We often hear from neurodiverse job seekers that they face more challenges when going through a standard recruitment process than neurotypical candidates. As a hiring manager, the last thing you want to do is discount a great candidate because they have performed poorly during an interview process. There’s so much amazing talent within the neurodiverse community, and given it’s estimated that 15-20% of the population are neurodiverse, there’s likely many people who potentially don’t even realise that’s how their brain works.

Job interviews are quite a unique environment – there’s not many jobs out there that require you to be able to articulately answer questions on the spot like you do within an interview! Throw in some nerves and an unfamiliar environment and it’s no surprise that neurodiverse candidates struggle more with the ambiguity and pressure that comes with a traditional job interview.

There’re many different signs that your interviewee might be neurodiverse, including (but not limited to):

  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Being uncomfortable with small talk
  • Trouble giving concise answers or staying on topic
  • Distraction caused by an unfamiliar or overwhelming environment
  • Being too literal or direct with answers

Of course, these traits aren’t necessarily limited to the neurodiverse, nor do they mean someone can’t be effective in their job. That’s why it’s really important to run hiring processes that are inclusive and give all your candidates the best opportunity to showcase their abilities, no matter how their brain ticks.

How can you provide a more inclusive and effective interviewing experience for neurodiverse candidates (or anyone for that matter)? Our top tips are here to help:

 

Give Clear Directions and Expectations

Provide as much information as you can to your candidates about where to go and what to do when they arrive for their interview. Do they need to bring anything with them? Are they required to sign in or ask for a specific person on arrival? Provide detailed instructions on how to get to the interview.

Spell out how much time you have set aside, who they’ll meet and what the structure of the interview will be ahead of time. Consider even supplying the interview questions beforehand too. The more a candidate can understand what’s expected and prepare for their interview, the better they’ll perform.

 

Pick a Comfortable Environment

The setting of an interview can play a big part in how well a candidate presents themselves. Ideally you want to interview somewhere that is quiet and free from distractions – which can be harder to achieve when so many of us work in open-plan offices! It’s best if you have access to a meeting room or a quiet space away from others where the lighting is good but not harsh, and the distractions or interruptions are minimal.

We highly recommend making it standard practice to ask any candidate coming in for an interview if there’re any particular accommodations that need to be made to help them navigate the interview process. This can include bringing a support person, being allowed some movement or to have something in their hands (known as stimming) or even perhaps conducting the initial interview over the phone or online.

 

Ask Direct Questions

This is a good tip no matter who you’re interviewing, but it’s especially important for neurodiverse candidates. Take the guesswork out of the equation and avoid unrelated answers by asking clear and direct questions. It’s been found that people with autism respond better to questions that speak to tangible experiences – things they have done or experienced directly rather than open-ended or hypothetical questions.

One of the most common interview openers: “tell me about yourself” can be a nightmare for neurodiverse candidates because it’s such a vague and open question. Are you asking for my life story? What my hobbies are? How I’m feeling right now? Where do I start???

Try and frame your questions in a more direct and specific way, for example. “tell me about your current work situation?” or “tell me about what you’re working on at the moment?”. The more detailed you can be in the way that you ask questions, the better your candidate’s chance is of giving a relevant and informative answer.

 

Focus on What’s Important

Unless your candidate is interviewing for a role that requires them to think on their feet and provide information off the top of their head in a professional and polished manner, don’t get too tripped up on how a candidate comes across at interview. Just because a person can charm their way through the questions saying all the right things doesn’t mean they’ll actually be effective in the job!

Try to focus on the specific skills and capabilities required for the job and use references to back up what’s been communicated both through the candidate’s CV and interview. A poor interview doesn’t necessarily translate to poor performance, often it just means that the person was nervous or struggled to present their abilities in the short time given. Skills-based interview questions or practical assessments (if applicable) can achieve better results, particularly when it comes to neurodiverse job seekers.

 

Stagger Interviews

Typically, one of the key steps in a recruitment process is a panel interview where multiple people from the organisation are all sitting across from you and taking turns to ask questions. It’s a pretty nerve-racking experience at the best of times, but for a neurodivergent candidate, taking in all the different body languages and knowing who to focus on or address their responses to can be overwhelming. If you have multiple stakeholders who need to meet with prospective candidates before making a hiring decision, consider staggering the interviews so that the experience is not all happening at once.

 

It’s good practice to provide a consistent recruitment and interview process for all the candidates you’re considering; tweaking your current process to be more inclusive to neurodivergent candidates can absolutely benefit everyone. We have more tips on interviewing and hiring, such as avoiding biases, making smart hiring decisions, questions you should always cover when completing references and many more.

Good Luck,

Kirsty and Nikki

 

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