Graduate scheme hopefuls: What I learned supporting disabled applicants

Recruitment processes for graduate schemes aren’t always designed with disabled applicants in mind. I have seen hard to use forms, inaccessible tests, and many job adverts that don’t mention the disability support available for those applying.

It would be extremely unfair if disabled candidates felt put off, especially when so many would excel in these schemes. With that in mind, hopefully this post will provide you with some useful advice.

Disclosing

Depending on the nature of your disability, it’s possible that you will need adjustments for at least one of the stages that make up a graduate scheme application. Therefore, you would need to let the employer know that you have a disability. There are various posts within the DTG blog that explain why, how and when to disclose.

Before you start the application

The adjustments you will need depend on your own individual circumstances.

For graduate scheme applications, it’s helpful to think about adjustments as being:

⦁ Changes you need the employer to put in place, so that you can complete forms, tests, exercises, interviews, or presentations to the best of your abilities.

⦁ Adjustments are also about ensuring you are able to access these tests and assessments.

If you are a University student, a good starting point would be to look at your University reasonable adjustment form, if you have one. The adjustments set out on these forms are with your University studies in mind, but nevertheless some of those adjustments might work for you during the recruitment process.

Similarly, if you are in employment and have some adjustments in place, consider if any of these would be useful for you to have during your graduate scheme application.

Maybe you have made applications for other jobs in the past. Think back – when making those applications was there anything that would have been useful for you to have in place?

In my experience, it’s likely that you will need to be proactive and communicate with the employer, so best not to rely on them to always make the running and suggest adjustments.

A key thing to remember before you start the application is that you may only need an adjustment for certain stages. For example, you may require an adjustment – or a couple of adjustments – to the application form, but require no changes for the online tests, or vice versa.

The graduate scheme application process

The recruitment for graduate schemes varies but a typical application is comprised of four main stages:
1) Application Form, 2) Online Tests, 3) Video Interview, and 4) Assessment Centre.

1) Application Form

It might be that you need an adjustment for the online application form. This could be:

  • A modification like larger text.
  • Different way to complete the form such as using an Easy Read version.
  • The use of a reader or scribe.
  • Some example answers which clarify what the employer is looking for.

There are several other adjustments that are available. If you aren’t sure what you would need and think it would be useful to have a look at some example adjustments, there are some links at the end of this post.

Within the application form there will usually be a question asking about disability. In addition to answering this question, you might feel it would be beneficial to contact the employer to give them more details on how having a disability affects you. This would also give you an opportunity to discuss adjustments for the application form stage itself, or to talk through adjustments you may need later in the application process. If the job advert is ambiguous in some way, you could always ask the employer to clarify something that isn’t clear.

It’s best to concentrate on the support you need for the application stages, rather than think ahead to any adjustments that might be needed once you’re in the graduate scheme itself.

It can take time for the employer to action any changes so if you require any alterations to be made to the application form, it is always a good idea to communicate with the employer well before the deadline that you need to apply by.

Sometimes it’s the case with graduate scheme recruitment that as soon as you submit the application form, you get invited to take online tests and you usually have a window of about 7 days to complete these.

2) Online Tests

Many disabled applicants I have worked with struggle with these tests, so I’ve drilled into this stage of the graduate scheme application.

The two main types that you’ll come across are psychometric tests and game-based assessments.

Psychometric tests are timed, online multiple-choice questions. Common ones are numerical, verbal reasoning, situational judgement, and personality. You might only be asked to take one of these, but other companies will require you to take two or three.

Because of the nature of your disability, it might be unfair for you take these tests without an adjustment. For instance, the hypothetical questions asked in situational judgement tests can be very tricky for some autistic candidates. The standard adjustment that employers give is 25% extra time. However, 25% extra time might not be an effective adjustment for you, so you might need a different change to be made.

Someone who is dyslexic might find any psychometric test hard to complete in the allotted time. 25% extra time could be a useful adjustment, but you might feel that you need the timer removed altogether.

Depending on your disability and how it affects you, instead of the employer giving you extra time or getting rid of the timer, allowing you to do an entirely different assessment may be the best adjustment. It’s unlikely that the employer will suggest an alternative adjustment like this without first exploring whether the more standard adjustments (like 25% extra time) would work, but this is something you could say you need and explain to them why this is necessary.

A different assessment could mean:

  • Taking an alternative psychometric test.
  • Going to the employer’s office to complete a written version (e.g. if online tests aren’t suitable).
  • It could be having a telephone interview. If the next stage of the application is a video interview, having a telephone interview might not be acceptable to the employer as it would be an assessment that is too similar.

A student I was working with was invited to go to the employer’s office to take a written version of a test as they needed a reader and there wasn’t one available but getting to their office wasn’t practical for her. So, it’s sensible to think about what adjustment would work so that if the employer’s suggestion is not appropriate, you have something else to propose.

Lowering the pass mark for a test isn’t likely to be seen as a possible adjustment.

Game-based assessments are relatively new, and the jury is out on how disability-friendly they are. These assessments are games that test your capabilities and behaviours; you would do these games on your mobile phone or on a computer.

Some disabled applicants find these much more accessible than psychometric tests, but others find them hard to complete without changes being made.

Like with psychometric tests, it’s sensible to have a chat with the employer about what adjustments are available/possible. For both type of tests, the employer may well have had experience of supporting other disabled candidates, so might have some helpful suggestions.

In the email inviting you to take either a game-based assessment or psychometric test, it sometimes states ‘please let us know if you require any adjustments.’

It is best to let the employer know as early as possible if you need an adjustment i.e. when you get invited to take the test. It wouldn’t be recommended to let them know the day before the deadline, as it might take some time to identify the right adjustment and take time to put this adjustment into place.

When you begin either type of test, there is often a practice question. This practice question tends to be far easier/clearer than what you will experience in the rest of the test. I know some disabled candidates who, having done the practice question, felt like they would be able to do the rest of the test without needing an adjustment, only to find that practice question wasn’t a good representation of the whole test.

Because you only get one attempt at online tests, it is much harder to contact the employer to ask for adjustments after you’ve already started, or completed, a test.

So, the main thing to remember is: if you think taking psychometric tests or game-based assessments puts you at a disadvantage because of your disability, ask for an adjustment.

Completing a free, psychometric practice test (on a website like assessmentday) would be sensible. You would then be able to experience what these tests are like and think about how you found them, without having any adjustments in place. It’s trickier to find practice game-based assessments because they haven’t been in widespread use in recruitment for very long.

Other adjustments for psychometric tests (aside from extra time, having the timer removed, doing a written version of the test, having a reader, taking an alternative assessment such as a different online test, or a telephone interview) might be:

  • A scribe.
  • Larger print format.
  • Extending the deadline that you need to complete the test by.

3) Video Interview

People with social anxiety can find the prospect of having a video interview with someone they have never met quite daunting. However, video interviews in graduate scheme applications are usually not done with a real person over Skype, Teams, Zoom or FaceTime. Instead, the video interview will consist of you reading questions on your phone or computer screen and then you’ll have about two minutes for each question to record your answer, verbally.

To get some practice, a tip is to record yourself answering some likely interview questions on your phone before doing the video interview. Lots of people don’t like video interviews but try and see them as a platform to get your personality, strengths, enthusiasm, and ideas across.

Video interviews are nearly always timed so you may feel you need an adjustment of extra time to give you a chance to read the questions and compose your answers. Others may need the webpage to be compatible with text-to-speech software, so this is also adjustment that may need to be made.

It can be stressful for some disabled candidates to complete a video interview by the given deadline, perhaps if they are in pain due to their disability at the time they are meant to be taking the test. As a result, asking for an extension might be necessary.

I’ve noticed that it’s often the case that there will be a technology glitch at one of the graduate scheme application stages. Don’t feel like making the employer aware of an issue would look bad on you. If the link they have given you to record your video interview isn’t working, then you should get in touch with them. But, always keep any communication with the employer polite and professional.

Some candidates find it a bit intimidating to have to pick up the phone, but usually there will be an email address for the employer, in addition to a contact number.

4) Assessment Centre

The final stage of graduate scheme applications is an assessment centre. Typically, this would take place over one day, but occasionally it might be spread over two.
Common activities at an assessment centre would be:

⦁ A tour, group discussion/exercise, lunch break, presentation & interview, afternoon break, further psychometric tests

Assessment centres vary so you may well not have to do all these activities, or you might be doing different exercises to the ones I have listed. Though, any assessment centre will involve you being with other candidates.

Attending an assessment centre will require you to travel to some kind of office so, for instance, a wheelchair user might ask the employer about building access. The building itself may well be wheelchair accessible, but assessment centre activities take place in different rooms and in various areas of the building. Do these spaces all have step-free access?

When you are invited to take part in the assessment centre, you might find that the employer gives you an overview of the timings and activities for the whole day, but others might not provide many details. This means it might be that you need to speak to the employer to get some more information on timings, to find out which activities are taking place, or to discuss adjustments.

Some disabled students I have worked with have been worried about what is expected of them during the lunch and break times. This is something you could have chat with the employer about, so that you feel more confident about those parts of the assessment centre.

There are other straightforward actions that the employer can take, so the assessment centre goes smoothly for you, such as:

⦁ A designated parking space.
⦁ Clear directions to the building, perhaps in the form a detailed map.
⦁ Access to specialist equipment.
⦁ Details about what to do when you arrive.
⦁ Allowing you to have the interview questions in advance.
⦁ Explaining how long you will be expected to present for.
⦁ Providing information on what format the group exercise will take.
⦁ Making sure there is the necessary adjustments in place for the psychometric tests.
⦁ Organising for a sign language interpreter to be present.

It’s really important to think positively throughout the day and if one of the activities doesn’t go well, to put it behind you.

Things to remember

⦁ Individuals have a range of disabilities and are impacted very differently.

⦁ You might feel that you don’t need any adjustments at all during the graduate scheme recruitment process. For you, it might just be a case of clarifying any unclear instructions with the employer.

⦁ For others, you might want to make the employer aware that you are someone who stammers, has tics, finds maintaining eye contact hard, or tends to take questions and verbal instructions very literally. You might feel letting them know this would help you be more confident and comfortable during the application, rather than because you need them to change or adapt something like a form or a test.

⦁ However, it’s worth saying, many people I have supported have wanted adjustments and are pleased that they asked for them. Many of these changes are not time consuming or expensive for the employer to make, but they might make a big difference to you and your application.

⦁ I have learnt that people are hesitant to disclose their disability to employers, many don’t at all, and others prefer to wait until they are in the role. However, waiting until you are in the role would mean you wouldn’t get adjustments for any of the graduate scheme application stages. This could make your application much harder and more stressful.

⦁ Many graduate scheme employers are encouraging, knowledgeable and confident in supporting disabled applicants. They will have inclusive and well thought out graduate scheme assessments. However, you might come across an employer who is less experienced with disability and this will be reflected in how their assessments are designed.

⦁ It’s important to work together with the employer and to communicate regularly during your application.

There is an eclectic mix of adjustments that are possible for the various stages of graduate scheme applications but there isn’t one, single definitive list. Here are some links that have some example adjustments:

https://www.shldirect.com/en/assessment-advice/accessibility-support 

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/reasonable-adjustments-practice

https://www.acas.org.uk/reasonable-adjustments

https://www.agcas.org.uk/Knowledge-Centre/a013ab9a-cff0-4055-8e69-b62f5e9d1411 

 

Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster

4 thoughts on “Graduate scheme hopefuls: What I learned supporting disabled applicants

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