It's increasingly well-known that a diverse workforce made up of a wide range of talents, perspectives and thought processes provides companies with a competitive edge. As organizations embrace the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in the hiring process, one form of diversity is gaining a lot of attention: neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity takes into account the different but valid ways that the human brain works, such as in the case of candidates with autism, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, and more. Successful companies like SAP, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and Microsoft are actively reforming their HR processes to hire neurodiverse candidates, resulting in gains in productivity, quality, innovation and engagement. Other companies have gone on to establish neurodiversity recruitment programs to source and support this kind of talent.
However, neurodiverse candidates still face certain barriers to employment. Conventional recruitment and hiring practices can negatively impact candidates with autism and other neurocognitive disabilities. In particular, the standard job interview format poses several challenges, as people with autism and Aspergers may struggle with understanding social cues and miss nonverbal communication. The majority of neurodiverse adults are unemployed or underemployed, with less than half of autistic adults employed. And of those, many are only working part-time.
As more companies recognize the value of including neurodiverse individuals in their organizations, competition for this talent will rise. Here are a few considerations recruiting and hiring teams will want to review to ensure qualified job seekers are not inadvertently filtered out or passed over due to a candidate's neurodiversity:
Consider the environment. Noisy, distracting settings can be uncomfortable for those with sensory processing issues. Choose a quiet location without clutter, harsh lighting, or strong odors. Forgo conducting interviews during a meal, as managing the etiquette of dining can be a significant distraction for candidates with autism.
Avoid large groups. Neurodiverse candidates may find elements of social interaction challenging, particularly in a larger group setting. If your interview process includes several stakeholders, consider scheduling sequential interviews, rather than conducting a panel interview situation. This way, neurodiverse candidates can be interviewed by different parties without becoming overwhelmed.
Be direct. Asking direct questions will be more successful, as people with autism respond well to questions related to things they have actually experienced, rather than situations that may not appear to relate to the job responsibilities. Using closed questions that focus on the candidate's actual experiences and tangible processes will be more successful than open-ended or vague questions that can cause confusion.
Limit hypothetical or abstract questions. To minimize confusion, avoid asking vague or potentially misleading questions, as well as questions that ask the candidate to address what other people may do or think. Using questions that begin with "describe a time when you…" can help elicit an appropriate response. A neurodiverse candidate may interpret your word choice literally, so avoid the use of potentially confusing language such as idioms, metaphors or hyperbole.
Focus on skills. Instead of the more traditional interview format, many companies reporting success with interviewing and hiring neurodiverse employees are using skills-based methods, such as cognitive assessments or work trials, which provide the benefit of focusing on the applicant's ability to perform the specific tasks required in a particular role. Additionally, reviewing past work samples when possible may be a good way to evaluate a candidate's skills.
[Keep Reading: Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace]
Check your social expectations. Typical interviews often end up acting as a test of social competence rather than a means to measure a candidate's ability to perform specific tasks. But candidates with neurodiversity may not be able to follow social norms carefully, and some candidates may have trouble making eye contact, be prone to fidgeting, or exhibit physical tics. Unless the position requires social cues, avoid letting small social missteps impact your decision making.
Don't interrupt. Neurodiverse candidates may take longer to consider how to answer questions, so be patient before jumping in to clarify or prompt.
Neurodiversity is something that should be accommodated rather than avoided when recruiting and hiring. By following these recommendations, you can feel confident that your interview process does not put neurodiverse candidates at a disadvantage, and help your company hire a range of diverse candidates well suited for their jobs.
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