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Disability in the workplace: a smooth sailing recruitment process

Brianne Turk

Learn how to navigate job applications and interviews when you experience disability. Read on for tips and factors to consider.

The recruitment process is designed to allow all candidates to prove that they have the necessary skills and capabilities to perform the essential requirements of a role. Candidates are expected to prove their suitability at every stage of the process including in their CV, application, interview and where required, in tests, presentations and mock business scenarios.   

In addition to the industry-specific advice offered on this website, there are a few key points that are essential for jobseekers with disability. Sail through your recruitment by observing the following advice.

Be confident and self-aware

We’ve discussed the importance of self-awareness for career planning, but it’s equally important to demonstrate this awareness in your CV and interviews. No one knows your unique situation quite like you do, so use this to your advantage. Stand tall, back yourself and assert your strengths and skills. Your disability is but one part of you, and employers are itching to see the entire package: your true capacity. Show them where you add value. Articulate the diverse perspective and experience that you bring.     

Offer solutions

Initiative and resourcefulness are two very attractive qualities. Employers not only want to see that you meet the requirements of the role, but that you have the knowledge and understanding to effectively manage your disability while conducting it. Instead of getting stuck on limitations, present potential employers with strategies, resources and solutions that will increase your work outcomes. Statements such as ‘A weakness of my disability is that I get hyperactive and easily distracted by others’, can be reframed in a more positive, solution-focused way: ‘I experience hyperactivity and am easily distracted by others. I successfully manage this by working in a quiet space away from others’.

Be your own advocate    

In order to have equal opportunity in securing a role, you need to have equal opportunity in the recruitment process. This means being able to access all of the information, equipment and locations that the other candidates can access (and not being disadvantaged in any other way). As you’re filling out application forms and taking part in callback procedures, consider whether you have the same opportunity to succeed as your peers. If you don’t, explain this to the employer, detailing where the practice isn’t inclusive and what an alternate solution might be. The aim is to find a reasonable adjustment that reduces the impact of your disability on the process. This allows you to put your best foot forward.   

Worthwhile considerations:

  • Can you read the application form? Can you read the employer’s website? Perhaps you need information to be delivered in a particular format (larger text, plain english), or to request support such as an interpreter or voice activated software.
  • Will information be given to you during your interview, and do you need this to be sent ahead of time or delivered in a specific format?
  • Can you easily access the building where your interview will be held? Do you need instructions or to ask about parking, ramps or lift access?
  • Does meeting in an unfamiliar place disadvantage you? Do you need to suggest an alternate location? Do you need a support person to attend with you?
  • Do you need extra time on tests or on-the-spot case study scenarios? This might be due to a learning disability.
  • Do group interviews or group work practice scenarios disadvantage you? For example, due to the impact of autism on interpreting social cues.

For some of you, attending an interview can put you at a disadvantage. This might be due to disability that impacts speech and information processing, or that produces high levels of anxiety in interview situations. Alternatively, you might harness all of the appropriate skills to carry out the duties of a role, but not have the necessary skills to navigate the interview. Recruiters who are not disability aware sometimes struggle to note the difference.

In these situations, talk to the employer about your concerns. You’ll likely find an alternate recruitment process (workplace adjustment) that will better support you to have equal opportunity. This might consist of a trial period of work or a practical test.

Provide guidance where necessary

As you move through the recruitment process, be mindful that your recruiter – and any fellow interviewees that you may need to work with – may never have met or talked to someone with the disability that you experience. Employers are pouring more and more resources into training staff in how to effectively and respectfully work with people with disability, but in the same way that you might be tentative or nervous about your interactions with them, so too might they be with you.

If you feel comfortable to do so, and if you feel that it’s needed, it can be helpful to offer guidance on how you’d like others to interact with you. This might include:

  • Asking others to face you when they speak to you.
  • Letting people know that you can move around a space on your own, and you will ask for their assistance if you need it.
  • Offering a reminder that although you have a visual impairment you do not need others to speak louder to you.
  • Requesting that a panel allow an extra few seconds for you to process information before moving on to a new point.

Of course, if you’ve decided not to inform your employer that you experience disability, this conversation can be tough to have. Indeed there’s a lot to consider on the topic of disclosure. But regardless of whether you share your disability, when you share it or how much information you decide to share, you always have the right to be treated with fairness and respect.

If you’d like to find out more about your employment rights, make sure you check out our article about disability rights in the workplace. To unpack the reasons for and against sharing information about your disability with your employer, jump over here to read GradAustralia’s article about disclosure.