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How To Embrace Neurodiversity In The Hiring Process

12 months ago by Rose Hunt

How To Embrace Neurodiversity In The Hiring Process

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It’s a well-established fact that inclusive companies are far more likely to be innovation leaders. When it comes to neurodiversity in particular, the stats are off the charts; autistic workers, for instance, often achieve 48% to 140% more than their neurotypical colleagues, depending on the role.  And yet, figures demonstrate that the number of autistic people in employment in the UK is shockingly low at just 16%. Stats for ADHD are similarly dismal; while such individuals are often known for their creativity and attention-to-detail, 50% are estimated to be unemployed. Although neurodiversity may be one of the most challenging areas within ED&I – nuanced, complex, and often totally invisible – it offers an undeniable upside to businesses, as neurodivergent people are the original ‘outside the box’ thinkers. However, decades of unfair stereotypes and misunderstanding has led to recruitment and hiring processes being designed only with neurotypical employees in mind. In this blog post, we’ll explore some simple ways organisations can make their hiring processes more neurodiversity-friendly. 

De-clutter your job adverts

Let’s face it, when it comes to job descriptions, many organisations are guilty of overcomplicating something that at heart should remain simple. A great job description should follow the ‘five Cs’ rule: complete, compelling, clear, concise, and consistent. Although it may be tempting to overexplain yourself and turn your advert into a ‘wish list’ of skills and attributes, this can be seriously off-putting to neurodiverse candidates. Most people understand that when it comes to job specs, there’s some degree of poetic license involved. However, candidates with autism are far more likely to take them literally and exclude themselves because they don’t meet every single criterion. It’s also important to ensure you’re listing all important details in a clear and easy to understand format. For instance, you might feel that because you’re advertising a full-time, office-based graphic design position, it’s implied that working hours will be 9-5. However, this may not be obvious at all to a neurodivergent brain, so it never hurts to spell it out. 

Re-think your requirements

Sure, great people skills are nice, but are they really necessary for that backend development role? And if you’re being totally honest, is there any reason your new product manager really needs to be in the office five days a week? Take the time to think about what’s actually required to do to the job well, and don’t be tempted to go overboard with the ‘nice to haves’. It’s also important to consider easy ways you can make the role more accessible to a neurodiverse candidate. For example, people with ADHD may need to take more regular breaks, so why not make it clear you can be accommodating of requirements such as these in the job description? 

Ensure candidates know what to expect

The CIPD Neurodiversity At Work report offers some insightful tips to help candidates prepare before an interview. For instance, it emphasises the importance of providing clear guidance as to how and where the interview will take place, along with directions where applicable. Furthermore, it points out the benefits of letting candidates know what to expect, including the duration of the interview, who they will meet, and whether or not they will be undertaking any assessments. For some neurodiverse interviewees, providing this level of clarity can help to avoid the anxiety that uncertainty can provoke, and allows them to thoroughly plan and prepare in advance. It can also be very helpful to let candidates know beforehand that they can take breaks if they need to, and to make it clear you’re willing to make other adjustments that may make the process easier – for instance, it’s highly likely candidates with dyslexia will benefit from extra time to complete written tests. 

Be aware of unconscious bias 

The problem with unconscious bias is that it can creep in even when we’re actively guarding against it. For instance, on a logical level, a hiring manager or recruiter may be fully aware that a neurodivergent individual may not be as comfortable making eye contact during an interview, yet this may still cause them to perceive this candidate as less likeable than a neurotypical candidate on a subconscious level. The same can also be said of unconventional body language, or an unusual first impression. For this reason, it can be a good idea to use a scoring matrix in which you list the key competencies and skills you’re looking for in a candidate, and ensure you’re assessing each in a manner that doesn’t rely on subjective characteristics such as personability. Remember, you’re looking for the best person for the job, not the person who’s best at interviews.

Audit your assessment process

If your interview processes rely heavily on a question-and-answer format, be aware that neurodiverse candidates might struggle with this. For instance, most people will understand that “tell me about yourself” really means “tell me about your professional achievements and how they relate to this position”. However, for an ND interviewee, this same question can be incredibly confusing, and so vague that they may end up giving the interviewer irrelevant information.  It can therefore be very helpful to ensure your questions are direct and literal, rather than general and abstract, and also to use examples alongside your questions that demonstrate your intent. Hiring managers should also be aware that neurodiverse candidates may take longer to respond to questions, and their answers may not be as detailed. You might consider whether the conversational portion of the interview is necessary at all, and if you could instead ask candidates to complete work trials or practical assessments. 

Give your induction processes a makeover

Onboarding processes can be stressful for most of us, but for neurodivergent candidates, this is especially true. Often, organisations place a huge emphasis on social interaction, ‘ice breaking’, and getting to know other co-workers. This can be challenging, if not downright anxiety-inducing, for individuals who struggle with communication and social interaction. The process of learning lots of new names and reading different documents can also be incredibly overwhelming, meaning candidates can suffer from information overload.  In these cases, it’s a good idea to provide more tailored, one-to-one induction experience. Additionally, bear in mind that when it comes to aspects of working life such as company culture and the format of the working day, what may be obvious to a neurotypical employee may not be obvious to a neurodiverse one. Information should therefore be provided well in advance, in simple and precise language, in order to give new employees a chance to absorb and understand it. It’s also general good practice to ask all new hires whether they have any working requirements, such as whether they prefer a low-sensory environment. After this, periodic ‘comfort at work’ reviews can also be helpful to ensure the employee has everything they need to carry out their job happily. 

Work on your employer branding

Even if you don’t think your organisations currently employs any neurodiverse individuals, you’re almost certainly wrong. In the UK, around 1 in 57 people have autism, ADHD affects around 2% of adults, and 1 in 10 of us is dyslexic. Within your workplace, therefore, you almost certainly have your very own shining example of neurodiverse success. If you communicate that your organisation is on a mission to encourage applications from ND candidates and that you’re ready to listen and learn, they may well feel comfortable coming forward to share their own struggles and successes. These stories can form an important part of your employer branding, and can even form the basis of dedicated programmes to help nurture and promote talent that thinks differently. Once candidates see that you’re committed to the cause of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, your recruiting efforts will become much easier.

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