Nick might be too honest to get a job
These days Nick Dow steers clear of recruiters. Their ‘tick-box’ approach defeats his attempts to get a job.
At last count Nick had applied for more than 400 roles since leaving university, but recruiters can’t see beyond his disabilities. He is autistic and has mild cerebral palsy. He also has a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and a diploma in arts.
He says there comes a point in every job application when his disability comes up. One of the questions always is, ‘Do you have a condition that affects your performance in the role?’ “In my honesty, I have to answer yes. I don’t want to hide my conditions,” Nick says.
When Nick graduated his dream was to be a chartered accountant, but to start with he would need a position with an accountancy firm. However, he suspects he may be being ruled out as early as the online application.
“If you don’t fit in the box, there are 50 other people who do. I can do good things in the community, but not if the cards are stacked against you from the off.
“I made the decision to not attempt part-time employment while at high school and university – a symptom of my autism is struggling with more than one task at one time. This meant I came out of university with a B average, but also at a significant disadvantage when applying for accounting positions, due to my peers having practical experience,” he says. “I moved sideways into administration to try and make myself more employable to an accountancy firm.
“An employee cannot start their mentorship for their chartered accountant practical experience until they have been in a position for at least three months and therefore moved beyond the basics of paper-shuffling and learning firm processes. I haven’t achieved this yet.”
Nick says positions at the bottom of the organisational chain are more about speed of input – how many invoices you can staple in an hour – than, for example, a well-written report. “This is a problem for me, because basic office labour like hole-punching and stapling is an area of weakness due to my difficulties with fine-motor coordination. I haven’t lasted long enough in a firm yet to be able to focus more on what I am good at than what I struggle with.”
Nick says the traditional recruitment process is stacked against people with disabilities, and while alternative approaches are being tried in Australia, so far, they are not here. “I am about making the recruitment process easier for people like me. We need to reset the recruitment process so that disabled people can show what they can do.
“For example, some of these alternative approaches will omit the interview entirely for those candidates who struggle with communication and replace it with practical tasks related to the job being applied for.”
A year ago, Nick tried a different tack. He wrote an opinion piece for Stuff Nation in June last year outlining his attempts to get a job and appealing for a firm to give him the time and support he needed to become comfortable in an accounting or administration position.
He wrote: “The only thing that keeps me going, that motivates me to apply for job number 423, 424, 425, is the belief that maybe the 430th or 440th firm will give me a shot. I turned 30 at the end of May. Most people turning 30 are despondent because they feel their life is flying by. I’m despondent because I feel my life may never begin.”
He is now 31 and the article brought him two part-time positions – one for 13.5 hours a week, and one for 16 hours a month. “The article is a better representation of me than a CV,” he says.
“I have been trying to use my article as leverage since then, rather than, apply for jobs in the open market,” he says. “I think society considers me to be disabled more than I do. But it’s pretty clear that my disabilities have prevented me from being financially independent.” He has recently moved into a townhouse owned by his parents, and while he says it has been great to set up his own home, he is aware he couldn’t have done it without their help.
He says that a reliance on other people, or on the State through the benefit system, is a burden he has to carry. “There is a sense of guilt that I am beholden to others, and I am forever having to question whether I am doing enough to improve my situation.”
Nick has worked in a dozen different jobs since leaving university in 2011, but none of them has lasted. “Most of the positions I have had have ended for a reason. The positions were not a good match for my combination of skills, abilities and limitations.”
He says his strengths are accuracy, attention to detail and error checking, and he acknowledges that sometimes he can take these things too far, like spending time trying to account for a five-cent discrepancy. “I am not deliberately trying to get in people’s way. My brain is wired in a certain way and I can’t just switch that off.
“I can’t find a forum where what I perceive as my strengths are valued by the firm.”
Above: Nick Dow says there is a need for a reset. The traditional recruitment process is stacked against people with disabilities.