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Candidate Selection

In recent years, there have been several major initiatives to promote the hiring of qualified persons with disabilities in both the private and public sectors (e.g., Executive Order 13548; new rules for federal contractors through Section 503 and the LEAD Initiative). For the effective implementation of these initiatives, it is critical to ensure that selection processes and tools do not adversely exclude potential candidates or employees with disabilities, who are vital to the enhancement of diversity within your workforce. It is important that supervisors understand and receive training on the issues and challenges that selection tools and processes can present to persons with disabilities.

Effective Candidate Selection

Candidate selection involves identifying job applicants that are likely to perform most effectively and who can make the most significant contributions to an organization[1]. When determining the processes or tools that will be used for candidate selection, employers should consider the potential adverse impact of these options on persons with disabilities.

Job Analysis

The number one criterion for a useful selection device is that it provides information on which candidate will perform the job most effectively[2]. Conducting a job analysis prior to beginning the candidate selection process will enable you to identify essential job functions and identify the most appropriate tool(s) for measuring the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) required for the position. Caution should be taken against identifying an ability/skill that is not necessary to perform the essential functions.Furthermore, attention must be given to expected outputs rather than the ways in which tasks are performed.

Accessible Selection Tools

The use of a rigorous and adaptable set of selection tools enables employers to accommodate candidates with obvious and nonobvious disabilities. Selection tools are any assessment devices used to identify which job candidates are most likely to perform effectively and make significant contributions to the workforce. Use of these formal assessments has been shown to result in productivity increases, cost savings and decreases in attrition­­. Common selection tools include structured interviews, cognitive assessments and physical fitness tests.

Employers should ensure that selection tools are available in accessible formats and are administered in accessible locations; and that potential candidates are aware of these alternative formats or sites. This ensures that individuals with sensory disabilities (hearing and/or vision) or users of mobility devices have an equal opportunity to participate in the selection process. Additionally, it is a good practice to provide the contact information for the person responsible for ensuring accessibility in the event an applicant has questions.

Applicant Screening Practices

Job applicant screening is essential in the candidate selection process, as it assists HR professionals in eliminating noticeably mismatched or potentially poor performers from further consideration. Common screening methods include informal meetings, phone interviews, and the emerging practice of using social media to gather general information about the applicant or applicant’s background. Below is a list of screening practices utilized by employers, which may have adverse impact on persons with disabilities, and recommendations to eliminate or reduce such impacts.

Telephone Interviews

Uses: Telephone interviews can be very useful in assessing whether a candidate will fit in with the workplace culture and whether they possess the proper skills and experience.

Potential adverse impact: Phone interviews can screen out individuals who have speech impairments or who use telecommunication devices for the deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired.

Recommendations: Identify the appropriate KSA required for a particular job to determine whether verbal communications is an essential function and whether an alternate screening method could be utilized. For example, if an applicant is being hired to reply to online inquiries with no need to communicate with customers verbally, a phone interview as a screening method could unfairly disadvantage candidates with certain types of disabilities.

Credit History Checks

Uses: Credit history checks are highly recommended for jobs with a strong emphasis on financial responsibility and integrity.

Potential adverse impact: Individuals with some types of disabilities (e.g., episodic health conditions) or who have medical expenses that have impacted their ability to maintain good credit, may be affected by this method of screening.

Recommendations: Employers should carefully consider whether to use this method for jobs in which financial management is not an essential function. Additionally, individuals who choose to disclose that their poor credit history is due to a disability should be provided an opportunity to demonstrate they are able to uphold financial integrity. For example, an organization could ask a candidate with a disability to present extra documentation explaining a credit dilemma to give the person an equal opportunity to participate in the hiring process.

Preference for Individuals Currently Employed

Uses: Employers sometimes prefer “current employment” when selecting job candidates, as they perceive that such individuals have more valuable skills and are more likely to be productive and successful in the workplace.

Potential adverse impact: Preferring candidates to be currently employed can have an adverse impact on individuals with disabilities who have disability-related gaps in employment, or who have little or no employment experience. In particular, the employment rate of individuals with disabilities in the U.S. has long been lower than that of their non-disabled peers. In 2011 the employment rate of non-institutionalized working-age (ages 21 to 64) individuals with disabilities was 33.4% for individuals with disabilities in comparison to 75.6% for individuals without disabilities[3].

Employers often have the misperception that an employment gap or lack of experience indicate that a potential employee is unmotivated or that the individual's skills are outdated. Employers should evaluate whether their field requires individuals to stay current in the usage of the latest technology, certifications or licensure in order to perform the essential functions or whether having no gaps in employment is essential.

Recommendations: Emphasis should be placed on evaluating candidates’ skills and educational backgrounds to determine qualifications and appropriateness for the position for which they are being considered.

Social Media

Uses: The use of social media to gather general information about the applicant or applicant’s background has significantly increased in recent years, as employers seek out additional sources of (unfiltered) information on candidates.

Potential adverse impact: Caution should be used when obtaining information that may influence hiring or other employment-related decisions.

For example: a candidate who is blind has not disclosed his disability to an employer but an employer learns about it through social media. The employer opts not to hire the candidate based on this information. This is discriminatory because the decision was not based on the candidate’s ability to perform the job, but rather on disability-related information.

Recommendations: Whether employers gain information by looking at social media sites during their screening process, all candidates should be evaluated based on their experience, knowledge, skills, and education to perform the job. Organizations are encouraged to establish clear policies around their social media activities during their candidate selection process.

Online Application Systems

Uses: Online Application Systems (OASs) assist HR professionals in managing applicant flow and in sourcing qualified candidates more efficiently. These systems also help screen resumes for specific key words, skill sets, certifications and educational degrees matching candidates to specific job requirements and available openings. Companies utilize these systems to manage applicant data and to monitor decisions about who is qualified and which candidates receive interviews and subsequent job offers. Many companies are utilizing technology to promote greater efficacy, OASs assist human resources in managing increased recruitment activities, enhance record keeping and evaluation.

Potential adverse impact: While OASs expedite the screening process for HR, organizations must ensure that these online systems are not posing technical barriers for applicants with disabilities.

Recommendations: Employers should make certain online application systems are accessible and compliant with current web accessibility standards; provide alternative application processes and reasonable accommodations during the application process; and communicate the availability of both of these to applicants. HR Departments can create strategic alliances with disability groups to address their employment processes and to help candidates better understand an OAS and how to be screened and avoid being screened out.

Common Selection Tools

Structured Interviews

Uses: The interview is the most frequently used selection tool. Structured interviews are comprised of a detailed set of questions intended to assess critical KSAs that are necessary for a job. Structured interviews are often used to evaluate softer skills as well as interpersonal and communication skills and leadership abilities.

Potential adverse impact: In some instances, an individual’s disability may impact the ability to effectively demonstrate interpersonal capabilities in an interview setting. Individuals with autism, for example, may have great abilities in mathematics and organizational skills, but may have difficulty with communications and interpersonal skills. The focus of the interview should be on measuring the abilities that the candidate will need to have to perform the job.

Recommendations: Employers should have a clear understanding of what skills are essential before conducting interviews and think about different ways in which candidates with disabilities might demonstrate their qualifications and abilities. If soft skills are essential to the job (e.g. punctuality, or attendance), it is reasonable to expect that all candidates be able to demonstrate their ability to fulfill these requirements. There are some jobs, however, that do not require the same emphasis on a soft skills, for example punctuality may be less critical for telecommuting positions where employees may have more flexibility in fulfilling the outputs required.

Cognitive Assessments

Uses: Cognitive assessments measure multiple mental abilities, such as verbal and mathematical abilities, reasoning skills and reading aptitude. Cognitive aptitude assessments have been shown to have positive correlations to job performance and therefore are a very popular selection tool.

Potential adverse impact: These assessments may have adverse impacts for individuals with cognitive disabilities, such as learning disabilities.

Recommendations: Ensure that individuals with cognitive disabilities are provided with a reasonable accommodation, which may include additional time to complete tests or an alternative test format.

Physical Fitness Tests

Uses: These assessments are used for certain positions that require physical strength, stamina, agility, etc. to accomplish the essential functions of the job.

Potential adverse impact: Employers need to be cautious about physical fitness tests to ensure that the abilities measured are indeed essential for the job and that the specific requirements could not be performed differently or be accommodated. Sometimes there is often a mistaken assumption that individuals with disabilities are unable to successfully complete physical fitness tests.

Recommendations: The advancement of technology and medical devices (e.g., prosthetic limbs) can compensate well for functional limitations and allow individuals with disabilities to perform effectively. The best illustrations of these facts may be drawn from the military where troops have returned to active service after being fitted with prosthetics for lost limbs. Other examples may be drawn from Olympic competitions where athletes with disabilities demonstrate physical abilities. Mistaken assumptions or the administration of fitness tests only for individuals with disabilities (when others for the same positions are not tested) may violate the ADA.

Personality Assessments & Integrity Tests

Uses: Personality assessments are used to evaluate characteristics which have been correlated with positive performance. These tools assess traits such as conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, or receptiveness to new experiences. Additionally, integrity tests are used to evaluate attitudes and skills relating to a person’s honesty, trustworthiness and reliability.

Potential adverse impact: Individuals with some disabilities, such as autism, may score low in some traits such as extraversion or receptiveness to new experiences. Personality-type tests can be difficult for people who have thought disorders like schizophrenia, or for people who interpret questions very literally, such as a person on the autism spectrum. Integrity tests are difficult for people with learning disabilities who may have low literacy or difficulty with reading comprehension, in which case the test results may be an indicator of a person’s reading comprehension skills, as opposed to their ability to do the job.

Recommendations: An evaluation should be made when using these types of selection tools to assess whether the required traits and characteristic are really necessary for successful performance.


[2] Ryan, A.M. & Tippins, N.T. (2004). Attracting and selecting: What psychological research tells us. Human Resource Management, 43(4), 305-18

[3] Erickson, W. Lee, C., & von Schrader, S. (2012). 2010 Disability status report: United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute.

Other Resources

Disability and HR: Tips for Human Resource Professionals<http://www.hrtips.org/>
This guide provides information for Human Resource Professionals and managers on supporting and accommodating employees with disabilities from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment Policy and Individuals with Disabilities at Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.

Opening Doors to All Candidates: Tips for Ensuring Access for Applicants with Disabilities<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/opening.htm>
This Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) resource provides information on hiring procedures, resources and strategies useful to employers in integrating people with disabilities into the workplace.

Employer Practices Rehabilitation Research & Training Center (Employer Practices -RRTC)<http://www.employerpracticesrrtc.org/ >
As recently as 2008, the employment rate of working age people with disabilities in the U.S. was 39.5 percent, compared to 79.9 for their nondisabled peers. Identifying barriers to improve the current situation and employer practices that advance the employment of people with disabilities is imperative and the aim of this project. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employer Practices Related to the Employment Outcomes Among Individuals with Disabilities (EPRRTC) seeks to create new knowledge of specific employer practices most strongly associated with desired employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities and the prevalence of these practices.

Page last updated on Tuesday, January 28, 2014

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