How Disability Affects a Job Interview

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According to many schools of thought, there's nothing more important for achieving economic parity than equal access to career opportunities. It's one of the driving forces behind diversity initiatives and outreach programs nationwide. While hiring managers and human resources departments can make every effort to nurture a representative workforce, historically marginalized groups still face hurdles that have everything to do with the majority's need to shape up.

This comes through loud and clear in a new study from Rutgers University on interviewing for a job while disabled. Over the past several years, more and more research has confirmed the importance of soft skills in the workplace, such as knowing how to lead an effective meeting or receive and implement critical feedback. Unfortunately for disabled job candidates, especially those with a visible disability (e.g., using a wheelchair), they're up against an extra layer of implicit bias — and while discussing soft skills during the interview process will help able-bodied candidates, it does nothing for disabled applicants.

Instead, the Rutgers researchers found that disabled candidates did better in their job search when they emphasized hard and technical skills and competencies. Not only that, but mentioning or discussing salary expectations early in the interview process seemed to hurt disabled candidates more than able-bodied candidates. It's a nonsense outcome, but one that hiring managers in particular should start noticing and correcting. Disabled candidates already face outsized resistance in the job hunt. The sooner employers understand what they're doing, the sooner they stop missing out on what disabled employees bring to the table.