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AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
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Barry Walsh Profile PictureTurning my Disability into an Ability!

Growing up I had huge interest in sports, creative activities and always enjoyed being part of teams. This is what led to me doing a degree in marketing and masters in advertising. My aspiration after college was to get a job in an advertising agency. After two internships and several unsuccessful applications, I decided to focus more on events and marketing. Once I’m doing something creative, in a team environment with plenty of variety, I’m happy and this is exactly what I have achieved in both of my WAM placements. Having previously gained a WAM placement being the Temporary Executive Officer in the Public Appointments Service, I am now the Business Event Support Executive in Bank of Ireland for ThinkBusiness.ie. My ultimate goal is to gain a full time position in an organisation like Bank of Ireland, where there is a clear career path, that allows for external personal growth and to be in a position where I am challenged with responsibility and enjoy working with colleagues - in a place that’s easy to get to.

Turning my disability into an ability!

Having dyslexia and dyspraxia there have been some obstacles throughout my education and professional career. One of these obstacles was presentations. Having had eight years of speech therapy, I was never confident giving presentations. This coupled with my dyslexia meant I kept losing my place on note cards or not being sure where I was on the screen. This culminated in me having to learn off each presentation without using notes or the screen. This increased level of practice led me to become a much better presenter and I began to really enjoy them. At the end of my masters, we had to give a presentation to 200 advertising experts with no notes. While others had a hard time changing their style, I had an advantage because this was the system I always used.

One of my initial activities on joining Bank of Ireland was content development. I worked around my Dyslexia by working with our editor to develop a system where I would work on creating case studies of successful Irish SMEs that our user base could take inspiration from. I researched and put a large list together of Irish SME’s with more than 1000 followers on social media, so that we could promote the case study to our user base and they could promote ThinkBusiness.ie to their user base. I also put together a list of PR firms that may have clients who may be interested in this. This is proving a very successful system as it is creating awareness of ThinkBusiness.ie directly to its target market. The case studies use the SMEs owners own words so the editing time is minimal, through analytics we can see that ThinkBusiness.ie user base clearly likes and enjoy the case studies and it gives PR to the SME’s as well. This system means I don’t have to create content myself and it allows me to focus on my areas of expertise such as networking at events, developing the brands strategy, competitor research, monitoring analytics or the odd colour piece that I would have expertise in.

Building The Future

Before both placements I’ve gained through AHEAD, I attended the ‘Building for The Future’ events. It is always one of the best-run events you can go to. The line-up of speakers is excellent. They have previously had guest speakers with backgrounds in entrepreneurships, recruitment, HR and psychometric testing. The exhibitors are some of the biggest companies in Ireland such as Bank of Ireland, Dell or The Public Appointments Service and the exhibitors are always willing to discuss your experience or the potential placements companies may have in the future. The fact the companies exhibiting at the event regularly take on graduates of all abilities for a range of interesting and varied positions, you can drastically increase your chance for future applications by attending. In addition, having recruitment and HR operatives from recruitment agencies or the Big 4 professional business firms giving feedback on your CV and interview technique means you are more informed when applying for future positions.

My best advice to graduates with disabilities is:

  1. Use every resource available to you. Family, friends, disability organisations, lecturers, anyone you can think of that can help you with your CV, application, or interview process.
  2. Before applying copy the job spec into Microsoft Word. Use the highlighter tool: anything you have experience with highlight green, some experience - highlight orange, no experience - highlight red. If there’s too much red and orange don’t bother applying. Lots of green /some orange - apply. After applying save the highlighted copy of the job spec and your cover letter under the company’s name. This means you are much more prepared if you get called to interview.
  3. Use your contacts, export your Facebook, LinkedIn, and email contacts in Excel. Remove duplicates and sort them into people you ‘would, may or wouldn’t’, send your CV to or that would know someone who is recruiting.
  4. Research the company. What type of company are they and can they meet your needs? One of my biggest weaknesses is due to my Dyspraxia I cannot drive. Therefore I have to research where each company is located so that I know I can get to it.
  5. Lastly get a mentor. Preferably someone working in HR or has experience interviewing people. Get them to go over your CV, cover letter or any documentation that goes to the employer. You want a Rottweiler not a Labrador. It’s better to have a tough pre-interview that makes for a strong interview.  

Luckily, now is a much better time to be applying for jobs than it was four or five years ago. Companies are hiring more than they were and most are always looking to create as diverse a workforce as possible. With extra supports and events such as the Paralympics breaking down barriers, there has never been a better time for companies to take on people with disabilities.

BLOG AUTHOR 

Barry Walsh has a degree in Marketing and a Masters in Advertising. Barry completed a WAM placement with The Public Appointments Service in 2015 and is currently on his second WAM placement in Bank of Ireland. 

First published on 1st February 2017

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