Diversity & Inclusion, HR Query

HR Query: 4 Tips for Hiring Autistic Workers

Did you know that 35% of 18-year-olds with autism attend college, but 85% of college graduates with autism are under-employed or unemployed? Furthermore, more than 1 million people with autism in the U.S. will reach adulthood in the next decade. The number of candidates who are being overlooked by hiring processes designed with only the neurotypical in mind is just one reason it’s critical that companies start paying more attention to attracting, hiring, and retaining people on the autism spectrum. 

A great place to start making changes today is the interview process. Here are four tips for setting autistic candidates up for a better experience.

Help Alleviate Anxiety

For neurodivergent and autistic candidates, having some additional time and resources to help prepare for an interview can make all the difference. Neurodivergent candidates often experience increased anxiety in new and unfamiliar situations, above and beyond that of their neurotypical peers, so some of the best support employers can offer is before or during the interview: 

  • Offer a thorough preview of the interview process to help candidates better understand what to expect in the formal interview.
  • Share interview questions in advance to give candidates more time to think through their responses, which can help them feel less anxious and answer questions more comfortably.
  • Provide additional time for candidates to prepare for the interview and share any company tips you have for neurodivergent candidates.
  • Allow candidates the ability to practice before interviewing, hide any timers related to test-taking or interviews, and hide self-views on any video technology.

Try Various Types of Questions/Assessments

Companies with successful neurodiversity initiatives have found success by augmenting traditional interviews with activities such as whiteboard sessions, screen-sharing activities, or game-based assessments. This type of skills showcase allows candidates to showcase their abilities and demonstrate their problem-solving skills, as opposed to relying solely on verbal responses and explanations. Furthermore, research has found that autistic candidates perform better in structured interviews, with competency-based questions supported by a job analysis, and research additionally says that this method of interviewing is the best way to select candidates for a job. When developing interview questions, be sure to review the questions for language that might make the question hard for autistic candidates to understand – including metaphors, Boolean logic, and hypothetical situations.

Don’t Read into Body Language

Autistic individuals may have difficulty making eye contact, smiling, or shaking hands, and they may engage in stimming behaviors, all of which may be seen as unprofessional by some hiring managers. In fact, according to a report published by CareerBuilder, 43% of hiring managers considered unprofessional body language during interviews to be an instant deal breaker in the hiring process. Replacing these informal forms of interviewing with tools or processes that emphasize job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities in the hiring process above all else can help create a more inclusive workplace.

Explain Questions Thoroughly and Provide Examples

Understanding ambiguous or unclear questions can be one of the trickiest parts of an interview for autistic candidates. You can help alleviate some of that confusion by providing as much detail as possible in your interview questions. Use scenario-based questions where candidates can see a real-life illustration of the question being asked. This will ensure your question cannot be interpreted in multiple ways. For example, asking a candidate how they “found” their prior position could yield various responses – “I found the position difficult” vs “I found the position online.”

It is worth noting that in addition to the moral imperative for hiring equity, there’s evidence that autistic employees are an untapped and highly qualified workforce due to some candidate’s aptitude for technical skills, attention to detail, dependability, and focus. When it comes to getting neurodiversity initiatives right, everything from application, to hiring to manager training matters. This is a long-term commitment, but one that benefits everyone when it’s done well.

Dr. Colin Willis is IO Psychology Program Manager at HireVue.

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