8 Easy Ways to Make Your Hiring Process Inclusive for Candidates With Mental Health Issues
Stop putting off candidates with a stressful hiring process.
Hiring a new candidate is just as much about them getting to know your business as it is about finding a great asset to the team. Unless the candidate has been employed by your business before or is transferring internally, the hiring experience is your chance to make a good first impression with your potential new hire. Unfortunately, so many businesses jeopardize their chances of hiring a great candidate by having a stressful, lengthy, or otherwise unfriendly hiring practice.
1 in 5 adults in the U.S have a mental health condition, with anxiety disorders and depression being the most common amongst them. Within the LGBTQ+ community, that number rises to 2 in 5 adults. And a recent study conducted by Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics, and SAP found that half of millennials and 75% of Gen Z have left their job for mental health reasons.
Mental health is a huge issue in the workplace, yet many companies still don’t understand how the hiring process can often exasperate the mental health problems that so many Americans live with. Even if your company is supportive of mental health on the inside, the first impression you’re giving off may signal that you don’t acknowledge the needs of candidates with mental health issues. Of course, unless a candidate tells you that they’re living with a mental health disorder, you can’t know exactly what they need.
As someone living with depression and anxiety, I’ve thought in depth and researched ways that I would improve the hiring process in order to better support people living with mental health issues – without requiring your candidates to disclose their health concerns.
1. Emphasize what support is available for employees
In your initial job posting, talk about what mental health support your company provides. Even if that’s just access to a dedicated helpline, make sure you mention it. Mental health issues still face a lot of stigma in the workplace, and it remains an uncomfortable topic to speak about. In a recent survey, 84% of respondents said that they would be uncomfortable speaking to an employer about a mental health condition. But in the survey conducted by Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics, and SAP, 86% of respondents said that a company’s culture should support mental health.
You can help open the conversation by showing potential candidates that your company provides support for their mental health. By bringing up the topic first, candidates may feel less uncomfortable speaking to you – or your HR department – about their needs.
2. Confirm you’ve received the application
Applying for a new job brings with it a significant amount of uncertainty and tension, both of which play into anxiety heavily. Once a candidate has handed over their resumé, they are often left waiting for weeks to hear whether they’ll be invited for an interview. Many companies won’t tell a candidate if they’ve received their application; even fewer give candidates the courtesy of telling them if they’ve been unsuccessful.
Replying to candidates with a simple stock email that simply reads “Thank you for your application” can alleviate a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Even if this email isn’t personalized to the candidate, it helps them feel more positive about the company and less stressed about the hiring process. It’s important for your candidate to feel included in the process and keep the lines of communication open so if you do invite them to interview, they already feel supported and included.
3. Keep candidates informed
You might be hesitant to tell candidates when you’re planning on responding to applications, particularly if you’re having to recruit around other work responsibilities. However, giving candidates a date by which you’re planning to email them back can save a lot of anxiety in candidates by again, giving them certainty that you will respond to them. Even if you don’t have a solid date in place, it’s better to give candidates an idea of when they can expect to hear back from you than leave them waiting.
Most importantly, though, keeping your candidates informed shows that you respect them and their time. Instead of leaving candidates to be a passive force in the hiring process, you’re making sure that they’re an active participant in their own job search.
4. Ask for mental health training
People with mental health conditions can behave in ways that might, traditionally, be considered unprofessional in interviews. They might struggle to make eye contact, stutter their speech, or struggle to speak all together. Mental health conditions come with a myriad of symptoms, many of which may not surface unless the person is under stress, meaning there’s an entire spectrum of stress-related behaviors that can be misconstrued as bad interview etiquette.
Even if a candidate doesn’t live with a mental health condition, having a better understanding of how people respond to stress will help you during your hiring process. Mental health first aid courses, like the 8-hour course offered by Mental Health First Aid USA, will help you understand your interviewee’s behavior. With this training, you’ll be able to spot when a candidate is exhibiting signs of stress and differentiate that from truly unprofessional interview behavior.
5. Introduce the interviewer ahead of time
While you want to encourage candidates to research your company and come to the interview prepared, your candidates won’t necessarily know who’s interviewing them. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, the prospect of having a long conversation with someone we don’t know is daunting at best – and can leave us catatonic at worst.
In this case, you might consider sending out an email a few days ahead of a scheduled interview to tell the candidate who will be interviewing them. You don’t necessarily have to go into detail about them, however providing their name, job title, and a sentence or two about who they are will go a long way in putting your candidates at ease.
6. Give detailed instructions for interview day
This is generally good practice anyway, but emailing your confirmed interviewees with detailed instructions helps candidates know what’s expected of them on the day. This way, they don’t feel like they’re guessing at what to do – particularly if they don’t have much experience with interviews or have been unable to work because of their condition.
At minimum, a good idea would be to tell candidates where they need to park or provide them with information on public transport, so they know exactly how to plan their journey. You can then include information about where to go, and who they need to talk to when they get there. While you may think your reception area is immediately obvious, think about if it’s clear for someone who doesn’t know the area or your building. By giving detailed instructions in this way, you can help alleviate a lot of anxiety from your candidates and allow them to walk into the interview feeling calm, collected, and confident.
7. Put your interviewees at ease
Once your interviewee has arrived, please do your best to greet them at the time your interview is scheduled to start – and do your best to let them know if you’ll be running late. Not only can it help them feel less anxious, but you’re also showing respect for your candidate and their time. While people with mental health issues may struggle with small talk, you could ask them about their journey and whether they found everything okay.
When you start the interview, try asking your interviewee pointed questions about their hobbies, interests, or other parts of their resumé instead of asking them to tell you about themselves. By starting the interview asking about things that aren’t necessarily related to the role you’re hiring for, you can help your candidates feel more at ease talking to you.
8. Allow candidates to ask follow-up questions via email
For those of us with mental health conditions, we can often lose our train of thought in stressful situations. While we might have questions planned to ask you, it can be easy for us to get swept up in the conversation and forget to ask them. Not asking questions can come across as a sign of disinterest, but your candidates may simply have forgotten what they want to say – or may need to remove themselves from the interview as soon as it’s over in order to avoid a panic attack or other mental health event.
In which case, you could consider allowing candidates to email you with any questions following the interview. Of course, give them a deadline so you can evaluate everyone fairly, but by doing this you’re giving them the chance to get answers to questions they may not have been able to ask at the time. This way, you’re giving every single one of your candidates a chance to shine in their interview, regardless of whether they live with a mental health condition.
According to a survey from 2017, millennials are more likely to be living with mental health conditions like depression and addiction than they are Type II Diabetes. Furthermore, a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield survey found that 68% of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers rated their mental health good or excellent – but only 49% of millennials said the same.
A diverse workforce only comes with having an inclusive hiring process that respects candidates from all backgrounds. Companies are still missing out on great candidates because, while they have a dedication to supporting workers with mental health on paper, their policies don’t make it into practice. Hiring workers with mental health problems can only strengthen the diversity of your company’s workforce, and with a few simple changes to your hiring practices, you can encourage more people like me to bring our expertise to you – isn’t that worth it?