Supported internships: recruitment and selection

Recruitment and selection practices often inadvertently create barriers for people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND*).

There are many minor adjustments that organisations can make to their recruitment processes that will enable applicants to demonstrate their skills as potential employees. Many of these adjustments may also benefit other, non-SEND candidates and enhance overall efficiency in recruitment.

As a result, all employees, including those without SEND or with hidden SEND, may feel more confident in their employer.

* SEND is a term used if an individual has a special educational need and/or disability which means they need additional support.

Reasonable adjustments

It is not enough for employers to provide disabled people with exactly the same working conditions as non-disabled people.

If an employee with SEND is at a disadvantage due to their disability, the employer has a legal duty to make "reasonable adjustments" to mitigate the disadvantage and restore a level playing field.

This is the legal requirement behind the Equality Act 2010, whose definition of disability is "if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities".

What are reasonable adjustments?

What is reasonable depends on context. Most adjustments are free or very low cost to implement.

They can include:

  • making changes to the workplace
  • changing someone's working arrangements
  • finding a different way to do something
  • providing equipment, services or support

The Access to Work scheme can provide funding to help employers implement any necessary adjustments.

Read guidance on reasonable adjustments from the below sources:

Tax and reasonable adjustments

If you provide equipment or services to an employee with SEND so they can do their work, this does not count as a taxable benefit. This means:

  • you don’t have to report it to HMRC
  • you don’t pay tax or National Insurance on it

Learn more about this >

Job description & advert

Job description

Job descriptions often list skills that are not essential for the job to be carried out effectively. Qualities such as 'excellent communication skills' or 'good team player' are often included as default skills, even if they are too vague or not necessary.

Many people with SEND will not apply for jobs demanding these attributes, which can mean that suitable applicants may assume themselves to be ineligible for a job even where they have strong skills that are directly relevant to the tasks involved.

Learn more about creating inclusive job descriptions >

Job advert

Job adverts should be written in concise, plain English. Adverts should list essential skills, and avoid jargon or unnecessary information.

The advert should be clearly presented, avoiding complex design. Try to be truly objective about what abilities and experiences are genuinely essential for the job to be done well, and leave out any that are not.

Application forms

It may not always be obvious what information the applicant needs to provide on an application form. It is important to provide clear guidance on this, and to make sure that the form includes a space for applicants to highlight any support or adjustments they may need at an interview.

If you are asking an applicant to write about their skills or suitability for a role, it can be helpful to include a word count limit.

Learn more about creating an accessible and inclusive recruitment process >

Interviews (including alternative interview formats)

Interviews - particularly ‘traditional’ conversational interviews - rely heavily on social and communication skills. This means that candidates with SEND may well struggle to 'sell themselves' in an interview, even if they have all the right skills.

In particular, some candidates with SEND may face challenges with:

  • understanding body language and maintaining appropriate eye contact
  • knowing how to start, maintain and end conversations or answers to questions
  • judging how much information to give – especially if questions are open
  • thinking in abstract ways, or considering 'what if?' scenarios
  • varying their tone of voice and finding the appropriate level of formality

Read advice on interviewing disabled candidates >

For more detail about how to conduct an interview process for people with autism, read this article.

Read more top tips for employers interviewing people with autism >

Alternative interview formats

You may feel that the traditional interview set-up is not the best way to gauge the person’s suitability for the role. In which case, there are other options.

Consider a more hands-on interview that is centred around a skills assessment, instead of purely a character or personality assessment or a test of how well somebody answers a question.

Instead of asking yourself, “Does this candidate fit our culture?”, ask yourself, “Does this candidate have the skills to complete the task?” In this regard, you evaluate how the candidate operates within a realistic approximation of the work environment.

If you decide to use a skills assessment, ensure the assessment is carried out fairly and you are not taking advantage of the applicant.

Learn more about alternative interview formats >

Invite a 'SEND supporter' to be present at interviews

Many people with SEND perform much better in interviews if they have a supporter with them. This person can act as a go-between to ease communication between the interviewer and the candidate, rewording any unclear questions for the candidate and helping them understand exactly what the interviewer wants. 

The supporter will not answer on behalf of the person, but can help them to communicate with the interviewer in order to clarify their relevant knowledge and skills. This does not only benefit the candidate, as it also helps employers understand exactly what the candidate has to offer.

While the supporter can help to rephrase unsuitably worded questions, ideally, the employer should plan to avoid asking unclear questions in their preparation for the interview.

The Access to Work scheme can provide funding to pay for a communication support worker to attend a job interview with a person with SEND. This includes people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing and need a British Sign Language interpreter or lipspeaker.

Work trials

Some employers find that a work trial, or a period of work experience, is a better way of assessing skills than a formal interview. This approach may also help if you think that a neurodivergent person is likely to do well in a job, but you have concerns about how well they will cope in the workplace. If you would like to take this approach, Job Centre Plus can offer support and advice.

Want to know more?

For more information and support, contact the Workforce Skills Team at Buckinghamshire Business First: