Job Applications and Disabilities
Disabled people may face particular challenges in making job applications and attending interviews.
The law in many countries, including the US and UK, protects disabled people from discrimination in job interviews. It can still be difficult, however, to know when, and how, to bring up the subject of a disability during the application process.
This page provides some practical advice about how you might handle the application and interview process, and how to discuss your disability.
Beforehand: Doing Your Research
A very good time to discuss your disability and find out whether you would be able to do the job is before applying.
Most job advertisements contain contact details for further information. This is usually either the line manager of the post, or someone in HR in bigger organisations. Give them a call and talk to them about the job requirements. They will be expecting calls from people who want to know more, and it is part of their job to talk to you.
As you listen to the requirements, and what they are looking for, you may find that you have questions about whether you will be able to do the job. Explore these with the person on the phone. You can be completely honest at this stage, because you want to avoid, above all, wasting their time (and yours) by applying for a job that you cannot do.
Anonymous conversation or not?
There is inevitably a question about whether you should have a completely honest conversation with someone who is going to assess your application should you submit one. You could, therefore, choose not to give a name, or give a false name during the conversation.
However, this might backfire if you make a positive impression and the person is looking out for your application hoping that you have applied.
There is also an argument that you do not want to work in an organisation that would discriminate against you because you have been honest about a disability.
The bottom line is probably to do what you feel comfortable doing.
The Application Form and Process
There is more about the process of applying for a job generally in our page on Applying for a Job. This page discusses the issues specific to having a disability.
Many organisations have their own application forms, and many of these have a page about disabilities. These pages are usually extracted and kept confidentially by the HR department until the end of the interview process.
This page, however, is usually the means by which to ask for help with the application or interview process. This might be, for example, under the Guaranteed Interview Scheme, which guarantees an interview to any disabled person who meets the minimum criteria for the job (this scheme is operated in government departments in the UK, and by other organisations too).
- If you need help with the application or interview, this is the time to disclose it.
- If you do not need help with the application process, you may choose not to disclose your disability at this stage. However, be aware that it can be harder to bring up the subject later. It may therefore be important to mention it now, especially if it affects your ability to do the job.
Before the Interview
Once you have been invited to interview, you need to do some more work.
Our page on Interview Skills explains what you should do generally, but there are one or two areas that it pays to consider further if you have a disability. In particular:
1. Consider how you are going to answer questions about your disability.
Your disability may or may not be obvious, so you need to consider whether you will mention it or not.
While it is not appropriate to be asked about previous time off for illness, or whether you have been on disability benefits, it is entirely reasonable to ask you what kind of support you will need to do the job—which in turn means that you need to have given this some thought.
For example, if you are blind, do you need Braille or audio versions of documents? Do you have an assistance dog who will need to be in work with you? Will any adaptations to equipment be necessary?
2. Consider how you are going to explain any gaps in your employment history
If you have had time off sick, you will need to be able to explain this in a way that will reassure your potential employer that the situation is under control, and is unlikely to happen on a regular basis. For example, you might use a statement like:
“I had a long period in hospital while my medication was sorted out. I haven’t had to spend time in hospital for over two years now, and my doctor has said that my situation is stable.”
It can also be helpful to explain why and how you are confident that you are able to work now, especially if this is your return to work after a period of absence.
3. Get ahead of the game
Try to anticipate the interviewer’s likely concerns. You may be able to draw on the conversation that you had earlier with someone in the organisation, or your own experience. Prepare responses to these concerns in advance, so that you can address them confidently if they are raised. You can also use the responses to allay unexpressed but implied concerns.
If you need any help during the interview, now is also the time to phone and make sure that you will have that help. For example, if you are in a wheelchair, will the interview be held somewhere accessible? Will someone be available to escort you from the entrance if you are blind? If you are dyslexic, and there is a test, will you have extra reading time?
At the Interview
For any interviewee, it pays to pay attention to how you look and how you project yourself during the interview (and see our page on Interview Skills for more information).
Most importantly, during the interview, focus on your abilities, not your disabilities.
Explain what skills you may be able to bring, some of which may be a direct result of your disability. Focus on how your skills will help the organisation, not on how the organisation will have to help you. You may even choose to raise your disability by means of the skills it has given you.
If you are asked about your disability, assume that the interviewer(s) want to know what support you would need, even if the question sounds ignorant or biased.
They may not phrase the question in the most appropriate way, especially if they do not know much about your disability, but give them the benefit of the doubt. Answer positively, and explain what effect your disability has on you, and what help or support you would need in the job, as well as what they can expect you to do to manage your own disability.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Develop the skills you need to get that job.
This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.
A final thought
It is important to remember that an interview is a two-way process. It is as much about you finding out whether you want to work there, as the organisation discovering whether it wants you.
If you find that you do not like the way you are treated during the interview then that may be a signal. However, you should be prepared to have an open conversation.