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Creating the Ideal Interview Setting for Neurodivergent Candidates

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​Employers facing a skills shortage cannot afford to overlook neurodivergent candidates, such as those with autism, dyslexia, Tourette Syndrome or ADHD, who may not interview as well as others. Some accommodations and training for recruiters and hiring managers could reveal a better view into neurodivergent candidates' skills and abilities, and recruiting processes should be able to recognize and accommodate them.

Autistic candidates in particular may struggle with hiring processes that favor "neurotypical" candidates who might be better prepared to navigate the unspoken social rules implicit in the hiring process, according to Colin Willis, senior industrial organizational psychologist at employment platform HireVue in Salt Lake City.

But lately, companies are starting to widen their hiring approach to include candidates with autism or other conditions, Willis said.

HireVue's 2023 Global Trends Report found that 61 percent of hiring leaders are investing in initiatives to employ neurodivergent candidates to help overcome skills shortages.

"These results show us there is greater visibility around the need to focus on untapped talent," Willis explained, "and also how much more needs to be done to understand the way unconscious biases and outdated processes can inhibit broader employment goals."

Communication with a person who is neurodivergent—such as someone with autism—can be challenging, according to Tim Reed, attorney and shareholder at Ogletree Deakins in San Francisco, who has frequently presented on the subject.

"Training hiring managers and interviewers on neurodiversity and the workplace is so important," Reed said.

"In the event a [neurodivergent] candidate was to show up, interviewers with this training might already know, for example, not to read too much into handshakes, eye contact and other aspects of job interviews we have come to value, and which may not actually be strong predictors of employment competence."

Companies are advised to educate the hiring staff about characteristics of neurodivergent individuals so those with hiring responsibilities understand what behaviors might occur during the interview.

If a neurodivergent candidate showed up and the hiring team was not prepared, it might make sense to reschedule the interview to ensure that steps are taken to create an effective interview environment, according to Reed.

"In fact, if the prospective employer knows that the applicant is neurodiverse, there may be an obligation to accommodate them," he said. "Importantly, the prospective employee should be kept apprised of the process and any changes to it."

Stacey Berk, founder and managing consultant at Expand HR Consulting in Rockville, Md., said there is no obligation to conduct a formal interview with job candidates.

"However, if the disability is known or disclosed and the hiring manager declines to interview based on the disability, the organization may face a discrimination claim further down the road," she said.

Scheduling the Interview

Jamie Johnson, a career advisor at the University of Phoenix in Concord, N.C., said employers should be sensitive and aware of the individual needs of each neurodivergent candidate and what they bring to the process. Learn what each candidate may need for the interview in advance of the meeting.

Reed cautioned against rescheduling interviews at the last minute, which may disrupt these job candidates, increasing the likelihood that they interview poorly. If you need to make a change, give them as much advance notice as possible.

"To the extent possible, provide a prepared structure, outline of questions and step-by-step description of the process," he said. "Doing so may make the interview process a more successful experience for both the recruiter/manager and neurodivergent candidate."

Giving the candidate more options for an interview setting can help those who have sensory-related challenges be more comfortable with the process, Reed explained.

"Allow more time for reflection and silence and, if necessary, provide extended times for interviews to give those who need time to adequately process and share their answers," Johnson said.

"Make the interview process friendly, safe, inviting and supportive according to the individual candidate's needs," she added. "Do not be afraid to ask the candidate what works best for them during the process. Be flexible."

Focus on Candidates’ Accomplishments

Johnson further advised employers to make sure the interview rooms are quiet, without distractions, and to ask direct, closed instead of open-ended questions, and specifically relate the questions to the candidate's work history and accomplishments.

Berk said an in-person visit to the office or cubicle area might be a critical step for the candidate to see where they would be working and for the organization to better assess the candidate. For applicants with autism, their workplace environment may be especially key to successful performance in the role and job satisfaction.

Ask the candidate, if hired, if they need special arrangements or accommodations to perform the job.

Willis said game-based assessments—pre-hire assessments styled as games—are effective in hiring neurodivergent candidates. His research found that autistic candidates scored functionally the same as neurotypical candidates in game-based hiring assessments.

And employers are taking note: 32 percent of hiring managers say they have adopted game-based assessments in the past year to up their talent game, according to Willis.

By providing a welcoming interview process for neurodivergent candidates, Johnson said, "You will open a new level of talented candidates you can successfully hire into your organization."

Consider Candidates’ Skills

When evaluating an interview, Reed said, "It's not about them making great eye contact, being charismatic or giving a firm handshake that makes them the ideal candidate. Consider the role for which you are hiring. Persons with autism, for example, can excel in a specialized role."

Kristi Ervin, senior vice president of human resources talent acquisition at Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C., said she has learned just how vast the candidate pool is within the neurodivergent community.

"There is so much untapped talent and potential," she said. "We can make it easier for neurodivergent candidates to be successful during the interviewing process by tailoring the experience to highlight skills. We do not need to lessen the requirements of the roles; we simply need to be more flexible in how we gather the information we need from the candidate to make a hiring decision."

Ervin explained that employers shouldn't overlook someone who is neurodivergent because their social skills are atypical.

"Be prepared, do research on what questions to ask and how to position them to the candidate," she said. "Focus on content instead of delivery."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance reporter from Herndon, Va.


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