The University of Westminster Academic Engagement and Learning Development (AELD) – Library and Archives Services engaged in a recruitment improvement activity following training focussed on better supporting employing autistic and other neurodiverse applicants.
- Amy Stubbing – AELD Team lead
- Eleri Kyffin – AELD Manager – Resources
- Daniela de Silva – AELD Manager - Accessibility
The purpose of this improvement activity was to trial options to offer a more inclusive recruitment process and deliver practical application of the University of Westminster EDI principles:
- Creating an inclusive culture which enables people to reach their full potential.
- Promoting equality of opportunity and furthering social inclusion and mobility within and beyond the university.
- Placing diversity, inclusion, and equality of opportunity at the core of how we engage with applicants.
The approaches the AELD team took as part of this exercise were:
Creating a Recruitment Welcome Pack for interviewees which included:
- Names and pictures of the interview panel.
- Information about the team and the post
- Interview tips and guidance
- Interview questions and tasks
Giving the interview questions in advance (as part of the welcome pack).
Including a statement on the adverts that we welcome candidates from any backgrounds, welcome applicants with disabilities, and that Westminster are committed to inclusive hiring practices.
Having the welcome pack reviewed by neurodiverse student researchers to improve delivery for neurodiverse users.
The aims of these approaches were to:
- Make the process as transparent as possible.
- Support neurodiverse applicants by giving them information and enabling them to plan and prepare.
- Make it clear that Westminster wanted applicants to succeed in this process.
- Put applicants at ease so that they can do their best at interview.
- Enable applicants to plan and research their answers (enabling candidates to do their best).
“We wanted to make the interview not about finding someone who is best at thinking on their feet or answering interview questions, but rather, to find the candidate who aligns with the needs of the role and the service.”
When first suggesting a change to the interview process there were some expected initial concerns and assumptions:
- Everyone will do well, including applicants who were not in fact suitable for the role.
- In giving questions in advance, candidates could get help or look up answers to find what they think we might want to hear.
To mitigate the concerns about over enabling lower quality candidates, the Westminster team added the following actions to the interview process:
- Using follow up questions as appropriate which are not given in advance (though candidates are aware this may happen) to probe deeper into answers.
- Having clear scoring criteria and expectations from each question. Knowing what different levels of answers should look like can help to better rank responses.
- A diverse panel ensured that as a team we were adhering to University EDI principles and policies. Mitigates some risk of consistent structural biases.
The Westminster team not only wanted to trial and provide their own feedback on the changed recruitment process but were keen to get feedback from the candidates themselves. As part of the commitment to transparency in the process, the trial status of this process and the request for feedback from all candidates post offers being made (so that feedback would not impact any judging) was clearly communicated.
The outcomes from this case study therefore includes feedback from the interview panel members and from the candidates about their experience.
- Even with the questions in advance, there were still clear differences in candidates’ strengths and answers.
- Candidates did not necessarily answer questions in the way that we required / anticipated.
- Even with the interview questions sent in advance and best practice tips written on the interview pack, some candidates lacked general interview or digital skills.
- The use of follow up questions worked well to identify depth of knowledge and understanding from candidates and was a significant help in identifying successful candidates.
- On two occasions, we completed follow up interviews to ensure we were completely happy with our chosen candidate which strengthened the overall process where that was necessary.
- The scoring criteria ensured there was a consistency when marking the answers.
- The panel felt they were able to distinguish clearly between the candidates suitable and not suitable for the role.
- The questions given in advance in the interview pack did not mean every candidate answered them fully and appropriately.
16 candidates gave formal feedback. Candidates gave immediate informal feedback at the end of the interview. Majority stated immediately that they found it very helpful and thought the interview pack with questions was a good idea.
- It made it clear that Westminster is genuinely committed in supporting EDI and candidates believed Westminster would be a kind and supportive employer.
- Candidates felt they were able to better prepare and do a better job in the interview.
- Some candidates (4) noted that initially having the questions made them more nervous, but all candidates who reported this also said they felt they ended up doing better for having the questions in advance.
- It made preparing for the interview much more efficient and manageable
- It reduced stress in the interview and allowed candidates to perform better.
- There is a risk of over-preparing.
Quotes from candidates:
- “I can easily say it was the best interview experience I’ve ever had.”
- “It reduced factors like stress and emotions, which can affect recall. Furthermore, it puts candidates coming from different backgrounds, and having different cognitive and physical needs at a more level playing field.”
- “I felt positive and excited about interviewing for a post at an institution that takes accessibility and EDI seriously, putting principles into action.”
- “It showed you were more interested in the answers to my questions rather than surprising me with tough scenarios and that’s the kind of place most people want to work for, a supportive place.”
- “I felt much better about the interview knowing that you ‘want me to do well’ and that the institution is looking after candidates’ mental health and wellbeing. It certainly made Westminster University stand out and made it come across as a friendly, fair, and supportive institution which is serious about equality and diversity in the workplace.
The recruitment improvement exercise was treated as a success by the team due to the positive responses from both interviewers and candidates.
The panel agreed that candidates were able to deliver more in depth answers which supported them in making more confident choices in who to hire. They felt this was due to candidates being given time in advance with the question to better consider their responses, as well as the improved atmosphere for the interviews which panellists felt made it a less stressful environment.
Likewise, candidates overwhelmingly commented on how Westminster is clearly committed to EDI and compassionate employment, and that candidates would want to continue to explore ways to work with the university in future because of the positive experience they had as part of this process.
- Following this trial, the AELD team will be making interview questions and recruitment pack standard practice for all interviews.
- It is proposed that the wider Library and Archives team consider the use of a Recruitment Welcome Pack.
- Where it is identified that roles which are not appropriate for questions in advance (for example more senior roles) it is suggested that topics for questions be given instead.
- Creation of a panel to review recruitment processes and give feedback once every 6 months to ensure we are continuing to develop our practices and maintain a compassionate approach which genuinely supports candidates for each role.
- All colleagues with recruitment responsibilities to attend training focussed on better supporting employing autistic and other neurodiverse applicants.
We think this case study is a great example of the benefits that can come with making recruitment activities more accessible.
Every organisation has some form of EDI commitments that normally include creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace. Accessible recruitment is quite literally the practical actions to live up to those commitments. But not only is it a way of delivering on your responsibilities, but it is better for everyone involved. A definitive win-win for both recruiters and applicants.
Specifically, we like that the AELD team:
- Engaged users in the creation of their improved content. Working with disabled users to refine work and provide feedback is always a great step.
- Created a welcoming environment where candidates feel they are encouraged to have a “good” interview rather than it being a catch you out exercise.
- Included the questions in advance. There is often worry that candidates will give a thought out answer rather than a quick answer, but surely that is a better indicator of professional behaviour desired in a candidate.
Download a copy of the Westminster welcome pack created during the case study.