10th November 2020
Vicky Dineshchandra calls out the recruitment practices that disadvantage people who stammer, and offers some alternatives.
Finding a job can be tough. For people who stammer, it can often feel like the recruitment process is designed to filter us out and make it near impossible to get the role. And it's true — companies and corporations have this shared perception of an 'ideal' candidate which drives much of the alienating recruitment strategies that exclude those with disabilities and unconventional characteristics.
In this article, I'd like to highlight some of these ostracising practices, many of which I’ve personally experienced as a university student who stammers, whilst also suggesting alternative methods to make hiring more inclusive.
The Job Advert
The first step towards finding a job is to browse job adverts where it’s guaranteed that you will see some requirement for ‘excellent communication skills’. Here the employer implies that the ‘ideal’ candidate must be a fluent speaker and automatically this creates a mental barrier for people who stammer who may feel that they don’t meet this expectation, resulting in a potentially talented employee not applying.
It can often feel like the recruitment process is designed to filter us out and make it near impossible to get the role.
Employers can do better by not copy-pasting generic requirements when putting together job adverts, but rather by thinking deeply about the additional value an employee provides outside of their verbal capability. Good employers understand that excellent communication skills manifest not just through spoken words, but through various mediums like writing, visual communication or even listening and empathising.
The Group Task
Group tasks are commonplace today for entry-level graduate schemes (start-ups also have a filtering stage based on some social event.) Of course, everyone wants employees who are able to work in a team, but for some reason they insist on testing this in a highly pressurised environment where candidates have to work together on a trivial task whilst being watched over by several assessors. Such scenarios can be exhausting and outright terrifying for those with disabilities and still does not prove one's ability to effectively work in a team.
Surely a better, more realistic assessment can be made by simply asking the candidate what sort of team activities they've been involved with. Played a team sport? Helped run a public event? Volunteered somewhere? This would be real, concrete evidence to show their ability to work in a team, not through a contrived group task.
The Pre-recorded Interview
Many companies have taken the lazy(iest) approach to the initial screening process by making applicants complete pre-recorded video interviews where a question flashes up on screen and the candidate has an exact time interval in which to answer. This sort of task is simply inaccessible for people with many types of disabilities.
We as people who stammer...should educate employers and human resources to wedge that door a little wider.
Of course, this only exists to massively reduce the number of applicants they forward to the next stage but there are other ways to accomplish this, not least CV-based filtering which is often the best indicator of how suitable a candidate is for a role, not their ability to answer a question fluently and smoothly within a fixed time interval.
The Interview Day
You’ve reached the final stage of the recruitment process: half a day full of various interviews with different kinds of people. Excited? Perhaps intimidated with tasks designed to poke and prod candidates in all aspects: technical interviews, case-studies, group tasks and presentations, etc. The problem is not so much the interviews, but rather the density in which so many activities, and by extension the density of talking for people who stammer, is so tightly packed into just a few hours.
Managing a disability whilst attempting these draining activities does not show the best ability of a candidate; if anything, it provides an incredibly unfair advantage to those who are fluent. The solution is quite simple: break it up. There's no need for a busy, packed schedule other than the reason recruiters find it convenient.
The Big Picture
Places of work have a responsibility to design their hiring process in a way that includes instead of excludes. Many companies now acknowledge this and with more conscious effort being made to open the door to all kinds of otherwise ignored minorities, we as people who stammer — and people who are constantly disadvantaged by the recruiting process — should educate employers and human resources to wedge that door a little wider.