Congratulations! You landed an interview! Yet even for the most confident candidates, interviewing can be a nerve-racking experience. And if you have a disability, the unfortunate reality is that you may have to work even harder to prove you can do the job just as well (if not better) than non-disabled candidates. Disabled people have to apply for 60 percent more jobs than non-disabled people to secure a role. And only 50 percent of applications result in interviews, compared to 69 percent for applicants without disabilities, according to research from disability charity Scope in partnership with Virgin Media.
What’s more, people with disabilities in the UK have a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, compared to 3.4 percent for non-disabled people. This large employment gap is what inspired Liz Johnson, former Paralympic gold medalist for Team GB, to co-found The Ability People (TAP), the UK’s first employment agency staffed entirely by people with impairments.
“Everyday life for a disabled person is about problem-solving because we have to improvise, persevere, be extremely resilient and communicate clearly with other people to get things done and make things happen,” Johnson says. “A lot of these skills are required for the working environment and disabled people have mastered them from early on. These are traits that make not only for good recruiters, but also for great employees.”
Johnson was born with cerebral palsy, but that didn’t stop her from winning her first national swimming championship at 10 years old, followed by gold medals at the Paralympics, World Championships and European Championships, before retiring in the run-up to the 2016 Paralympics.
Johnson, who has a degree in business management and is a frequent speaker and consultant on recruitment, realised that ‘athletes and recruiters share a lot of the same mindset’. So she established TAP as a way to help disabled people get into and stay in the workplace. The agency is a 'for-profit' business, not a charity, that works with some of the UK's biggest employer brands.
At TAP, which places both disabled and non-disabled candidates, the focus is on what a person ‘can do', not their perceived limitations. Johnson says this allows the agency to place outstanding individuals in their perfect jobs and establish an ‘ethical supply chain of talent’ to UK employers. We sat down with Johnson to learn how disabled people can overcome bias during interviews. Here are her top 5 tips for proving you’re the best candidate for the job:
Preparation is crucial to all job seekers, from mapping out your journey to the interview to making sure you have the right outfit and fresh copies of your CV in tow. This is particularly true for disabled candidates. Depending on your impairment, you may need special assistance or equipment to access the building or conduct the interview to the best of your ability. Be sure to research how you will get to the interview location and the building’s accessibility. If you require anything specific, such as a lift, disabled parking spot or hearing loop in the interview room, don’t be afraid to request it beforehand. If you are working with a recruiter, you can ask them to make arrangements with the interviewer on your behalf.
Research the Company
As well as practical preparations for the interview, do your homework on the company you’re hoping to work for. You will likely be asked about what you know about the organisation. With some research and preparation, you’ll be able to give a short, intelligent synopsis. This will also help you come up with a couple of questions about the organisation that you may want to ask. Disabled people may be particularly interested in company culture around diversity and inclusion, life/work balance, working from home and flex hour policies.
Research shows that the more informed you are about the employer, the more likely you are to be offered the job. In fact, informed candidates — those who do their homework about the company before interviewing — are twice as likely to be hired. You can also get one step ahead by researching potential interview questions and preparing your answers in advance.
Remember that your credentials are what got you through the door and that you deserve to be in the interview room as much as anyone, says Johnson. Your disability is not your identity, but you can turn it into one of your biggest strengths by highlighting the positive traits associated with being disabled, such as resilience, perseverance, exceptional problem-solving and communication abilities.
Discussing Your Disability
The choice is yours when it comes to disclosing your disability during an interview, says Johnson. Research found that 77 percent of disabled graduates and student applicants are afraid of disclosing their disability to potential employers for fear of discrimination. Whatever you choose, remember to focus on what makes you the best candidate and all the things you can do during your interview. Legally you are not required to answer anything about your disability that makes you feel uncomfortable, but sharing appropriate details may help an employer make adjustments and learn what you would require to truly succeed at their organisation.
Embrace Transparency and Trust
For a disabled person to truly thrive in their workplace, it’s critical that they aren’t afraid to communicate openly with their employer about what they need to be their best and most productive, whether that’s the ability to work from home, special software, improved building access or manager training on supporting disabled colleagues.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. It will benefit both you and your employer because organisations that truly support their disabled employees often gain their most productive and loyal employees,” Johnson notes. “Change can be difficult for a lot of people, but when you’re disabled, it’s even harder. So if a disabled person has a good relationship with their employer, they trust and respect it and stick around for the long haul.”