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Alix Hodges

Thursday 30 September 2021

Applying for a Civil Service internship

In September 2018, I left university with a first-class honour’s degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Three years later, I still hadn’t secured a job. The reasons were varied. A global pandemic, an overly competitive job market, being underqualified for roles, suitable positions outside of my travel range. But the main barrier, I believe, was my autism. 

To be clear, I have never faced discrimination for being autistic. But whenever I was turned down for a job, or failed to reach the interview stage, a small voice in the back of my mind would mutter, “you know why, don’t you?” 


My autism left undisclosed 

To this day, only 21.7% of autistic adults are in full time work. My suspicions were (and still are) that, while publicly championing diversity and inclusivity, organisations privately disregard disabled candidates. Whether it was reluctance to implement costly workplace adjustments or concern that health issues could force an employee to take long-term sick leave, I could always think of a convincing reason for why employers would overlook a disabled candidate. 

So, did I disclose my autism diagnosis when applying? Absolutely not! But when attending interviews, I always believed that I was “clocked” as autistic due to my voice, mannerisms and patterns of speech. 

In short, I wanted to downplay my diagnosis, but I couldn’t escape from it. And then I stumbled across Ambitious About Autism and was impressed to learn that they had partnered with several companies to offer a range of internships and have had dozens of success stories. 


Applying for paid internships through Ambitious about Autism 

At 24 years old, and close to the upper age limit for applying, I took the plunge and applied for two internships. One with m/SIX (a creative advertising and marketing company) and one with the Civil Service. I later discovered that the latter had partnered with Ambitious about Autism every year since 2015. Clearly, they had recognised the benefits of hiring autistic candidates. 

After communicating with the Ambitious about Autism team, who were all very kind, gracious and informative, they eventually emailed me to say that I had been accepted for both internships! I was flabbergasted. 

However, there was a problem… the dates clashed. m/SIX was offering a three month internship and the Civil Service a three week placement. In the end, I went for the Civil Service internship - a placement at the DVSA Goodmayes office in Ilford, London.

I had several reasons for choosing the Civil Service. Firstly, a three-week internship was a gentler approach into a working environment. Secondly, the Civil Service is a large and more established organisation. Thirdly, if this internship was successful, I would be in a stronger position to apply for Civil Service roles closer to home. 


New skills I learnt at the Civil Service 

From day one, I was confident that I had picked the right internship. My line managers were very understanding of my autistic needs and supported me in various ways. For the first week, they paired me with a fellow intern of a similar age. Not only was he a kind-hearted individual who was easy to talk to, he was also very adept at IT which came in handy when setting up my DVSA laptop! 

My managers entrusted me to work on their Go Green campaign - an initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of local DVSA offices. Before long, I was arranging Teams meetings with local test centre managers. I recorded their feedback, noted their suggestions, and presented everything in a professional PowerPoint format. And I created a Go Green survey on Microsoft Forms (a tool I had never used before) to record the opinions and suggestions of the Goodmayes Team. Throughout the entire process, both managers were at the end of a phone call or a WhatsApp message whenever I was uncertain or had a question. 

Sadly, I was “pinged” on my NHS Covid app for the second week, forcing me to work remotely. However, thanks to the flexible nature of the role and my managers keeping in regular contact via phone, email and WhatsApp, I was able to continue the Go Green project with little interruption. The only real downside was missing out on the office banter! 

The third and final week ended on a high note. I completed the project, presented my findings, and left the office on good terms with all staff. 


Best decision I have ever made 

If you are undecided about registering with Ambitious about Autism, please don’t be. It was hands down the best decision I made this past year. In just three short weeks, I acquired several skills which are attractive to employers – working to deadlines, gathering data, producing surveys, arranging management meetings, improving my knowledge of Microsoft packages, the list goes on. My CV is stronger, my job prospects have improved, and I am personally happier in myself and my abilities. 


About the author 

Alix Hodges has a first-class honours university degree in Creative and Professional Writing. 


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