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Taking a fresh approach to finding the right candidate – inclusive recruitment 

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum

Over the last decade, the percentage of disabled people in employment has remained stubbornly stagnant, regardless of how general employment figures have ebbed and flowed. There have been shifts in the right direction, but the fact remains, far too many disabled people who want to work cannot find paid employment. According to the latest Government figures, only 52.7 per cent of disabled people are in employment compared with 81.0 per cent of non-disabled people. 

Our new Recruitment Toolkit, launched for BDF Members and Partners today, provides businesses with resources to equip them with ways to be effectively inclusive and accessible from job design and recruitment to onboarding.

It is worth considering that businesses should use more ‘show and tell’ approaches in recruitment interviews to help fill the record number of vacancies and reduce the disability employment gap. 

We know that the factors which affect disability employment are multiple and complex. Societal attitudes to disability, workplace cultures, the availability of employment support, inaccessible transport systems and lack of awareness of support that is available are but some of the contributors. Are there some simple and tangible things businesses could so that might have an immediate effect?  

Barriers around traditional interviews 

Many disabled people – as well as many non-disabled people – find traditional panel interviews difficult to navigate. They may experience extreme and exacerbated anxiety at interviews, difficulty in interpreting complex or ambiguous questions, or have a condition that affects communication such as a stammer – often more pronounced in high-pressure situations – or difficulty making eye contact.  

Traditional interviews can be a significant barrier, preventing someone, who in every other way, may be the “best” candidate, from securing the role. The end result is that both the individual and the employer miss out.  

Under the Equality Act, a work trial or placement or working interview are all reasonable adjustments for a candidate who might struggle with or be disadvantaged by a traditional panel interview. Best practice includes asking every candidate what adjustments they need at every stage of the recruitment or application process: “how can we make this the best possible experience for you?”. But how about employers going a step further, ripping up tradition, and creating a recruitment experience which allows every candidate to show what they can do, rather than just talking about it? 

Work trials 

Traditional panel interviews show you how good someone is at… panel interviews! That sounds (and is) a bit glib but more seriously, if the skills you need for a job are to be able to sell yourself (or your company), to build rapport with strangers quickly and to respond to questions on the spot in an intense environment, then a panel interview may be a great test. But if the employer is recruiting to a technical or other skills-based role (construction, manufacturing, care and hospitality all spring to mind here – and they are all industries experiencing record skills shortages) then actually asking someone to show you how they would do the job – a work trial or working interview – is a much better test than asking them to tell you about it.  

Let’s take the football transfer season as an analogy. A club will pay multi-million sums for a player purely based on watching their performance for a season (or more). There is no panel interview for that.  

Getting the best candidate 

Shifting to a work trial or similar could make a dramatic difference in the interview experience for both candidates and recruiters. Yet the vast majority of employers do not use them. Why? First and foremost, I believe this is due to a lack of awareness that this is a legal and reasonable alternative. Second, there may be a fear of change. How do we know that we will get the best candidate when we’ve relied on this tried and trusted method for so long? Third, it can be difficult. To unpick the process and the HR machine for an organisation of any size is a huge task. Start small with one business area or team and see how you get on – and who you recruit as a result. 

Business might want to think about how to replace traditional recruitment processes with a more ‘show me’ culture – a move that could benefit everyone – candidate and employer alike. At the end of the day, the best candidate is the one who can ‘do’ the job, not the one who can ‘talk about doing’ the job.  

Diane Lightfoot is CEO of Business Disability Forum 

This blog is an edited excerpt of an article published in the Institute of Employability Professionals Journal in April 2022.  

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