How to create an inclusive hiring experience for neurodivergent applicants

The job application process is always an anxiety-laden event. Once you’ve waded your way through a complicated application form, you’re in the interview room, trying to give a good impression of yourself and your skills to a panel of people you’ve never met before.

Now imagine that process when you struggle with reading people’s emotions and social cues, thinking through complicated questions on the spot, or meeting people in the eye.

This is the experience neurodivergent people go through when they apply to jobs and join your company. Here’s how to create a more attractive workplace and recruitment experience for neurodivergent people.

Understanding Neurodivergence in the Workplace

Neurodivergence is a term that’s used to describe how someone’s brain processes, learns, or functions differently to what’s considered ‘typical’. It covers a range of different conditions, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, OCD, Tourette Syndrome, and more. Being neurodivergent can impact how people think, express emotions, organise tasks, communicate, socialise, and perceive their environment.

In the workplace, neurodivergence matters, because workplace norms have historically been built by and for neurotypical people. An open-plan office might seem like it fosters collaboration, but to a neurodivergent person, it may be overstimulating, noisy, and anxiety-inducing.

This can lead to worse outcomes, both in the job selection process, and how neurodivergent people perform and are perceived at work:

  • A 2020 study found that people on the autism spectrum are rated less favourably than neurotypical people in job interviews.
  • A 2019 study analysing the experiences of employees with Tourette Syndrome found that in the job interview process, candidates felt that they were considered less capable of performing the role. When in the role, interviewees reported feeling unsupported in a way that helped them keep their job.
  • A 2022 study found that employees with dyslexia are more likely to suffer from burnout and mental exhaustion when they don’t have access to appropriate accommodations at work.

Creating a more inclusive hiring experience for neurodivergent people

When hiring neurodivergent talent, it’s important to make sure each stage of your recruitment process focuses on clarity, specificity, and communication.

“In the earliest stages of someone applying to your company, every candidate will experience a series of touchpoints with your organisation,” says Dr. Poornima Luthra, associate professor at Copenhagen Business School, and founder of Talented Consultancy APS. “Creating a more inclusive experience for neurodivergent people means that you need to focus on how those interactions take place.”

In the hiring process, Dr. Poornima suggests organisations focus on making some inclusive changes that won’t just make things more inclusive for neurodivergent folks — but everyone:

  • Anonymise CVs and applications by default.
  • Simplify your application form to include only the questions you need to evaluate the competencies needed for the job.
  • Make sure instructions are clear and explicit for interview tasks.
  • Communicate what to expect at the interview ahead of time, including the schedule, people the candidate will meet, and what questions they’ll be asked.

For the interview, Dr. Poornima suggests a change of tack to make things more neurodivergent-friendly.

“In a traditional interview process, those who are more outspoken or come across as being more confident or articulate tend to do better,” Dr. Poornima says. “The job interview process requires you to engage in communication — not just verbal, but also your body language. You have to shake the interviewer’s hand and maintain eye contact. Neurodivergent candidates may really struggle with that.

“One approach I’ve seen that I love involves de-emphasising that need for eye contact. You can introduce a table full of Legos, for example, where everyone at the table is working on building something and having a more relaxed conversation without the need for prolonged eye contact. This also benefits those who are more introverted.

“As an employer, you’re more likely to get a feel for a candidate by creating a positive, relaxed experience — neurodivergent or not.”

Scaling inclusive practices for neurodivergent employees beyond the recruitment process

Remember that inclusion doesn’t stop at your hiring process — it also needs to filter into your whole organisation, including its processes and infrastructure. As such, you’ll need to think about how you can continue providing the right conditions and environment for your neurodivergent candidate to thrive once you’ve hired them.

On a practical level, this could include introducing flexible working policies to enable neurodivergent folks to work when they feel best, creating quiet areas in your office, or writing an inclusive communication policy.

We can help with the last one. Develop Diverse is an inclusive communication platform that helps organisations scale more mindful communication in their recruitment process and beyond. Find out more about creating a more inclusive recruitment process for neurodivergent people by booking a demo with one of our brilliant team members.

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