers that adhere to the two ticks scheme; it means they are committed to employing disabled people. If a job advert displays the two ticks symbol, disabled candidates are guaranteed an interview as long as they meet the basic criteria for the job. You may also be eligible for an Access to Work grant that will cover work-related costs, such as special computer equipment. There is a lot of support available for jobseekers with dyslexia so make sure you research the options.
It can also be difficult for students with dyslexia to get work experience as they often take longer to complete university work and have little free time available to search for or get involved in extra activities. However, there are many work experience placements and internships specifically aimed at students with disabilities. Explore the available opportunities on the EmployAbility website.
The job application process can be overwhelming for students with dyslexia, as one student explained: ‘I found it difficult to understand what was happening because everything seemed to happen so fast, but a quick chat with my university careers service put my mind at ease and they gave me a timeline of events.’ Break down the career-finding process into manageable steps and get help and advice from your careers adviser at each stage as you need it.
If you’ve had help understanding and choosing essay questions at university, you might struggle unpicking a job specification to find out what the employer’s looking for. ‘Print the advert off. Use a coloured highlighter to identify the key words or phrases. Annotate these with examples of your experience and notes on how your evidence fulfils the requirements,’ suggests Elizabeth. You can then discuss this with your careers adviser before writing up your application.
‘You could also make a plan or map of all your evidence of skills, colour code the relevant sections and tick off the items on the job specification as you go to make sure you meet all the criteria,’ Elizabeth continues.
She also advocates having someone read through your application before you send it off, especially if dyslexia affects your spelling, grammar or ability to write in a coherent order. ‘Don’t rely on your word processing application’s spellcheck as it may not pick up on the right words being used in the wrong place, such as ‘from’ and ‘form’, and watch out for abbreviations and non-conventional spellings,’ adds Elizabeth.
Online tests can be particularly difficult for students with dyslexia so ask for extra time if you think you might need it. The employer may be able offer an alternative assessment format, for example one that isn’t multiple choice. You may also be able to request a paper copy, different font size or different colour if you find reading on screen difficult.
The best thing to do is get lots of practice. There are plenty of free sample tests online that you can go through. If you are sent a link to the test via email, check the deadline and make sure you take as much time as you need to practise – you usually don’t have to complete the test straight away.
Job interviews can be a source of stress for any student but particularly for those with dyslexia who struggle with interpreting compound questions or structuring a coherent answer under pressure. Consider requesting a list of the interview questions beforehand or asking if the interviewer can put the questions to you one by one, in chronological order, avoiding multiple questions.
You should also prepare ahead of time and write down detailed answers to questions you could be asked. Elizabeth advocates using the STAR technique to structure an answer to questions where you give evidence from your experiences. She says, ‘Memory and recall can be an issue for people with dyslexia so the STAR technique can be used to trigger memory.’ This means that, for each answer, you should explain the Situation of the experience, the Task you were set to do, the Action you took to complete the task and the Result of your actions. You can read more about the STAR technique in our article on competence-based interviews.
When you are offered an interview, or even before, request a mock interview from your careers service. The adviser can use the job specification to formulate interview questions and give you feedback on your responses. You could also try recording yourself answering questions so that you can listen back to what you said and see where you could improve.
During the interview, take your time and don’t rush your answers. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking the interviewer to repeat the question if you need to hear it again. Bear in mind that some interviewers have had little experience of dyslexia so expect questions about the adjustments you’d need in the workplace. However, don’t assume that the interviewer will have a negative view. If you present your dyslexia in a positive light and highlight the skills you’ve developed from it, your experiences could help you get the job.
- For more information on your rights, how to find disability friendly employers and whether to disclose a disability, read our article on disability and mental health.