We all know businesses with talented people are more likely to succeed than companies with below-average talent, and employers are starting to see the notable benefits of having a neurodiverse team. However, many companies unknowingly create barriers in their hiring process, preventing the most talented people from applying and getting the offer.
In 2017, nearly 85% of autistic individuals faced unemployment.
While we do not have clear data yet on the effects of COVID-19 shutdowns, we know these numbers at best stayed the same and at worst increased.
Companies that have implemented strong neurodiversity initiatives have reported substantial increases in productivity, innovation, and employee engagement due to fresh perspectives and the other strengths neurodiverse people bring to the workplace.
As a company focused on improving outcomes for autistic students, we see the amazing potential and talents of autistic and twice-exceptional students. We quickly realized the importance of bringing awareness to inclusive, neurodiverse hiring procedures to create opportunities for the many autistic applicants, often overlooked because of antiquated hiring processes.
This article reflects on some of the issues of current hiring frameworks and our advice on improving the process, enabling you to become a more neurodiverse company and benefit from the unique talents and insights autistic teammates can bring to an organization.
So, how can your company improve its recruitment process? Here are some helpful tips:
1. Remove barriers from your job ad and application process
Many employers don't realize how certain parts of their recruitment process are deterring autistic or other disabled candidates from applying in the first place.
Generic blanket statements on job descriptions muddle otherwise straightforward insights and make job functions unclear, especially for autistic applicants. Simplify your language and make it specific to the job you are posting. Creating a job description can be tough, but investing the time it takes to write a good one improves not only the volume of candidates but the diversity and quality of those candidates.
Expansive and unnecessary requirements often limit your applicant pool. According to several of our autistic team members, taking all of the requirements as fact and necessary commonly prevents neurodiverse candidates from applying. For instance, many jobs include “Excellent verbal and written communication abilities” as a basic requirement, a boilerplate we assume. Yet, this requirement might only apply to customer-facing roles, not internal project teams that have more flexible communication practices or expectations.
An unclear application process creates a hurdle for any applicant and huge barriers for autistic applicants. How does someone apply? Where should they apply (of the 100 job boards you posted to)? What steps must applicants take during the process? What are the expectations for each step? Answering these basic questions inspires confidence in your company and demonstrates to applicants your commitment to setting clear expectations and goals for the role. This basic adjustment drastically improves your application rate.
2. Make it clear that your company welcomes neurodiverse applicants.
Specifically, near the top of your job ad, if not in the introduction. This small addition puts autistic applicants at ease and helps them feel confident in submitting their application. Feel free to use ours:
“[Insert company name] welcomes applications from neurodiverse individuals, and is willing to make accommodations in the interview process to best suit the needs and strengths of the individual. If you require accommodations, please inquire upon us reaching out to schedule your initial interview.”
3. Be aware of and understand your expectations for each applicant.
Employers often look for very narrow and specific requirements in a candidate’s interview behavior. These narrow criteria usually grow into judgments of candidate confidence, personality, cultural fit, and body language. Autistic applicants often struggle with communication, social, and nonverbal queues. Therefore, when they are judged by the same criteria as neurotypical candidates, they fall short and are denied opportunities regardless of their qualifications and capabilities for executing job duties.
Autistic applicants, more than most, recognize this potential setback and, on top of having the same nervousness and pressures we all face during the interview process, often, sadly, mask their true personality in order to appear “normal”.
Before you interview an autistic applicant, make sure to understand what you are looking for. Focus on the content of what the candidate is saying, don’t judge their mannerisms, delivery, or other nonverbal behavior. Here are some behaviors we proactively remove from our evaluation of autistic candidates:
Inconsistent eye contact
Lack of interest in small talk
Nonverbal language that does not match what is being said
Uncertainty or unease in tone of voice
4. Let the candidate know what to expect.
Traditional interviewing can make autistic candidates more nervous due to uncertain process or expectations, combined with the knowledge their every action is scrutinized.
When finalizing the details for an interview, inform the candidate about the interview process and all it entails. Consider:
Will it be a one-on-one interview, or will there be multiple parties in the room?
How long should the process take?
What kind of questions will be asked? Of note, supply the interview questions beforehand if the applicant requests it.
Is there a waiting area, or where does the applicant need to go before the interview?
We recognize each company has a different interview process, but taking these kinds of questions into consideration will help candidates feel at ease during the interview process. No one enjoys being caught by surprise during a tense situation! Plus, don’t you want your future employees to feel comfortable from day one?
5. Consider offering alternative interview formats
Some people on the autism spectrum may feel more comfortable communicating in one medium or another (written vs. verbal, for instance), or may not function well in a high-pressure in-person scenario due to sensory overload. Consider offering voice-only interviews, or interviews conducted in writing over an instant messaging platform or email.
Consider a more hands-on type of interview centered around skills assessment vs. character or personality assessments. Instead of asking, “Is this candidate a culture fit?” ask, “Does this candidate have the skills to complete the task?” In this regard, you evaluate how the candidate operates within a realistic approximation of the work environment. If you decide to use a skills assessment, ensure you are not taking advantage of the applicant. As Allison Green eloquently stated in her Slate article, “Job candidates are not free labor.” Unfortunately, many companies take advantage of applicants, and neurodiverse applicants are less likely to speak up.
6. Ask direct, literal questions. Expect literal answers.
Most interview questions are designed to gather information as well as illicit nonverbal responses. This can be an issue for autistic candidates, who may not communicate anything through body language without conscious effort. To ease the stress on a neurodiverse candidate, try to avoid vague, open-ended questions, or questions that might be too personal. Try to keep questions honed in on specific aspects of the job, and the applicant’s experience and qualifications. Be willing to reword a question, or provide a concrete example of the type of answer you are looking for if the candidate is struggling to understand the meaning.
Avoid asking silly, abstract questions such as, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?”
Instead of, “Tell me about yourself,” ask more specifically “What is your favorite hobby?” or “What responsibilities did you have at your last job?”
Instead of, “Tell me about a confrontation you had and how you handled it”, ask “Describe a time you disagreed with a teammate about [something]. How did you handle it?”
Avoid hypothetical questions like, “Imagine you were in a situation where you were asked to do something outside of your normal job duties. How would you handle that?”
Avoid focusing too much on people/teamwork-related questions.
7. Do not be afraid of making the interview a multi-day process.
Raise your hand if you have been through a multi-hour interview process. How tired and overwhelmed did that make you?
Sure, you were tired. Now imagine additional sensory overload and the feeling that you have to mask your identity in order to present yourself as “normal”. Although we are discussing hiring in the context of neurodiversity, consider masking across other groups hurt by systemic corporate issues.
Consider reducing the time for each interview, and avoid stacking back-to-back meetings. The time provided will allow autistic candidates a moment to breathe, regroup, and mentally prepare for the next interview, leading to better results and more accurate assessment.
If you would like to dive deeper and create a more inclusive application process for neurodiverse candidates, we encourage you to check out some additional resources.
Here is a list of additional resources for employers looking to make their recruitment process more inclusive, as well as autistic job seekers who are looking for autism-friendly employers: [add descriptions of each]
Disability Inclusion Works provides customized disability inclusion consulting for corporations:
Job Accommodation Network provides free consulting services for employers and employees about all aspects of ADA compliance matters and job accommodations:
EARN (Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion) provides a wealth of information for employers on the topics of disability inclusion in recruitment and hiring, retention and advancement, and the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace:
OAR (Organization for Autism Research_ provides a free 8-page resource entitled Understanding Autism: An Employer’s Guide to help managers understand and support their autistic employees:
Job Boards for people with disabilities: