The Inclusive Candidate Experience

The employment life cycle must be an accessible one. Because of limitations to the work experience and the hiring process, some candidates are getting left behind. We are focusing our efforts on the candidate experience when a growing percentage of job seekers can’t even apply for a job let alone receive a follow-up email or an automated response thanking them for their application.

Why Job Candidate and Applicant Accessibility Matters

In a recent interview on the Workology Podcast, Sassy Outwater, Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (or MABVI) talks through the application, interview, and hiring process that job candidates experience when they have a disability. This conversation and feedback is an important one for employers to hear. Candidates with disabilities more often than not are unable to navigate a company’s career site (let alone complete an application or take a survey). Whether it’s an assessment timing out or buttons on your career site that aren’t labeled, candidates who have disabilities whether it’s a vision impairment like Sassy or deaf, a cognitive disability or other, the hiring process is difficult if not impossible for people with disabilities. And it’s important to note, so is the candidate survey process.

Which leads me to the Talent Board’s annual candidate experience survey and the CandE awards. Since 2010, Talent Board has set about defining and measuring candidate experiences for companies to gain needed insight into their processes and, more specifically, into candidates’ attitudes and subsequent behavior – i.e., re-apply, refer others, champion the employers’ products, or not.

This report and the CandE awards seem to be created to make us feel better, but it’s missing an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to inclusive and accessible candidate experiences. This is the single largest academic-quality, TA research collaboration ever attempted. The non-profit organization surveys candidates about candidate experience, yet its own processes exclude candidates with disabilities in its research, and few to no benchmarks are set when it comes to career site accessibility for persons with disabilities.

The Candidate Experience Needs to Be Accessible

Accessibility is a crucial component of the candidate experience and should be a priority equal to network security. Accessibility is especially important in the candidate application and hiring process. The challenge is where to go to find those guidelines beyond basic online accessibility application and career site accessibility tips.

Related: Creating an Inclusive and Accessible Candidate Experience

I’ve talked at length about statistics from The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT). To recap, according to a user survey conducted by PEAT, 37% of survey respondents reported that they experienced accessibility or usability issues when using social media. Additionally, 46% rated their last experience applying for a job online as “difficult to impossible;” of those, 9% were unable to complete the application and 24% required assistance.

Despite a near-zero unemployment rate overall, the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.5 percent in 2016, about twice that of those with no disability (4.6 percent), according to a 2017 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, there are around 621,000 people with disabilities in this country who are ready and willing to work, but simply can’t find an organization that will hire them. At the same time, businesses report difficulty finding qualified, competent workers.

This limitation in the candidate experience, specifically on career sites and for the apply process, means that accessibility is not a “nice to have” feature. It’s a “must do.”  Consider that nearly 1 in 5 Americans has a disability and that 1 in 8 Americans is 65 and older. If your website isn’t accessible to them, you could be losing out on potential job candidates or new customers, and exposing yourself to legal risk. This is why it’s so disconcerting that organizations in our industry tend to separate research on accessibility and either leave it out of candidate experience data or give it a brief nod.

Digital Recruitment Standards and Guidelines

Not having guidelines or resources is not a good excuse for not having an accessible apply process, not for companies and not for organizations collecting data. We have both. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the global standard that defines how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.. Other major accessibility laws and regulations also reference and align with WCAG success criteria, including Section 508 for U.S. federal contractors, settlements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the European Standard EN 301 549.  

See detailed info on WCAG ratings and success criteria here.

Other excellent resources can be found in the Staff Training resources compiled by PEAT. This page offers resources for training staff across your organization in the accessibility skills relevant to their specific roles.

I’ve recently been doing a lot of speaking about how to make the hiring and application process more access at the SHRM Talent Conference. These conversations have really opened the eyes of conference and session attendees in HR and recruitment who weren’t aware of things like alt-tagging, video captions, and ensuring the job boards they use as well as their own career site was accessible for all candidates.

While I applaud those who are working towards a candidate experience, it is limiting. We are forgetting and/or ignoring candidates with disabilities. The career site is broken and it is not accessible to all job seekers, specifically those with disabilities. When organizations that collect data on the candidate experience do not have an accessible survey process, the data doesn’t represent an accurate portrait of ALL candidate experience. It’s imperative that we, as leaders in the recruiting industry, hold ourselves and the organizations reporting on the candidate experience accountable when it comes to inclusion.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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