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Gaining employment in the face of adversity - Sean O’Kelly

Gaining employment in the face of adversity - Sean O’Kelly

According to the latest census in Ireland, 31% of people with disabilities are in employment in comparison to 71% without a disability.

My Story

I left school in 2011. Finding an accessible PLC college in my local area was not an easy task to start with. In my area, there are 5 PLC colleges, I rang each of them to ask if their place was accessible – 3 out of the 5 were not accessible. 

During my second college course in 2013, I started on my employment-searching expedition. Looking back, I was naive but the eagerness in me outweighed! During my second course I linked in with an organisation called Employability. While being part of Employability, I was applying for jobs with the help of my job coach. In a lot of my job applications, I wasn’t getting a response. Looking back, I now know that not all applications are replied to. 

Over a 7-year period, I did 6 PLC courses while on the job hunt. The reason I did so many was because I wanted to keep busy (day to day) and gain as much work experience as possible. I quickly learned that my job applications would have to be all based around experience that I have had. Many of the job advertisements that I was looking at online required diplomas and degrees which I felt I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work involved. 

As time went by, it became more and more apparent that networking for me was the key to having any hope in gaining employment. While I did have opportunities for interviews (each with great experience), my applications were rejected countless times. 

A major turning point in my journey to finding employment was taking part in a jobs club with the local employment service near me while on an internship in Southside Partnership. During the short course, it opened my eyes to a lot of areas regarding employment; CV layout, interview preparations and how I would come across in interviews. During the start of my job searching journey, I had disclosed my disability during the application process. After a while I decided to change how I applied for jobs and only disclosed my disability when (and if) I was asked for interview. I saw a big change in positive response once I made that change. 

While doing my internship in Southside Partnership, I joined the Irish Wheelchair Associations Ability Programme which is the equivalent of Employability. With my new mind frame in my job search and interview preparation, I felt like I was starting off on a ‘clean sheet’. With my job coach, I applied for jobs and found I was more successful in getting interviews this time around. By Christmas 2019, I was very optimistic that I was going to get employment because I had been successful in interviews. 

In early 2020, my mum was talking to a friend of hers who is a consultant in a hospital about my employment endeavours. He suggested that I send on my CV which I did. Within a couple of days, I got a phone call from HR in the hospital inviting me for interview. 

In preparing for interview, I knew I didn’t want to let my contact down, so I prepared a lot (in as much as I could without a specific position to work off). On interview day, I was quietly confident that I would be successful judging by the amount of preparation I did. 

The following week, I heard back from the hospital’s HR staff. To my delight, I was successful in the interview. I was told that I would be employed on a part-time basis for 3 months as a fill-in during the summer. I was really happy with anything that was offered. I had heard nothing back from my previous successful interviews, so I was really holding out on this one. 

My next (and final) hurdle I had to overcome was the onset of the pandemic. Having been successful in my interview and received a verbal offering, COVID-19 arrived in March 2020. As my interview and offer wasn’t linked to a particular role, I was very eager to keep in contact in fear my application would be postponed. 

In September 2020, I was requested for interview by the same organisation for a specific role. I knew this interview would be a follow-up from my previous interview but with more specifications of the role. However, I still prepared for it as if it was a brand-new application. 

To my delight, I was successful in the second interview. When I got the all-important phone call confirmation, to say I was elated is an understatement. 

For a long time during my employment journey, I knew that the icing on the cake to gaining further independence was to get on the employment ladder. I have achieved that, and you can too! 

My message to everyone out there currently on the employment journey, don’t give up. My advice is - you will have setbacks, but just pick yourself back up and treat every interview as a learning experience for the next. You too, will get that perfect job!