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Neurodiverse Talent: Recruiting on the Spectrum (Part 2)

By August 12, 2021September 5th, 2023Diversity and Inclusion

neurodiverse talent in virtual interviewNo one loves the job hunting process, but for neurodiverse people there are real barriers that can make the application process extremely challenging. The interview stage can be especially difficult for neurodiverse talent; particularly, those on the Autism Spectrum or with ADHD. These challenges neurodiverse people face in interviews can prevent their skills from shining through. In addition, quickly removing them from consideration could result in you losing out on top talent! That’s why we’re sharing some best practices for creating a more inclusive interview experience, for neurodiverse talent (and all candidates).

Interviewing Challenges for Neurodiverse Talent

We’ve shared a lot about neurodiversity and how your company can create an inclusive environment that is considerate of both visible and invisible diversities. A lot of employers and hiring managers consider the interview stage “the true test” for a candidate. That mindset leads to people being quick to remove candidates from consideration when they don’t meet expectations.

Here’s the thing with interviews, though. Yes, they are a crucial part of the hiring process; however, they can sometimes be more of a social competence test than a skills test. Sometimes those social skills aren’t representative of how a candidate will perform in job relevant tasks.

strengths of neurodiverse talentFor example, say you’re looking for a computer programmer. That type of role requires attention to detail, sustained concentration and a vast knowledge in a specialized field – all skills someone on the Autism Spectrum might excel at. Though this person with autism has all the technical skills necessary, they may lack the social ones needed to effectively communicate and excel in an interview.

What’s unique about autism is that it’s an invisible diversity, meaning, you can’t look at someone and know that they’re on the autism spectrum. So, while you may have thought this person just “bombed” the interview, they were actually a great  candidate who’s talent and skill wasn’t able to shine through because they were in an uncomfortable social environment.

You may be thinking, “but social skills are critical!” Yes, but not always or for all roles that you are hiring. That computer programming role we mentioned actually requires very little social interaction if it is an independent contributor role. Before rejecting that candidate who had a rocky interview, you may want to consider the weight of interview or social skills for success in your open role. Or consider some of these best practices to help create a more comfortable interview setting. 

Best Interview Practices

The candidate experience can have a direct impact on your recruiting success, especially now as it’s being called a candidates market. Here are some best practices for creating a comfortable and inclusive interview process for neurodiverse talent:

1. Be aware of bias in first impressions

Our first impression of people can greatly influence our decision making. We are naturally drawn to charismatic people who are more socially competent, but that does not always mean they are better for the role. It’s possible that during an interview, we let people’s poor social manners distract us, so things like not making eye contact during the conversation for example, may not be easy for someone on the spectrum.  Being aware of this and taking it into consideration before an automatic rejection of the candidate is key.

2. Evaluate the interview environment 

Before conducting an interview, look around and check your background. Too much noise or clutter and bright lights can cause a sensory overload and be extremely distracting to some neurodiverse candidates. If virtual, consider using a Zoom background to help give candidates the best interview experience. This also helps to establish a standardized, and repeatable, interview environment.

Continue to evaluate the environment during the virtual interview, as well.  If throughout the interview you notice the candidate seems a little distracted, suggest you both turn your camera off. A naturally way of doing this could be saying, “Hey, before we continue, my connection is a little shaky. I’m going to turn off my camera and see if that helps. Feel free to do the same!” If you’re in an in-person interview or face to face interview, offering a drink, turning your phone off, closing your lapto and ensuring an uninterupted space can help as well.

email thorough instructions to candidates before an interview3. Set Expectations

Sending out clear instructions before the interview is great for everyone, especially those on the spectrum.  Giving them as much information as you can will help candidates both mentally and physically prepare. This includes the estimated length of the interview, how many people they’ll meet with, and who they’ll meet with. For in-person interviews, we recommend providing instructions on directions, parking, getting into the building etc. Any information needed to ensure their pre-interview time is smooth, even include dress code, culture and how the interview may be structured. Providing this information will help prevent the candidate from getting overwhelmed and allow them to be prepared and confident going into the interview. 

4. Consider giving interview options

A simple accommodation you can give to everyone is offering options for the interview setting. Neurodiverse candidates might prefer a phone interview where there will be limited distractions. Letting candidates choose between in-person, video, or phone is a great way of creating an environment where they feel comfortable and can perform best.

successful and comfortable interview for neurodiverse talentThe Impact

Fostering an inclusive candidate experience is the first step to fostering an inclusive employee experience! These practices can help remove barriers that may be keeping great potential employees from joining your company. Ultimately, these recommendations should serve as a gentle reminder to be a little more attentive and a little more empathetic to candidates during interviews.

Read part one of Recruiting on the Spectrum here for best practices when crafting your job posting and application!



Additional Resources:

Dell’s Autism Hiring Program

Microsoft’s Neurodiversity Hiring Program

6 Companies with Neurodiversity Recruitment Programs


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