Social Security Experience Panels: agency recruitment

This report considers views on recruitment processes, perceptions of the Civil Service and how recruitment can be made more accessible.

Making the recruitment process accessible

To ensure Social Security Scotland's recruitment process is accessible to all, we asked survey respondents and focus group particpants if they had faced any barriers when looking for jobs.

Over half of survey respondents (54 per cent) said they had faced barriers when looking or applying for jobs in the past.

Table 14: Survey respondents who experienced barriers (n=72)

Experience of barriers %
Experienced barriers 54
Did not experience barriers 46
Total 100

In order to understand and reduce potential barriers to employment, we asked focus group participants and survey respondents to tell us about the barriers they had faced in the past. We also asked participants what Social Security Scotland could do to reduce these barriers as part of it's own recruitment processes.

As part of this, focus group participants were shown a sample job advert that had previously been used to recruit Social Security Scotland staff and were asked their views on each section. We also asked participants how we could improve the application process as a whole, from initial application through to interviews, and then in more general areas such as employment policy and reasonable adjustments. The key themes from this discussion have been detailed below.

Job Adverts

Participants felt that existing job adverts (including the sample shown) were generally fit for purpose, however frequently missed important details that would make it easier for disabled people or people who are in receipt of social security to apply.

Participants felt that having the right amount and type of information was highly important in making sure they would feel confident in submitting an application. In the sample job advert, participants felt that the introductory section lacked an explicit, up-front statement that applications from particular groups such as people from ethnic minorities and disabled people were welcome. Whilst participants noted that the advert said something to this effect towards the end, they felt that they would be more likely to continue reading if this was made clear up front.

A few participants felt that the introductory section had too much information which made reading the advert laborious. They described it as 'long-winded' and 'unnecessary'. Participants generally felt that adverts should contain all required information whilst still being 'punchy'.

Participants expected the list of job duties to be clear and describe precisely what would be expected of candidates. It was suggested by some that a bullet list was preferable to the paragraphs of text used in the sample advert. A lack of clear information about the duties was seen to be an important accessibility barrier as disabled participants would be unclear as to whether they could do the job and therefore be put off from applying. Some participants felt the advert should state whether there was any flexibility around adjusting the duties of the job to the individual needs of candidates, or whether each candidate would be expected to fulfil all the duties listed. This would give confidence to applicants who could do most, but not all of the duties listed due to their disability.

Participants stated that descriptions about the interview and the recruitment process should be plain English and easy to understand. The sample advert shown to participants encouraged applicants to use the 'STAR' model of responding to interview questions. Whilst some participants understood the concept, others felt this was 'confusing' and 'unclear'. The explanation of the Civil Service Competencies system was said to be 'civil service speak' and 'offputting'. It was felt that more could be done in the sample advert to emphasise that the agency would consider applicants based on flexibility and character rather than solely on experience.

"I've seen adverts that say it's more important to be flexible as opposed to skilled or whatever, where that puts people at their ease if they are not particularly strong in that area. I'm open to training as opposed to qualified".

Participants also idenfied some information that the sample advert was lacking, but that they would find useful when applying. This included:

  • Information on when candidates would hear back about the application;
  • Easy to find contact details to allow the candidate to request the advert and application materials in a different format;
  • An option to receive feedback, or state that feedback cannot be given;
  • Inform candidates that reasonable adjustments will be made throughout the process and let candidates know how to inform the recruiter about the required adjustments;
  • Being explicit about whether the job can be full time, part time or flexible; and
  • Information about how the organisation's policy could impact on accessibility (such as home working policies, reasonable adjustments and annual and medical leave).

The language used in the job advert was also identified as being important in making the advert accessible. On the whole, participants were positive about the language used in the sample advert. They felt words such as 'rapport', 'empathetic' and 'inclusive' were the right kind of words to use and would aid in finding the 'right type of people' for the job. Some participants suggested that whilst the words were fine, some candidates may not understand them and that shorter sentences and simpler words should be used.

The language used in the sample advert detailing the 'minimum expected time in post' and the 'sift process' were usually found to be confusing. Some participants did not understand what was meant by phrases such as 'initial sift' and 'minimum time in post'. Participants who understood the words still had queries about the policy as a whole. Simplifying the language used in these areas would increase the accessibility of future job adverts.

Participants tended to be against using percentages as part of the instructions in adverts. Some participants said the use of numbers in a job advert would make them 'panic'. In the sample advert, percentages were used to suggest to candidates where the majority of time should be spent when answering questions. Most participants felt that a textual explanation of what they should focus on would be more useful and would avoid people being caught out on the numbers.

Accessible application forms and interviews

Participants were asked how the next stages of the application process (the job application form and the interview) could be made accessible. These reflections are based on previous experience, not on experience with Social Security Scotland specifically.

Many participants felt that the default way to apply for jobs was now online, however some said they lacked the confidence to use a computer to apply. Others said they felt the opposite – for example they had asked for an accessible application form when applying for a job online and been told that the accessible application form was only available in a paper format. This made the application more difficult as writing long answers was not easy for them, whereas applying online meant they could type and edit the application as they went along.

Having a paper and online version available with both being fully accessible would go some way to resolving these issues.

The application form itself was seen to be a barrier by many. Participants gave examples where they found completing application forms difficult. They suggested application forms should be 'clear', 'straight to the point' and 'not too long'. Forms that were long or had too many questions were said to reduce candidates' confidence in their application.

'If it's too long, if there's millions of questions, you just think 'Oh, I'll never get through this!', short and concise to what you're looking for, people will feel more confident where it's clear what you're looking for.'

When attending interviews, some participants felt there was a lack of representation of disabled people on interview panels. It was felt to be 'very important' to have disabled people on panels where they would be highly visible to the candidates. This would, participants said, allow them to feel confident that the organisation was a good place for a disabled person to work.

'Always have someone with a learning disability on the panel.'

Some participants felt that interviews were generally very stressful experiences. They suggested holding interviews in more neutral locations as holding interviews in city centre government offices would make them nervous. Interviews in local locations familiar to the candidates would help make them feel more comfortable.

In terms of applying to Social Security Scotland specifically, participants felt that interviewers should take care not to judge candidates on their appearences.

'A lot of people are on benefits and disabled, they neglect how they look.'

Participants were split on what clothing the interviewers should wear. Some felt they should not dress in overly formal clothing as they would find this 'intimidating'. Other participants felt that interviews justified formal clothing and that they would not have much confidence in the organisation if employees showed up in casual dress.

'If I came along for a job interview and people were wearing a t-shirt and shorts, I'd walk out and say this interview is over.'

Most participants felt the clothing worn should reflect the position being applied for – smart-casual for lower level positions and more formal wear for higher level roles.

Employer policy and reasonable adjustments

Inclusive employment policies and a willingness to make adjustments to accommodate individual needs were identified by some participants as being essential in reducing barriers for disabled people to find work.

The adjustments suggested included:

  • Flexible shift patterns or flexible start and finish times, to recognise the changeable nature of disabilities and long term health conditions;
  • The ability to take medical leave as required, without being made to 'justify and beg' for time off;
  • Making time to understand individual employees' reasonable adjustments as part of the recruitment and induction process;
  • Taking into account the childcare and caring needs of employees;
  • Flexible working locations, including a policy of allowing employees to work from home to reduce the impact of a commute on disabled employees; and
  • Disability-friendly organisational policies and a good understanding of disability throughout the organisation, such as through the provision of disability awareness training to all staff.

Wider factors

Participants highlighted a number of wider factors which were perceived to be barriers to employment, but are also typically outwith the control of a single employer or may not be specific to applying for a job. They are included here in the interest of portraying the full range of barriers faced by disabled applicants.

Participants felt that the social security system as a whole was a major barrier to them seeking employment. The complex nature of how the system interacts with paid employment meant many potential disabled applicants feel confused about whether they would be financially better or worse off taking on paid employment.

'Contradictory policies make people afraid to work or volunteer. Just because you have the ability on a good day to do a couple of hours work doesn't mean you can do full employment and come off the safety net of social security…'

Additionally, reporting changes in their circumstances (such as a new job) to the DWP was perceived as being ardous. Flexible employment policies such as flexi-time or flexible shift working were not helpful if employees were unsure how to report these changing circumstances to the DWP or Social Security Scotland. Offering candidates advice or signposting them to sources of information as to how a job could impact their benefits could assist in alleviating this problem.

'Some people would be really worried about how it would affect your benefits. People will want to know, if it's just one day a week, it there was advice on how it would affect your benefits so you're not penalised.'

Participants also felt there was a general lack of information relating to physical accessibility.

'Some organisations do not include equality policies and monitoring information. One has to be proactive in checking physical access.'

Other wider factors highlighted by participants included:

  • Difficulty travelling to jobs when disabled, particularly if living in a rural location;
  • Poor or no references from previous employment reducing the likelihood of being offered a job;
  • Lack of money to post applications or CVs;
  • Lack of money or clothing to attend interviews; and
  • Lack of general knowledge as to how recruitment processes work.


Email: James.Miller@gov.Scot

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