Job interviews play a critical role in the hiring process, allowing employers the opportunity to identify the individual who possesses the best mix of knowledge, skills and abilities for the position available.
When interviewing a candidate with a disability, however, some employers find themselves nervous or uncertain about how to act and what they can ask. Below is guidance on navigating the interview process with candidates with disabilities.
First, before ever conducting an interview, it is important to ensure that your organization’s processes provide for equal job opportunities for applicants with disabilities. For example:
- Ensure that your company’s application and interviewing procedures comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits asking disability-related questions before a job offer is made. However, federal contractors are required to request that applicants voluntarily identify a disability in order comply with regulations related to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Check that application forms, employment offices and interviewing locations are accessible to persons with a variety of disabilities.
- Inform applicants ahead of time if they will be required to take a test to demonstrate their ability to perform actual or simulated tasks. This allows applicants the time and opportunity to request a reasonable accommodation, such as a different format for a written test, if necessary. (Such tests are permitted under the ADA as long as they are uniformly given to all applicants.)
- Provide the opportunity for all applicants to request reasonable accommodations to enable them to participate in the interview and be prepared to respond to these requests. This should involve explaining the interview process ahead of time to allow applicants the opportunity to identify their needs. For example:
- Applicants with visual impairments may request assistance in completing paper forms.
- Applicants that are deaf may request a sign language interpreter to facilitate communication.
- Applicants with cognitive impairments may request specific instructions on portions of the interview process in advance.
When it comes to actually conducting an interview, the guidelines are essentially the same as when interviewing any candidate. Below are some tips:
- Relax and make the applicant feel relaxed. If the applicant has a visible disability or reveals a disability during the interview, concentrate on the job qualifications and not the disability.
- Treat the individual with the same respect you would afford any other candidate.
- Hold individuals with disabilities to the same standards as all applicants.
- Ask only job-related questions that are relevant to the functions of the job for which the applicant is applying.
- Concentrate on the applicant’s technical and professional knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences and interests.
- Do not try to imagine how you would perform a specific job if you had the applicant’s disability. He or she has mastered alternate ways of living and working. If the applicant has a known disability, either because it is obvious or was revealed, you may ask him or her to describe how he or she would perform the job.
- Do not conduct an employment test unless all employees in the same job category need to take one.
- DO NOT request a medical examination prior to making a job offer (these are prohibited under the ADA). If, however, all employees entering similar jobs are also required to have a medical examination as a condition of hire, it is allowable to require individuals with disabilities to have an exam. If, after the medical examination, the employer decides not to hire an individual because of a disability, the employer must simply demonstrate that this decision is related to the job functions and is consistent with business necessity.
When interviewing, employers should adhere to the same disability etiquette as in other interactions with people with disabilities. Below are some basic do’s and don’ts for keeping a job interview focused on the applicants’ qualifications:
DON’T ask questions about the disability or framed in terms of the disability, such as:
- What happened to you?
- How will you get to work?
- What sort of treatment do you need?
- Do you have a mental condition that would preclude you from qualifying for this position?
DO ask job-related questions, such as:
- How would you perform this particular task?
DON’T ask about the amount or type of leave they expect to take to get treatment for their condition. DO state the organization’s attendance requirements and ask if the applicant can meet them.
DON’T focus on the candidate’s disability. DO focus on whether the candidate is qualified for the job.
DON’T ask about accommodations, whether the candidate will need them or what kind they will need. DO wait until the candidate requests or mentions an accommodation before discussing this topic (it is the candidate’s responsibility to make the request for accommodation).