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Fitting in: A guide to neuroinclusive job interviews

January 26, 2024

Job interviews can be extremely stressful for anyone. Just thinking about them gives us the sweats! Selling yourself to new people is always uncomfortable, especially if you want to impress. But this experience can be particularly daunting for neurodivergent candidates, who often struggle with meeting new people, introducing themselves in a concise way, or understanding social cues that some hiring managers search for.

So, how can you make your hiring interviews more inclusive towards neurodivergent candidates? We’ve gathered our 6 top tips.

What is neuroinclusivity?

We all know the old saying: no one is the same. And while that's very true — we're all unique — there is a defined norm within which most people live. Some individuals, however, differ enough from this norm that they are labelled neurodivergent. Autism, ADD/ADHD, Tourette's syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia are all examples of neurodiversity, while those who fall outside of these categories are referred to as ‘neurotypical’. An estimated 15%-20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent in one way or another.

The practice of ensuring policies are suitable and accessible for neurodivergent people is referred to as 'neuroinclusivity'.

Why should businesses care about neuroinclusivity?

Like any other kind of diversity, neurodiversity can be highly advantageous for any business. Multiple studies show that neurodiverse businesses are more innovative and creative, and even gain 28% higher revenue, twice the net income, and 30% better economic profit margins. Including neurodivergent people in your teams can boost their performance. For example, neurodivergent candidates usually possess specific skill sets that are difficult to find elsewhere, from creativity and hyper-focus in those with ADD/ADHD, to pattern recognition and concentration in hires on the autism spectrum.

Despite this, many neurodivergent people are overlooked by organisations just because they might not sell themselves as well as a neurotypical peer, with only 29% of autistic people being employed according to the UK Office for National Statistics.

Further reading: What are the benefits of hiring neurodiverse employees?

How to ensure your interviews are neuroinclusive

Despite having valuable skills, neurodivergent people are frequently unsuccessful after the interview stage. This is because the traditional interview process does not accommodate the needs of these individuals, putting them at a disadvantage compared to their neurotypical peers.

Here are a few adjustments you can make to ensure your interview stage is not biased against neurodivergent applicants.

Further reading: How to ensure neurodiversity in hiring

1. Educate hiring managers

Before any changes to your interview stage are made, you should first of all make sure that everyone in the process — HR representatives, hiring managers, department managers — is on the same page. This is relevant regardless of whether you have a specific neurodiverse candidate or not, as many applicants will not disclose their status.

Make your team aware of the issue of neurodiversity and the challenges faced by these candidates, and provide training and resources to assist them. Highlight the many benefits of neurodiverse businesses and teach them how to react and communicate best with neurodivergent candidates.

2. Share details in advance

Gone are the days when managers tried to ‘catch out’ candidates during the recruitment process. The HR field advanced a lot in the past couple of decades, and now the hiring stage isn’t viewed as ‘us’ vs ‘them’ (the business vs potential employees), but more as a shared journey where all sides can learn and develop, whether they continue on the path together or separately. So why are we still so obsessed with the element of surprise when it comes to interviews?

For neurodivergent candidates, knowing as many details about the interview before it takes place can make the difference between nailing it and messing it up. This is helpful for all candidates, but neurodivergent applicants experience increased stress when presented with new situations or changes, so communicating with them in advance may relieve a lot of this anxiety and help them convey themselves better. Some accommodations that can be done at this stage include:

  • Providing the candidate with a comprehensive agenda for the interview, including the format, who will be present, where it will take place, and what to expect at every stage.
  • Sharing your interview questions in advance, to ensure answers are well thought-out.
  • Giving constructive feedback at the end of the interview.

3. Come prepared with relevant questions

Of course, we don’t think that right now you just enter an interview room with nothing but your courage and spirit. We know you prepare. But the question is how you prepare. If you think a few jotted down ideas are enough, your interview technique is probably not very neuroinclusive.

Many neurodivergent people, and especially those with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, find it difficult to recall information. This means that long convoluted questions, or those that are open to interpretation, might confuse these candidates and make them struggle giving a good answer, even if they have a great one. That’s why it’s important to really think of the questions you’re asking. Are they clear and concise? How are they relevant to the role? What is the information I’m trying to distil from the answer? And does the question ask it in a way that you’ll get it?

Some practical tips are to:

  • Remove any abstract or general questions (e.g. ‘tell me about yourself’). Instead, ask clear and specific questions that don’t leave room for interpretation (e.g. ‘tell me about your career progression up until now’’, ‘what were your responsibilities in your previous role’).
  • Ask each question at a time, without condensing too much into one query. So, instead of ‘tell me about a time when work stressed you out, how did you handle it, and how did it make you feel?’, break the question down into three and ask them separately. According to studies, this will improve performance.

We also recommend applying a standardised, structured format to your interviews. These are interviews with clear guidelines and instructions, which is helpful for neurodivergent candidates in particular. However, that also means you’ll be able to give your decisions a scientific backing by increasing objectivity and enabling proper interview governance, minimising the impact of unconscious bias.

4. Provide a suitable environment

Neurodivergent applicants could be easily distracted or feel fidgety sitting down for long periods of time. When you schedule the interview, make sure to ask the candidate for any specific accommodation they might need, for example, additional time, assistive technology, or specific lighting or seating.

If you’re willing to think a little bit more outside of the box, some neurodivergent individuals report it is easier for them to be interviewed in a non-traditional setting. Ask your candidate if they’d prefer a sitting interview in the office, or they might prefer presenting in a lecture hall or boardroom. Their inclination might even be towards conducting the interview outside, or with a ‘walk and talk’. The world is your oyster — you just need to find the right fit for the candidate.

Either way, generally speaking, try to find a quiet room that isn’t too brightly lit (but isn’t too dark either!), without too much noise or distractions. Ask the candidate if they prefer to be interviewed in person or online, as some might feel more comfortable in their own home.

5. Re-evaluate your prejudice

It’s 2024, people! It’s time to eliminate distractions and focus on relevant, tangible data in your recruitment process. And no, how firmly a candidate shook your hand is neither relevant nor tangible. To make your interviews more neuroinclusive, it’s important to assess the ways you judge candidates in an interview, and weed out those that are rooted in immaterial social norms or old prejudice. This is because many neurodivergent individuals struggle with reading social cues or understanding norms, but that in no way indicates that they would do poorly in a particular role.

Of course, some roles would require physical social interaction, and then some behaviours might be relevant — but does an on-the-phone salesperson really need to be penalised for not sitting still throughout the interview? It’s time to review which behaviours and traits are actually predictive and pertinent, and remove those that aren’t. Actively avoid prejudices such as the idea that not maintaining eye contact is a sign of disinterest — they just add bias into the mix, especially when it comes to neurodiversity. During the interview, make sure that your applicant knows they are encouraged to ask for clarification or express themselves comfortably, without the result being affected.

6. Consider offering alternatives

There are many small adjustments you can make to the interview stage to make it more neuroinclusive, as we’ve detailed in this blog post. However, some people just suck at interviews, and a lot of these people are neurodivergent. While interviews can give you invaluable insight into a candidate, we’d recommend offering neurodivergent candidates the opportunity to select an additional screening stage instead of an interview.

This can be a work trial or internship, reviewing a work portfolio, or completing a task, to name a few. You could even offer to send the list of interview questions and have the candidate write down their answers, if you’re less keen on foregoing the interview stage completely. Whatever you do, just show your candidate you’re willing to adapt to their needs — that’s the first step to making a neurodivergent applicant feel welcomed.

Want to learn how Thrive can help with making your interviews more neuroinclusive and standardised? Book a demo with us today.

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