Past research has shown that soft skills — i.e., skills that relate to how you communicate and interact with others — can lead to big successes in the workplace. In some instances, it’s been found that being able to mingle and schmooze with the right people may even land you a promotion or a raise, regardless of your actual skill or the quality of your output.

But that rule doesn’t apply to all: A new study from Rutgers University suggests disabled employees are more likely to create a positive first impression on a prospective employer if they promote their technical skills over their soft skills.

“Job interviews are challenging for everyone, but particularly so for people with disabilities who have always had difficulties presenting themselves favorably to gain employment,” Rutgers Business School professor Mason Ameri said in a statement.

“People with disabilities encounter an implicit bias that they will not be as productive as their non-disabled peers. Knowing how to navigate the conversation with potential employers is critical for leveling the playing field.”



Researchers conducted three studies involving 1,711 participants, who watched videos of candidates, some of whom were seated in a wheelchair.

They were asked to rate the job candidate’s employability and appropriate level of salary, along with their trustworthiness.

Image of a smiling woman with pink and blue hair. She has a prosethetic arm.

Behind her, the words #disabledinstem is repeated 6 times. The background is blue and pink and is an abstract paint pattern.


Candidates with visible disabilities who discussed salary early in the job interview were given less favourable ratings than candidates without disabilities who raised the same topic early on.

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“Still, even for candidates without disabilities, announcing a salary figure early in the process seemed to be off-putting in terms of whether they should get the job at all,” reads a statement from the study’s authors.

Overall, candidates with disabilities were not viewed as trustworthy regardless of whether or not they promoted their technical or soft skills.

But for non-disabled candidates, trustworthiness improved when they mentioned technical or soft skills.

“Influence tactics such as emphasizing your skills and abilities are a good idea but don’t necessarily work the same way for everyone,” said Terri Kurtzberg, co-author and professor at Rutgers Business School. “Instead, people with disabilities should focus on job-related hard skills and competencies instead of softer skills and warmth. This choice accelerated positive impressions of employability.”



Disabled individuals who are also part of another minority group — whether that be a sexual minority, racial minority, a gender minority, or a combination of these and other identities — face additional hurdles in the job search.

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In the U.S., approximately 3 in 10 Native Americans and 1 in 4 Black Americans have a disability, followed by white Americans (1 in 5), and Native Hawaiians and Hispanics at 1 in 6.

Racism in the health care system disproportionately affects Black Americans and can contribute to a higher likelihood of developing a disability. Inadequate access to therapy, care, and accommodations can exacerbate issues, further compounding difficulties in searching for, securing, and maintaining employment.

Editor’s note: A previous headline of this article read: “New study suggests disabled job seekers may need different strategy in interviews than non-disabled applicants“. We changed that, based on valuable feedback, to better reflect that bias against disabled people is the reason. Why did we do this? We aim to bring a light to issues disabled employees and academics may face, and we aim to do it accurately. The way these stories are covered matters, and language matters. We Rep STEM hopes to one day hire and FULLY COMPENSATE a diverse team of content creators, including disabled contributors, to help further ensure the accuracy of our reporting. Click here to support We Rep STEM and this initiative.

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