I recruit candidates. I want great people to work with who can perform the requirements of the job. Hands down. However sometimes the interview process doesn’t highlight some candidates strengths. The meaning of Neurodiverse or Neurodivergent is a term that refers to individuals who encompass a broad range of intellectual capabilities that they have. This includes (a non-exhaustive list) being on the autism spectrum (ASD), ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette syndrome.
Personally, I have a degree in psychology, worked with individuals with intellectual disabilities and have a post-grad in HR. I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of candidates both in-person and virtually (humble brag, I swear there is a point to this). This topic on interviewing with a neurodiverse individual was never taught or at least not thoroughly explored. I know about reducing bias in the interview process and questions that should never be asked around protected grounds for discrimination. To be honest, I have never been asked for an accommodation so it never was a focus.
Interviewing a neurodiverse candidate remotely: A lesson learned
This topic peaked my interest after I had interviewed a candidate in a tech company, who later was not chosen for the role. Upon the rejection email notifying this person, they later sent a long email explaining some of the reasons they felt they didn’t perform as well that were out of of her control. Some highlights included that the interviewer was speaking quickly, the questions were difficult to think on the spot and that they have ADHD so found it hard to focus. Further they found it hard to make eye contact (this was a video interview), explaining why she turned her camera off a few minutes into the interview. Disappointed about the outcome and a poor candidate experience.
Now, the person who conducted that virtual interview was a VP and I shared the email with him, and we had a great discussion around it and tried to find and learnings we could take from it. We had already discussed and identified a misaligned related to requirements of the role which made him not a fit for the company at the time, which was why we did not choose them. However the person also failed to request any kind of interview accommodations beforehand. I am sure they will find a great opportunity better aligned with their skill sets one day! However I definitely wanted to take it as a learning experience and researched if we needed to improve our practices.
Neurodiversity in the workplace
More simply some individuals have different ways of processing or taking in information and they encompass unique strengths too. Diversity and inclusion has proven benefits for companies and candidates. However this is an area of diversity and inclusion in the workplace that is often overlooked. Just like building an interview to avoid bias and discrimination against a persons race, gender, age and other protected grounds, we can adapt our process to be inclusive of neurodiverse candidates.
Strengths of neurodiverse candidates
Famous individuals including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Temple Grandin and Greta Thurnberg have raised awareness world-wide while pursuing passions and acknowledging their own struggles on the autism spectrum. These are exceptional cases, and many find the market a lot tougher. An estimated 5.5 million (2.2%) of individuals in the US are on the autism spectrum, while as much as 70-90% of those individuals are unemployed or underemployed.
What do jobs do neurodiverse individuals hold?
Retail and hospitality businesses have hired individuals to perform repetitive and menial tasks such as stocking shelves and cleaning. Some companies are only motivated to meet quotas, but on the bright side they provide pay and sometimes benefits. Many neurodiverse believe their talents deserve higher pay and more rewarding work. They know they can focus on detail, work long hours on defined projects, bring a new perspective to collaboration and be persistent and determined.
Larger global organizations have also created programs including SAP who has an ‘Autism at Work’ Program, and IBM. There is even a dedicated job portal for neurodiverse individuals called the Neurodiversity Career Connector.
Neurodiverse job outlook
There is an increasingly tight job market, and tech workers in particular are in very high demand with a labour shortage. We can’t afford to overlook great talent due to outdated recruitment practices. In fact there is even increasingly literature and stories of unique skill sets that individuals are above average at when aligned appropriately to a job with their skill sets. In the tech industry in particular, the role of Quality Analyst (QA) requires a high level of attention to detail, focus and problem solving. But, it is important to note that not everyone can be lumped into a category, and everyone has unique strengths and interests. Further, it can be difficult to obtain said job without accommodation during the interview process.
This teen made the news when he got a special birthday present related to his passion of vacuuming:
Neurodiverse employees are more likely to express company loyalty. This is one benefit when making the case for leadership (silver-lining). Having experienced more job insecurity in their lifetime, a neurodiverse candidate may opt out of putting themselves through the stressful process of interviewing again if they are happy at their current place of employment.
What is accommodation?
Accommodation is an option for employers to adapt standard processes in the case of an applicant needing specific requests during an interview. This aims to create an environment where they can best be assessed for the role. This is part of employers commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Common accommodation requests (not for neurodiverse necessarily) include:
- Physical access – lighting adjusted, scent-free environment, wheelchair access, presence of a service animal.
- Timing – Scheduling during a time of day when the candidate experiences the least amount of disability barriers (Ex. medications, energy levels can affect performance).
Interviewing neurodiverse candidates and technology
Of course in a virtual or remote interview setting, most physical requests are not a concern anymore. Lighting and screen adjustments can be made by the candidate as well as ensuring they are in a comfortable setting. I prefer this as a candidate myself, who tends to sweat a lot when nervous. In-person I am afraid of showing sweat stains or smelling bad.
Further, technology can be utilized in other forms of accessibility such as adding live closed captions (viewer can read the discussion to follow) and if eye-contact is a challenge, it can be overcome by minimizing the video call window while staring at the camera versus eyes. Alternately, the video call can be set up to see the interviewer head-on for better lip-reading.
Employers do have a right to request medical documentation for the request. However it should not be discussed during the interview or until a job offer is made. The conversation will be strictly around requirements for the role and how to set them up for success.
The Job Accommodation Network provides some great pointers to remember and overcome bias:
- Don’t focus on an applicant’s disability.
- Don’t ask unnecessary medical questions or require unnecessary medical examinations or documentation.
- Don’t base hiring decisions on myths, fears, or stereotypes about people with disabilities.
- Do focus on an applicant’s qualifications.
- Do get the information needed to determine whether an applicant is qualified.
- Do base hiring decisions on skills, qualifications, and experience.
In addition, the hiring process before interviews is also important. Adding accommodation language at the bottom of job postings is necessary. If it is visible then candidates will feel more comfortable requesting accommodation rather than fearing they will be negatively judged for it.
Best practices when interviewing neurodiverse candidates
What makes a good interview process when accommodating? I spoke with other HR pros, parents of neurodiverse children and neurodiverse individuals themselves to find out. I summarized some key points:
Be aware of “socially pleasing” questions like “what would your boss say about you?” but rather focus on specific examples – “Tell me about a time when…”. Salary negotiations also may not be as typical. Having transparent salary ranges overcomes the prospect that if you are good at negotiating, you get more money. I was told that some neurodiverse individuals are hyper-aware and good at picking up others micro-expressions. This may confuse the tone of the interview if they pick up they are ‘bombing’ the interview.
Another answer I heard from a neurodiverse candidate was that it is okay to stop someone who is answering in too much detail and talking too much. By saying “Okay I have heard a thorough enough description of your experience, I would like to move on to another question” is acceptable to continue the process.
Again, the type of question is important. Focus on specific skills but apply it to a real experience. Don’t use phrases like “Imagine” or ask hypothetical scenarios. For example, if you ask how many beans are in this jar, and think an answer approaching the problem assessing reasoning skills. It may be lost on the neurodiverse individual. They may conclude the only way to determine the number of beans is to count each one.
Interview style –
It is common to host a panel interview for individuals. It’s benefits include efficiency as well as reducing individual bias as everyone had the same interview to examine. In terms of a neurodiverse interview, you may be asked vs. over days. If possible, have interviewers meet separately for shorter durations, and not back-to-back either.
As much as we may work in a busy and fast-paced environment, exercise a level of patience and understanding. It may just pay off ten-fold with hiring a great person.
All three together make a viable interview where the candidate can truly be assessed for their skill set and fit for the role. This will help reduce biases and provide more fair hiring practices, while creating a more neuro-diverse team. This has many benefits for the company as they can save on recruitment costs by finding the right talent faster. It also brings diverse perspectives and ideas for problem solving and creativity. This can be a competitive advantage.
Remote work and neurodiverse individuals
In my example above, I mentioned some of the benefits to virtual interviews over in-person due to remove potential barriers related to the physical environment, seating arrangement and
If you are an employer and want to know where to start when hiring someone remotely, try lano.io. People stack has a partnership with lano and can offer 10% off the cost when hiring 5 individuals. Now you can hire neurodiverse individuals to work remotely, around the world – hassle free. 💥
Takeaway for neurodiverse interviewers
So to all the HR folks, hiring managers and business owners out there looking for top talent on their team, use this guide, conduct training and have the discussion. I hope you also can take these best practices and continue to evolve interview processes to develop a more inclusive world. The more normalized it is, the chance for discrimination. Further, anyone can get nervous during an interview – let’s remove unnecessary stressors to an interviewee and create a great candidate experience, neurodivergent brain or not. Finding and securing a job worthy of these individuals potential remains difficult. It’s 2022, let’s change this. 💯
This is not an exhaustive list of best practices. Leave your experiences, best practices and thoughts in the comments!
Like what you read? You may also like: How to nail your phone interview
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