June 8, 2021

Recruiting Autistic Candidates: 4 Key Changes to Make Hiring Processes More Inclusive

Many adults who are autistic have never held a paying job. Employers are missing out on an opportunity because rigid recruiting processes aren’t conducive to recruiting autistic candidates.

“Most autistic people are desperate to find a job that reflects their talents, but the recruitment process, with unpredictable questions, is often a huge barrier,” writes Emma Kearns, head of enterprise and employment at the National Autistic Society in London.

To give these potential employees a chance, organizations should be making changes in their recruiting processes to not only encourage neurodiverse candidates to apply but to also pave the way for their success. The benefits of doing so cannot be understated.

Hiring neurodiverse candidates “is absolutely a business imperative, and it makes great sense from a business perspective,” says Kelly Grier, U.S. chair and managing partner and Americas managing partner at EY. Neurodiverse people often have abilities such as excellent focus and memory plus attention to detail, qualities of value to employers.

To make your hiring processes more inclusive, incorporate the following approaches.

Customize Interview Processes to Make Recruiting Autistic Candidates More Comfortable 

One of the biggest challenges in the recruiting process for people on the autism spectrum is the interview phase.

“The job interview in particular can be problematic since they often struggle to understand unstated communication and social norms,” writes Katherine Breward, associate professor in Business and Administration at the University of Winnipeg. “Their difficulties in these areas can result in poor ratings during interviews, even when the candidate would be an excellent fit for the job.”

To encourage these candidates to apply, changes need to be made to the interview process so they’re not put at a disadvantage.

This may mean extending the interview process to learn a candidate’s communication skills, style, and preferences in order to customize the process for them. Consider doing phone or video calls instead of in-person interviews. Breward also suggests only asking direct and literal questions that relate directly to the job tasks and responsibilities. “Avoid vague questions or trendy pop-psychology questions that have no discernable connection to job tasks and responsibilities,” she advises.

Use Skills-Based Assessments in Place of Conversations When Recruiting Autistic Candidates

If possible, bypass the verbal interviews altogether in favor of skills-based assessments. This gives autistic candidates the opportunity to showcase what they can do instead of describing their own abilities.

These assessments can be games, simulations, projects or any other hands-on assignments that test the candidate’s abilities to do the job instead of how well they interview.

That’s what Dell Technologies is doing through its autism hiring program. Instead of requiring neurodiverse job applicants to sit through multiple interviews, the company invites qualified candidates to participate in a two-week skills assessment. Candidates are then selected for 12-week internship programs that can, and often do, turn into full-time jobs.

“We’ve identified people on the spectrum as folks that need to be part of our future digital economy and part of our economy as we see it now,” says Brian Reaves, Dell’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, of the company’s efforts to create inclusive hiring processes.

zen garden with sand and stone; Recruiting Autistic Candidates concept

Focus on the Details in Recruiting

To encourage neurodiverse people to apply for jobs, be as detailed as possible with every step in the hiring process. Neurodiversity trainer and educator Marcie Ciampi writes that barriers faced by applicants include:

  • uncertainty about the details to include in their resumes.
  • being discouraged by abstract descriptors in job descriptions.
  • interpreting job postings too literally.
  • inferring that their skills and experience must match the job description exactly.

By letting candidates know exactly what is expected, you help them overcome these stumbling blocks.

Be precise and literal in the job description and avoid abstract language. Also state directly in the job description that people who are neurodiverse are encouraged to apply. Provide candidates with a recruiting process outline that details each step in the hiring process, including timelines and contact persons at the company.

Pair Candidates With Mentors

For some autisitic applicants, having a buddy helps alleviate the uncertainties of the hiring process.

The software company SAP is one that pairs candidates with mentors at the start of the hiring process to help them overcome the unique challenges they face. The mentors themselves go through a special training program that “introduces basic concepts of autism, truths and misconceptions, empathy building exercises, and other resources,” says José Velasco, head of the Autism at Work program at SAP. Once the candidates are hired at SAP, the mentors become job coaches to help the new employees adjust to their roles.

While reshaping recruiting processes to reach autistic job candidates requires an investment of time and resources, it’s worth it to be able to bring these valuable employees on board. “Research demonstrates that autistic employees matched to the appropriate position will outperform their typical peers,” writes Bruce Dall, president of MotorCity Casino Hotel and a board member of the Autism Alliance of Michigan.

Don’t miss out on these valuable employees simply because your hiring processes deter them from applying to work at your organization.

Images by: DmitryMolchanov/©123RF.com, StudioGrandWeb/©123RF.com