Why Handshakes and Eye Contact Should No Longer Matter in Hiring Decisions

Interview tips have not changed much over the last few decades. Always bring a crisp, updated resume. Wear clothing that is acceptable for the position–or one position higher. Practice your answers before the meeting takes place. Do your research on the company and the position. Firmly shake the interviewer’s hand, look the person in the eye upon greeting and throughout the interview, and articulate your answers. For the most part, these tips are still valid and should be followed. However, handshaking and eye contact can make employers blind to fantastic candidates who struggle in these areas.

Job candidates are not required by law to disclose disability information at any time to employers. Employers may ask for disability information, but candidates are not required to answer to be considered for employment. A job candidate will have to disclose disability information if the person wants accommodations in the workplace (for more information on when and how to disclose disability information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s information page at dol.gov.).

Some disabilities are more visible than others. For example, a person with Cerebral Palsy who is confined to a wheelchair will most likely have a more visible disability than a person who has a moderate to severe anxiety disorder. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Level 1 might not appear to have a disability to people unfamiliar with the disorder. Yet many individuals with ASD Level 1 will struggle with making eye contact, and some might struggle with the “firm” handshake we are so accustomed to giving and receiving. Individuals with Tourette’s Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy may have motor deficits that make eye contact and firm handshakes difficult to execute. Anxiety disorders can make eye and physical contact mentally and emotionally painful to engage in with an unfamiliar person.

Difficulties in social interaction can exist due to sensory processing difficulties, motor disorders, an unfamiliar routine, fear stemming from past experiences, or another unknown cause. We do not know the reasons for all symptoms of all developmental disabilities. As an employer, it is not necessary for you to know specific reasons for social interaction deficits, rather it is important to know why they should be of no consequence in the hiring decision process.

Individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities can bring key skills targeted to specialized areas in many businesses. Many individuals with developmental disabilities are detail oriented, lending to excellent skills in data collection, computer hardware and software, quality control and editing, and many other areas. Resumes and portfolios can demonstrate these skills adequately to warrant job offers. Examining social skills that are not required for the position in question makes no sense, considering you paying the individual to excel in specific task and not paying the person to socialize or be popular. While being a good team player and a well liked colleague may be important, making the company money should always take precedent.

The bottom line is you should never dismiss a candidate from consideration for reasons that do not directly effect job performance.  Know that many unseen or unrecognized disabilities come with deficits in social communication and interaction. Give candidates the benefit of doubt and assume there may be a disability present, even if you don’t see all signs of a particular disability. Focus on job skills, not on cultural expectations.

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