Changing Faces has been supporting and advising jobseekers for over 20 years. We also provide expert training to employers to ensure that workplaces are fair and inclusive

Recruiting a candidate who has a mark, scar or condition which affects their appearance

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This guide will prepare recruiters and interviewers to provide a fair and equal recruitment process when an applicant or candidate has a scar, mark or condition which affects their appearance.

It outlines legal considerations and will help you ensure good practices can be adopted throughout your organisation.

We have also produced a guide for jobseekers which looks at similar questions and concerns from their perspective.

The aim is to ensure that everyone feels confident during the application, interview and selection process.

Changing Faces has been supporting and advising jobseekers for over 20 years.

We also provide expert training to employers to ensure that workplaces are fair and inclusive. 

Part of this training enables employers to be more aware of how their unconscious attitudes around appearance may affect their policies and practice.

In 2014 we launched What Success Looks Like, a new campaign to transform everyone’s confidence around disfigurement* in the workplace. 

We would like to thank all the organisations and individuals who have contributed their experiences and advice to this guide.

* We use ‘disfigurement’ as a semi-neutral collective word to refer to the visual effect of marks, scarring, asymmetry or an unusual functioning of a person’s face or body caused by many different conditions, injuries or illnesses.

Disfigurement is a word which is clearly understood and is used in the Equality Act 2010 which protects people with ‘severe’ disfigurements from discrimination. 

Most people prefer to use the name of their condition or illness or a description of their illness. 

Starting to recruit

Q. People with scars or marks just don’t seem to apply for our roles. What should we be doing to attract them?

You can make it clear in your equality statement that you go above and beyond the ‘protected characteristics’ specified in the legislation to ensure fair treatment of all candidates. Do not mention appearance in the job description or make stipulations like ‘must be well presented’.

You can also make sure your website, company brochures, advertising and recruitment packs and other external and internal communications feature images of employees who have scars, marks or conditions.

Q. Is it OK to ask for a photo with a CV or application?

The Equality Act 2010 Codes of Practice, Chapter 16.42; Avoiding Discrimination in Recruitment, states: “Applicants should not be asked to provide photographs, unless it is essential for selection purposes, for example for an acting job; or for security purposes, such as to confirm that a person who attends for an assessment or interview is the applicant.”

Aside from avoiding accusations of discrimination, the thought of having to send in a picture, or the fear of what might happen if they refuse, could be enough to make some candidates decide to self-select themselves out of the process, which would narrow your talent pool.

We advise applicants not to send a photo if they are uncomfortable about doing so and we suggest they include a note stating the code of practice above.

Q. Does disfigurement count as a ‘disability’?

Schedule 1, paragraph 3 of the Equality Act 2010 stipulates that ‘severe disfigurement’ should be considered as if it were a disability. Unfortunately the word ‘severe’ is not defined in the Act, so it is hard to decide where to draw the line about what is or is not included.

While some candidates may consider themselves to be disabled, others will definitely not. The only reason why it might be relevant to make the distinction for recruitment purposes would be to ensure that every candidate is offered the opportunity to request workplace adjustments that would enable them to perform at their best during the process.

If you want to increase the representation of people with severe disfigurements and/or disabilities, offer a guaranteed interview scheme to those who consider themselves as such.

Q. I’m a recruitment consultant and have found a great candidate. Do I need to advise my client about her facial scarring?

If you think that not mentioning it harms her chances of employment or leaves her open to a negative reception then it is best to mention it. You could say something like: “I just thought I would make you aware that the candidate has facial scarring and it does not impact on their skill set or capabilities.” Be clear with the client that you believe her to be a strong candidate.
                                                                  
If your candidate has raised concerns with you, ask her opinion on how she would like you to reassure the client and which words she would prefer to be used. It is important to avoid negative words, such as ‘suffer from’, ‘victim of’ or ‘really bad’. Instead use neutral phrases like ‘has a condition’ or ‘noticeable’.

Remember, if the candidate did not have the requisite skills you would not be putting her forward for the role. Regardless of whether the candidate mentions her appearance, you should also identify ‘unique selling points’ together which might be relevant to the role (such as well-developed social skills or resilience).

Before the interview

Q. The candidate I’ll be interviewing has disclosed a facial disfigurement. What do I need to think about?

It goes without saying that an interviewer needs to have absolute clarity on the process, the questions and their role in the interview. This is doubly important if you are out of your comfort zone interviewing a candidate who looks different. Studies show that, to fill in the blanks, we often resort, unintentionally, to stereotypes and preconceptions. Unfortunately, despite conscious intentions to be fair, our research shows that 90% of people hold subconscious, negative preconceptions about disfigurement which may come in to play during an interview.

If your attention is distracted, you may miss important information given by the candidate. Research shows that our brains are programmed to be on ‘high alert’ when confronted with something new or unfamiliar. This creates the physical sensation of nervousness (such as heart racing or sweating) and diverts our attention. To minimise this reaction and ensure that all attention is focused on the candidate’s answers, make sure you are familiar with faces that are different. You can find positive imagery at whatsuccesslookslike.org.uk.

During your preparation, think about a quick introduction to put you both at ease, such as, “Did you find our offices ok?” Remember, if you do this with one candidate, do it for all to make sure you are being fair.

In the interview

Q. I wasn’t expecting the candidate to look like this.

It is natural to be a little surprised or curious when you meet someone with a disfigurement for the first time. If you are finding it hard to make eye contact after you have smiled at them and shaken their hand, look at the bridge of their nose instead until you feel more confident – it has the same effect as making eye contact.

Q. I need to concentrate but I’m distracted by her birthmark.

Sometimes this happens and most people find that it passes pretty quickly. You could look down at your notebook to give yourself a chance to gather your thoughts. You will already have told the candidate you will be taking notes throughout the interview. Try concentrating on writing down what he/she is saying. This way, you will have to listen and take down reliable notes to aid your decision making after the interview.  After a few minutes of looking up and down, you are more likely to be entirely focused on the content of what they are saying.                                                               

Q. Am I allowed to ask about his face?

Legally you can only ask a question that you could ask any other candidate. So asking directly about his scar, mark or condition is not acceptable, no matter how curious you are because you would not ask another candidate if their appearance would affect their ability to do the job.

If you need to know about the impact of a disfigurement on a candidate’s ability to do the job, you could offer the opportunity to raise it with a question like: “This role is customer-facing so can you give us an example of how you have dealt with an awkward situation with a customer?”

If a candidate does explain directly about his condition or injury, be guided by his choice of words in your reply. Thank him for raising it, reassure him, then move on to your next question.

Q. Will the candidate need time off for surgery or treatment? Can I ask?

The Equality Act 2010 prevents employers from asking any questions about someone’s health or medical history before they have made an offer of employment. This means that questions, conversations or even comments relating to time off for medical appointments, surgical operations or other treatments must be avoided.

There is a common misconception that disfigurements can or need to be ‘fixed’ and so a candidate will be awaiting treatment. This is sometimes the case but do not assume that most people who look different will need any more time off than anyone else.

After the interview

Q. I want to make a fair decision. How do I make sure?

Bear in mind we all have a strong tendency to let our personal biases or stereotypes influence our decisions.  It is important to remember this when making a selection decision and to use the most objective criteria possible.

  • Take a moment to consider whether you have made assumptions about the candidate based on their appearance
  • Take extra care to review the notes you took during the interview. Studies show that if an interviewer has been distracted by a candidate’s appearance they remember less about what was said and rate them less favourably
  • Give yourself enough time to make the decision; discuss the candidate and the possibility of bias with other members of the panel
  • It is best practice to offer clear, specific feedback to unsuccessful applicants. This leaves no room for uncertainly on either part about reasons for a selection decision.

Further Support

The impact of bias can often be reduced by simply realising that our personal biases can influence our decisions. Changing Faces delivers a workshop that explores personal biases and how to reduce their impact.  For more information please contact our Face Equality at Work Adviser, Sally Mbewe: sally.mbewe@changingfaces.org.uk.