Andrea Salt, Associate Personal Banker for NatWest

LOOK: Tell us what you do for a living, Andrea, and how you got into this career?

Andrea: I work as an Associate Personal Banker for NatWest. I got into it because I experienced quite serious discrimination in my last job, so I had to leave. I desperately needed to find a job to support myself. It happened to be the first job I got, which was quite scary because I’m the first blind person to actually do a role that I’m doing. However, they are a very good company to work for and I’ve been doing this job for two and a half years. Most of the time I enjoy it! It is extremely challenging.

LOOK: Have you always wanted to do this type of work?

Andrea: No – this is definitely not a job I would’ve seen myself doing; I hated maths at school! When I was at school I really wanted to be either an actress, or something that involved working with animals, or a physiotherapist. I couldn’t make up my mind! So I went on to University to study Sports Therapy. I did actually work as a Sports Massage Therapist for four years.  But the problem I was finding was that most of the work was self-employed and zero-hour contracts. I wanted to feel more secure with my finances.

LOOK: What advice would you give to VIPs hoping to get that first step on their career ladder?

Andrea: The advice I would give to people is – just try anything. If you don’t like it you don’t have to stay with it. But give it a good try. Also, don’t worry about the blind side of things, until you have an interview. The reason I say this is because if you’re worried about how you will do the job you’re putting barriers in your own way when you might not need to. When you get the interview you can properly sit down and go through everything.

LOOK: What has been the best career advice that anyone has ever given you?

Andrea: I didn’t actually get much valuable careers advice at all. What would’ve helped me at the time when I was looking for jobs, would have been to talk to people who are blind and already doing jobs successfully. I feel that this would’ve given me a lot of confidence when applying for work.

Three computer monitors with blue and black screens ad code on the,. A night-time cityscape of skyscrapers in the background. Binary written across the background.

Matthew Johnson, IT and Data Lawyer

LOOK: Hi Matthew – can you tell us what you do for a living and how you got into this line of work?

Matthew: I am an IT and Data lawyer at a national firm – I negotiate large IT contracts (e.g. when bringing in a new computer system or paying developers to build software for a company). I always had an interest in technology and the internet but didn’t have the background to become a coder on the frontline. My interest is more in how that technology is used in the real world – what are the implications of big data, and what does it mean for business/society?

I took a postgraduate course in law and trained at a regional firm before being taken on in my current job after qualifying as a lawyer.

LOOK: Have you always wanted to do this type of work?

Matthew: I haven’t always wanted to do this – I considered becoming a musician and an interpreter in the past. The legal route was less risky and more reliable than both those options.

LOOK: What has been the best career advice that anyone has ever given you?

Matthew: The best career advice I was ever given was my Dad’s: ‘Don’t make your work your passion, otherwise your passion will just become work.’

LOOK: What career advice would you give to your younger self?

Matthew: The soft skills are harder to get than a first-class degree. They are also worth more.

LOOK: What advice would you give to VIPs hoping to get that first step on their career ladder?

Matthew: Be realistic when choosing a career path. Don’t study something that has no clear job route at the end of it. Don’t give up on something because its difficult, but maintain a level of realism in your planning. Whilst you may love a course, certain careers are simply not attainable if you have no vision. Don’t bet on that changing by the time you finish studying, or you might end up stuck five
years down the line.

A lot of parttime work (e.g. serving at a bar or in a retail shop) cannot be done by someone with a severe visual impairment, so learn to pad out your CV in other ways – volunteer, teach skills, write articles/blogs – anything to show that you are a good communicator, a team player and have some experience of how the
bigger picture works.

Remember that, as a VI, you are the underdog by default – better marks will help, but people with good degrees are a dime a dozen. Volunteering and other non-academic achievements will differentiate you.

Don’t disclose your VI until you’ve got the interview unless you absolutely have to do so. Once you have the interview though, tell them beforehand, because access arrangements may need to be made, and no interviewer wants to feel that they’ve been caught out.

Lastly, in most cases, it’s better to tackle the blindness issue head-on at the end of the interview. A lot of interviewers will be scared to bring it up for fear of giving offense or inviting legal consequences – so do it for them, and take the opportunity to explain that you can do the job, and how your technology works, if that is appropriate to the position. Letting them draw their own conclusions will almost always be worse for you than if you set the record straight, but do it tactfully.

Ready to start earning?

If you are ready to enter the world of work, our career mentoring scheme can match you with a mentor – like Andrea or Matthew – who is in work and who can chat to you about landing that all-important job.

Mentors can help with:

Writing CVs
Interview technique
Disclosing visual impairment
Self-advocacy skills
Discussing access barriers at work
Applying for Access to Work

To find out more, contact us on info@look-uk.org or give us a call on 07464 351958.

A message from our Director, Charlotte:

Happy National Careers Week, everyone!! Here at LOOK we are beyond proud of our incredible mentors who are thriving in their careers. Our mentors work in a range of sectors; some are teachers, computer programmers and engineers, lawyers,  research scientists, musicians, massage therapists, translators, civil servants… the list goes on. VI people get great jobs. But competing for jobs is tough and learning how to feel confident when starting new opportunities with a visual impairment can be even more challenging.   

I have always talked about and promoted my visual impairment as an asset in every job application form I have ever written, in terms of picking it up and making it a positive part of my personality that makes me a unique employee. Be proud and confident of who you are! Everybody takes a different stance on this, but – if you need any extra support during the interview or if there are any tests or presentations you have to give that you may need reasonable adjustments for, then you will need to tell your interviewer.

A huge thank you to Andrea and Matthew for sharing their stories – we hope that you can find confidence and inspiration from their words and experiences.