7 Steps To Support Neurodivergent Job Seekers
1st April 2022
It feels like there's been a universal realisation that workforce diversity is good for business. Everywhere you turn employers are talking about diversity and inclusion and there's a greater appreciation for the value of diverse abilities, backgrounds, and perspectives.
Organisations want to harness and maximise the talents of people who think differently because it drives innovation, creativity, and competitive advantage. Yet, there's a disconnect.
It's estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent, how they learn and process information is different from neurotypical people. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for a range of learning and behavioural differences:
Image courtesy of https://www.geniuswithin.org.
Around 1% of the UK population is autistic and although there's vast diversity across the spectrum, just 21.7% of autistic people are in employment and autistic people are more likely to be underpaid and poorly supported, with many feeling unable to disclose that they are autistic.
Nesceda Blake is an autistic woman who is on a mission to debunk the neurotypical myths around professionalism and recruitment, "Neurodivergent talent often equals higher productivity, efficiency, and innovation. Neurodivergent people are creative thinkers, innovative, focused, resilient, adaptable... the list goes on."
Neurodivergent people are more likely to be excluded by a typical recruitment process.
Rather than expecting people to fit the process, the process has to accommodate the individual, giving them an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.
Inclusive recruitment enables employers to attract and retain a diverse range of applicants. Changes to the process don't need to be dramatic or expensive. What we all need is for our individual differences to be supported and respected. It's fair that everyone should start from a level playing field.
7 steps for a more inclusive recruitment process that supports neurodivergent people.
Gain knowledge and commitment, 64% of employers admit to having 'little' or 'no' understanding of the cognitive differences people may have. Learn about neurodivergence and get buy-in from leadership that neurodivergent people will be supported and valued across the business. On your website and social media share stories, metrics, employee testimonials, events, and any other activities that will help neurodivergent people imagine themselves working in a business where they feel supported and included.
Train your brain to embrace diversity. Train your recruiters to be aware of and manage unconscious bias. Move on from thinking about culture fit as this just perpetuates "like hiring like" and reinforces the importance of the likeability factor. Instead, think progressively about the individual's skills, values, and competencies, and what they will add to your culture rather than just fit in.
This is an opportunity to make your job descriptions better for everyone:
- Make it clear that your organisation welcomes and supports neurodivergent people.
- Use a simple format, avoid jargon language, and be explicit on the essential skills and behaviours required for the job. Autistic people tend to interpret information literally and may not apply if they feel they do not have all the specified criteria. Ditch meaningless generic information that's found in every job spec, such as "good team player" and "excellent communication skills".
- Provide step-by-step guidance on the application process and the information the applicant is required to provide.
Clarify your application process:
- Provide guidance on how long the application process will take.
- Ask if support is required and if it is, offer alternatives. Part of this can also be offering everyone the option to submit an application using different methods. Some neurodivergent people communicate best in writing, others find that their biggest barrier and will submit a much stronger application over the telephone or in a voice recording.
- Offer extra time to complete assessments and also consider the time it takes to complete the assessments provided. Are you requiring people to duplicate information (i.e. list their education in a portal when it's already in the CV)? This is inefficient for everyone and takes a lot of energy.
Personalise the interview:
Job interviews are the most nerve-wracking stage of the recruitment process and can be particularly challenging for autistic people who find social interactions and rapport building uncomfortable. Interviews focus on how a person performs under pressure, which may create overwhelm for people with Tourettes or anxiety.
- Give clear information on what to expect at the interview and ask the applicant what they need to be supported.
- Include clear instructions on how to get to the interview, such as a map and travel options. Alternatively, offer video interviews so the anxiety associated with traveling to a new place is removed entirely. Nesceda has worked with a recruiter who did a walking interview to a coffee shop when he noticed the candidate was particularly anxious and uncomfortable. This made the candidate feel far more relaxed.
- Send questions in advance of the interview, to allow time to process and think.
- Reduce sensory stimulation. Loud noises, bright lights, concurrent conversations can all be overwhelming.
- Say exactly what you mean, avoid metaphors and jargon.
- Ask one question at a time and switch behavioural questions for skills-based assessments, sample work tests, and interactive conversations where the applicant can show you what they can do.
- Don't get hung up on dress code and traditional interview behaviours such as a strong handshake and making eye contact.
Follow up verbal communications in writing and clearly explain any change to plans.
Be tactful in your candidate feedback, avoid framing it in a personal way.
A recent job seeker herself, Nesceda explains how helpful getting the questions in advance is to her performance:
"For me, as an autistic person with anxiety, this kind of offering is a game-changer. Getting the questions in advance, plus information about what to expect in the interview is the difference between a great interview experience and a terrible one.
"My auditory processing skills are better when I have the words written in front of me - particularly in a high-pressure situation like an interview.
"I have a better understanding of what the panel is going to ask of me and can manage expectations before I get there. It means I can almost play the scenes out in my mind, because my brain thrives on structure. Not knowing what to expect can lead to extreme overwhelm, and might mean that I can't answer questions coherently and feel embarrassed.
"Knowing who will be there eliminates some of the anxiety that comes with meeting people for the first time."
Pause for a moment and consider all the guidance you've read. Has it struck you that these changes would actually help every applicant and job seeker? Your recruitment process would be improved for everyone and that can only be a good thing for your business.
For more guidance on how to offer a more inclusive recruitment experience watch our recent interview with Nesceda.
There's a comprehensive library of guidance and education materials on the Neurodiversity Celebration Week website: https://www.neurodiversityweek.com/business-resources