10 Ways to Improve Your Interviewing Process for Candidates With Disabilities

Published September 9, 2021

According to a survey by hiring service JDP, 93 percent of Americans experience anxiety about job interviews. For 29 percent of Americans, job interviews create more anxiety than public speaking, a first date, or a visit to the dentist. For candidates with disabilities, the anxiety of making a good impression also comes with other stressors. Some candidates worry about physically reaching the office while others wonder how they are going to navigate office social cues.

As an employer, you can create a positive and inclusive interview process that reduces these anxieties. Even better, you can take actionable steps to make your job interviews more accessible for candidates from all walks of life. Here are 10 ways to change how you interview for the better.

1. Designate an objective accommodation specialist

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, potential employers can’t ask disability-related questions before an offer is made. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate your candidates with disabilities throughout the interview process.

Within your hiring department, designate an employee to work with candidates to create inclusive interview environments. This individual should not be involved in the hiring process and instead should focus on meeting the needs of the candidate.

For example, this person could make large print copies of interview documents or schedule a quiet interview room that is free from distractions. They could book a sign language interpreter if needed or look into making transportation arrangements.

These actions make accessibility an expectation, rather than an exception for candidates.

2. Adjust your expectations for the interview

Many hiring managers have a set of expectations for candidates. They look for strong handshakes, clear eye contact, and immediate comfort with conversations. They are evaluating a candidate’s “people skills,” and often base the rest of the interview on these early interactions.

Unfortunately, these expectations can isolate candidates who aren’t comfortable making eye contact and who avoid small talk. A highly qualified employee who is eager to get hired could get passed over because they aren’t extroverted or comfortable with touching.

Reconsider your pre-set interview expectations before meeting someone. Focus on their qualifications instead.

3. Ask the candidate how they can perform certain tasks

One of the best ways to make your interview process more accessible is to develop open-ended questions that allow candidates to showcase their skills and abilities. Instead of asking if a candidate can do something, ask them how they would accomplish a specific task or challenge. This can prevent you from writing off a potential candidate because you assumed they would struggle with certain parts of the job.

4. Avoid making assumptions about a candidate’s needs

There’s a significant difference between accommodating a disability and pigeon-holing a candidate based on their needs. Too often, over-eager companies will rush to accommodate an employee without understanding the tools they use.

For example, only 10 percent of legally blind Americans read Braille or are learning it. While you might think providing information in Braille to a candidate who is blind is useful, they might not be able to read that language.

This is why it helps to have an in-house expert who can meet the needs of candidates with disabilities on an individual level.

5. Don’t hire based on culture fit

In the early 2000s, there was a growing trend to hire based on whether a candidate would fit into a company’s culture. The idea was that employees who got along were more likely to collaborate and stay at a job longer. However, this concept has become increasingly toxic as people start to realize what a good culture fit actually looks like.

“What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with,” says Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix. “This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.”

By focusing on skills and qualifications, you can hire the best candidate – not just potential best friends.

6. Create tangible skills tests

One way to objectively sort through candidates and focus on qualifications is to create skills tests that recreate their roles within the company. However, even within these tests, you need to focus on accessibility.

Consider developing an open-ended assignment for a candidate to work on at home. This allows an applicant to showcase their skills without having to use testing software or a high-pressure in-person evaluation.

7. Come prepared to answer candidate questions

It’s easy to forget that the candidate is also evaluating your company during these interviews. They are trying to understand your management style and what the company culture is like.

When you meet with a candidate with a disability, come prepared to answer their questions. They may have specific concerns about accommodations or want to know about the representation of disabled employees within your company.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can certainly follow up with the candidate later. However, knowing this information beforehand shows that you care about your employees with disabilities and respect the interviewee.

8. Make the first round of interviews virtual

Many first-round interviews are meant to serve as open discussions about the role and preliminary screenings for candidates. You can create a more accessible experience by setting up virtual or phone interviews.

Virtual interviews give candidates an opportunity to use the accessibility tools they already have, whether they use captioning software or other types of assistive technology. These candidates can prove their communication skills and highlight their abilities to thrive in an increasingly remote and digital world.

A virtual or phone interview can also allow candidates to stay in a comfortable environment where they aren’t overwhelmed by a new place and new people. Candidates with physical disabilities also won’t have to worry about securing transportation to your office.

9. Limit the number of interviews you require

Companies continue to increase the number of interviews they ask of candidates. While they want to hire the best candidate, they actually isolate people who can’t attend four, five, or even nine interviews. These applicants eventually withdraw their applications or get hired by another employer that moved faster than you did.

When a candidate has a job interview, they have to take time off work. They have to secure childcare and figure out their transportation plans. These preparations require time, money, and energy.

Create a standardized process that limits the number of interviews you have. If you need a follow-up interview with the candidate, consider scheduling a call to speak with the candidate again on their time.

10. Avoid ranking top candidates while hiring

One bad habit that any hiring manager can break is ranking candidates during the hiring process. While you will need to choose the best applicants to move to the second and third rounds of interviews, it helps to avoid ranking your candidates by your preferences.

Ranking creates unconscious bias where you are more likely to overlook negative qualities of top candidates or overtly favor them just because they made a good first impression.

Instead, wait until you have all of the information you need, including completed skills tests, before choosing the most qualified person for the job.

Create ways for your candidates to shine

Too often, employers treat the interview process as a way to weed out candidates until the best one is left standing. However, you may get better results with an adjustment to your thinking. Conduct your interviews in a way that allows your candidates to showcase their skills and knowledge. Let them show you what they are capable of. This way, you can hire the most qualified individual for the job.

To learn more about accessibility in interviewing, check out our Accessibility in the Workplace guide. It includes resources for employers and discussions about reasonable accommodations.


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