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Hiring autistic job candidates: how to recruit neurodiverse talent

Hiring autistic job candidates: how to recruit neurodiverse talent

Job candidates on the autism spectrum can be an incredible addition to your team, increasing neurodiversity at your company and filling skill gaps. Yet this hidden talent pool is often overlooked or screened out by recruiters.

Hiring practices are not always designed for people with autism or other invisible learning disabilities. Many of the personality and assessment tests used for screening don’t work for candidates on the autism spectrum, and the typical interview process relies heavily on social and communication skills over practical skills. That means that people with autism may struggle to sell themselves because of social interaction challenges.

The result? You may be missing out on talented hires from a broad, untapped talent pool that are ready and capable of working, and contributing to solving real business problems with unique, logical, and straightforward thinking.

Accessing this rich talent pool

Unemployment among those with autism is approximately 85%, yet hiring autistic job candidates offers real benefits outside of longer tenure, decreased turnover, and increased employee engagement. The distinctive skill sets and unique qualities of an autistic mind can include:

  • high attention to detail
  • creativity
  • high pattern recognition
  • reliability
  • strong memory
  • direct communication style
  • deep focus
  • analytical skills

The types of skills that a person on the autism spectrum might have varies by the individual, so there’s no one-job-fits-all approach to determining which roles an autistic candidate might be best suited for. People with autism can be everything from a computer programmer to warehouse manager, accountant to physicist to animal trainer.

The challenge is designing a recruitment strategy that will let these candidates shine. In fact, interviewing and hiring people on the autism spectrum only requires making a few modifications to your current recruitment process. It is not about giving special advantages to autistic applicants. Refinements to your hiring process will benefit all prospective candidates, and provide fair opportunities to demonstrate distinct strengths, talents and fit.

Consider neurodiversity-focused recruitment teams

In recent years, more and more companies, including Microsoft, SAP, and IBM, are recognizing the exceptional talents and competitive advantage of neurodiverse hires, and have set up special recruiting divisions. Microsoft has made autism hiring a priority and has created an entire program devoted to hiring neurodiverse candidates.

“Many of the roles have been in software engineering,” says Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft. “However, we have also hired candidates through the program focused on data analytics, customer service, and other engineering roles,” he says.

Autistic applicants seeking jobs at Microsoft take part in a multi-day hiring event that focuses on workability, team projects, and skills assessments. The focus is on Microsoft’s core competencies, Barnett says, such as teamwork and collaboration, as well as technical interviews where candidates get to showcase their skills.

How to start hiring autistic job candidates

Workplace inclusion initiatives will put you ahead of your competition and can help grow culture, productivity and innovation. But to ensure you’re not missing out on the valuable skills of autistic candidates, it’s important to start with the right strategy. Barnett recommends thinking through these key recruiting questions:

  • How you are enabling candidates to easily request interview accommodations?
  • Is your interview process accessible for everyone—including content, infrastructure, and interview tools?
  • How you are supporting your employees to better understand the fundamentals of disability etiquette and inclusive interview practices for people with disabilities?

Here are some tips to help you update your current recruitment process and make it more accessible to autistic job candidates:

Take a look at your job descriptions and applications

  • On your website and in job descriptions, be sure to highlight the inclusivity of your hiring process and culture.
  • Keep your job descriptions clear and concise. Avoid jargon and unnecessary information that clutters the post.
  • Forego tick-box descriptions such as “excellent communication skills” and “good team player” when these attributes are not actually essential to the job. Suitable neurodiverse candidates might disqualify themselves immediately—even when they can have strong skills relevant to the actual job.
  • Focus your description on abilities and experience genuinely essential for the job; for example, high-attention to detail or interest in repetitive tasks.
  • Be sure applicants are informed of their right to request reasonable accommodation when it comes to completing the application form, as well as having full access to the interviewing process, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Provide a company contact name, email and phone number for this request.

Rethink your interview process

  • Be flexible about the interview process and select a place and time that meets your candidates’ various needs. Conducting the initial interview via Zoom or on the phone can help reduce social anxiety, and show mindfulness of sensory sensitivity.
  • Structure the interview. Let the candidate know what to expect in the process and share the itinerary, topics that will be discussed, and even the interview questions, in advance of the interview.
  • Provide the names of the interviewers, along with a bit of professional information on each one, to further put the candidate at ease. Decrease the number of interviewers, and conduct interviews in 45-minute time frames.
  • In a Zoom or phone interview, help the applicant perform their best by being open and direct. Gauging how much information to share in a response can be difficult for some candidates, so be sure to let them know matter-of-factly that you’ve received enough information and it’s time to move on to the next question.
  • Ask one question at a time and keep questions specific to the skill set you are accessing. Avoid general questions like “tell me about yourself” or “where do you see yourself in five years?” Instead focus on experience, skills, and procedures. For example, if they did data input, what processes were used and what were the results?

Review your assessments and screening tools

  • Retool your interviewing process to include different assessments. For example, if the position is for software testing, rather than using a personality test, assess talent with tools such as an online technical assessment, a pattern recognition test, and hands-on software testing work.

Expanding your talent pool has many advantages

Companies are benefiting from the autism advantage beyond employment equity. Creating a culture of inclusion starts with a welcoming and supportive candidate experience, and results in a safe space for people of all abilities to work and support one another.  To learn more about how you can increase your talent pools, sign up for Monster’s free hiring advice. We’ll send you the latest tips, hiring trends, data and insights to make hiring easier.