How much do we really know about challenges candidates with disabilities face during the application process?
Wednesday, June 5, 2019

As a Resourcing Partner at GTI, I hire candidates across a range of different industries. I work alongside HR professionals from initial application all the way through to assessment centre to help recruit new talent into their businesses. As early careers employers and recruiters, we understand the importance diversity brings to our businesses. However, do we fully understand the anxiety students face when applying for positions – especially if they face additional challenges from their personal situations? The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that people with disabilities have to apply for 60% more jobs than those without and people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as those without: facts that in 2019 are hard to comprehend.

I was invited to attend a diversity and inclusion presentation evening at Birkbeck, University of London, as one of four panel guests, where I was given the chance to speak to students with disabilities and offered advice and guidance regarding the application process and beyond.

We spent some time talking through what a typical recruitment process may look like, then opened up to a Q&A session where we answered a range of questions around the legalities of disability employment, what advice and help is available and how best to tackle moving into the working world. After the panel discussion we had a networking session where we had one-to-one conversations with students and answered any questions they had in regard to disability and employment.

What struck me the most during the evening was the high level of anxiety, confusion and lack of information available for students with disabilities around the application process. Students are concerned that by declaring their disability they would automatically be at a disadvantage during the process. Many are unaware of the adjustments that employers are able to make (such as providing additional time, larger text font, face-to-face interview as opposed to video interview for example) but furthermore, most students explained that they would feel nervous about asking for support in case an employer did not offer this or was unable to accommodate them.

In addition, students shared that their level of anxiety was only heightened by poor past experiences that they themselves had faced or others around them had told them about. These poor experiences further build barriers for students with disabilities before they even begin an application.

The great work that universities such as Birkbeck are doing across the country to empower students with the correct information and encourage them to ask for support to highlight the skills that they possess is inspirational. However, as recruiters and employers, what can we do to show that we are inclusive and appreciate the skills that students with disabilities possess?

It’s very easy for us to assume that all students know what to expect from an application process; however, for the majority this will be the first time they been in this situation. Being explicit about what the process looks like will give students the ability to plan and see what support they may need at each stage. We have had great feedback where we have provided examples of adjustments that we can provide – not only to show how adaptable we can make the process but often because the student may not be aware of what can in fact be done to accommodate their specific needs.

Some further things you may want to think about:

  • Publishing the details of who to contact should students need additional support reduces anxiety greatly. Speaking to someone in the business ensures students don’t find themselves searching websites or spending hours on the phone trying to speak to the right person.
  • Be open about the great things your business does for students with disabilities and advertise this on your careers site and marketing materials. Many businesses will be Disability Confident employers, which is an attractive proposition to students with disabilities – it shows you are considering their needs and have thought about how you are ready to support them not just in the recruitment process, but also when they join the organisation.
  • If you are not affiliated with the Disability Confident scheme but are still doing great things, why not capture this in a video on your careers site? We find it’s the best way to bring your culture to life! Speak to employees with disabilities in your business and find out how the business has helped them give their best at work. This shows potential candidates you are serious about supporting employees with disabilities.

I strongly feel it is our responsibility as early careers employers and recruiters to highlight the work that we do to support students and end the stigma around disability. Building relationships with university groups, creating steering groups and employer partnerships to share best practice and talking to students about the support available are great ways to create an open dialogue to create equality of opportunity for all.

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