7 Ways Your Hiring Process May Be Unintentionally Excluding Neurodiverse Talent

Hiring Process Neurodiversity

There is still a chronic lack of awareness of neurodiversity in society as a whole, and as a result in many workplaces. Forms of neurodistinctiveness remain poorly understood, generalized and stereotyped – for example, that all autistic people are male, or that ADHDers cannot be focused, productive employees in the right role.

People within these neuroidentity groups can be extremely talented and add significant value in organizations, and want to be employed. But for many employers, it’s still a challenge to be ‘neurodiversity smart’ – as most existing hiring processes, management practices, and workplaces have been shaped almost exclusively for so-called ‘neurotypicals’.

Where hiring processes are concerned, this means running the risk of unintentionally excluding neurodiverse talent, whatever the organization’s intentions; of missing out on substantial, high potential talent pipelines; and even risking legal issues further down the line.

We’ve flagged 7 areas within a typical recruitment process that could be problematic in terms of successfully hiring neurodiverse talent.

Not making it clear that you welcome and value (neuro)diverse talent

Some job seekers may have had negative experiences in the past with organizations being unprepared to hire, manage and develop them successfully. Some may even assume that most organizations are unlikely to be suitable for them.

Here’s Uptimize advisor and trainer Jacqui Wilmshurst:

“Some companies wouldn’t attract someone like me because I would do my research, I would look online at how the company comes across to me and its branding and its messaging. And I’d say, I just don’t think that is somewhere that’s going to be open to me being different in the ways that I’m different.”

You can stand out from the crowd by making your commitment to hiring all diverse applicants as visible as possible, from case studies on your recruitment website to including similar text in your job descriptions.

Recruiting through the same old channels

Relating to the point above, some neurodistinct job applicants may not use the major conventional job sites and jobs boards. To attract a wider range of candidates, it’s smart to be proactive and ensure your recruitment efforts are reaching out to school disability counsellors, disability charities, neurodiversity recruitment specialists, and neurodiversity-specific recruitment sites such as Uptimize partner Hire Autism’s job board.

If you are looking to develop a specific neurodiversity hiring program, consider partnering with specialists in this area such as Uptimize partners Integrate Autism Advisors or Potentia.

Unclear, misleading job descriptions 

Job descriptions are the first interface between your employer brand and your prospective job applicants. Many are unclear in terms of structure or jargon – confusing to very literal thinkers – and may also contain unnecessary skills demands.

Here’s Uptimize focus group interviewee Piers Roberts:

“You need a team that can fulfill a whole job well, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has to be good at everything. So that means that if you’re going to be looking to hire people, you need to be much more thoughtful around what you are asking of the people who you want to apply with neurodivergent people.”

So – don’t just hastily reuse old job descriptions to save time. Instead always practice intentional recruitment – carefully considering the essential and nice-to-have skills and attributes for the role. If you’re recruiting for a more technical position, stop and think – is ‘excellent communication skills’ really a ‘must have’?

Confusing, timed job applications

Application forms should be made as clear as possible to avoid any misunderstandings, confusion or stress on the part of the applicant – similarly, timed elements can cause unnecessary anxiety for people who may have challenges reading or typing under time pressure.

Such forms can and should be road-tested by existing neurodivergent employees, with findings used to generate a more inclusive experience.

It’s also important to make clear at all stages of the recruitment process that you welcome applicants within neuroidentity groups and other disability categories, and will be happy to make reasonable accommodations.

Poor communication 

Communication during the application process is critical to ensure not just that (all) candidates can have as stress-free an experience as possible, but also to help orient and prepare neurodiverse candidates for their interviews. This is an example of universal design in action – clear and thorough information provided in advance to set expectations of interviews, assessment exercises, and onboarding is likely to be appreciated by everyone.

Interviewers not trained in interviewing neurodistinct candidates

Interviews are stressful for most people. They can be especially challenging for anybody for whom producing “a neurotypical social performance” (in the words of neurodivergent thought leader Nick Walker) does not come naturally.

Typical issues with interviews could include: using a suboptimal space; a lack of understanding and empathy towards non-typical body language, eye contact, and so on; or asking vague, general questions instead of clear, specific questions focused on previous experiences and achievements. Re the latter, here’s Uptimize focus group interviewee Abi Silvester:

“I struggle with verbal communication generally. So I find interviews really hard, but I think in particular one thing I struggle with is open ended questions. So if an interviewer starts off with something like “tell me a bit about yourself”, then my brain will just shoot off in several different directions. What I say to them is not going to be very helpful.”

Interviews can be made to be fair and effective for everybody – this is likely to require insight and guidance across the recruitment teams.

Interviewers should also be aware of the key do’s and don’ts regarding disclosure of a neuroidentity such as autism – as not being aware of these could lead to inappropriate questions and legal ramifications.

Hiring assessments & tests issues

Most organizations use tests and other assessments when considering job applicants – your organization is likely to be no different. Problems can arise, though, when these are applied uniformly without attention to potential discrimination against neurodistinct job candidates who may naturally have difficulties with, for example, reading material under a tight timeline. This point – stressed, for example, in the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, and the essence of this article – is a crucial one; don’t just assume that just because something is applied ‘equally’ across an entire group (in this case, job applicants) that it is inevitably fair, or ultimately effective.

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