Successfully recruiting autistic staff
We all know that autistic candidates are highly employable and skilled, but for various reasons are disadvantaged with regard to the recruitment process, and this is reflected in low rates in employment amongst the working autistic population.
There are different ways in which an organisation can approach its recruitment efforts, and I write about this in more detail here in ‘Alternates to Job Interviews’. However, for the purpose of this blog, I will cover recruitment tips for the traditional face-to-face interview that entails the typical question and answer format. Firstly, and I can’t keep emphasising this enough, but awareness and acceptance training around autism and neurodiversity more generally is so key. And its thoroughly important to have refresher training, as terminology and research moves on relatively quickly, so being up-to-date with this is vital, especially when working in recruitment. Job descriptions
These are sadly notoriously bad. Awful in fact.
This is often because they’re recycled over the years, and not updated each time someone leaves, even though the role has of course changed, as has the demands and needs of the organisation. Instead, see reviewing the job description as a real opportunity. It’s the chance to rethink and truly refine and tailor the advert to what is actually needed. When reading job adverts, I can tell straight away which ones are old and which ones have been updated. And first impressions speak volumes! When writing your job description, ensure that it is clear, concise and includes only the skills and experiences required for the role, and incorporates only the duties and responsibilities that the job will entail. I appreciate that this is the most basic sentence ever, but I’m writing it for the reason that you’ll be so surprised at how often job descriptions don’t consider this properly.
Autistic people may be discouraged from applying if there’s a skill listed that they don’t possess
I, for example, have had to learn over the years that you don’t need to have every single skill and aspect of experience to apply for a role. This may sound totally obvious to you, as there are so many unwritten rules and subtleties in applying for jobs, but for an autistic person, we will take the description very literally. And that stops a whole host of perfectly decent candidates from applying for roles. So bear this in mind and narrow it down – only include the essential. It’s also very common to see a vast list of ‘necessary’ attributes, for instance ‘excellent communication skills’, when in fact the role doesn’t require this at all (plus please define ‘excellent’ for me). It’s best to be more precise, and to reduce this vagueness by specifying the context of what is meant, or by writing out the exact tasks that this may include, for example emailing suppliers, speaking to customers, motivating team members. This helps give a much clearer idea of what the skills entail in reality. To better the advert further, it’s worth adding proportions as to what extent the skill is needed or is simply necessary, for instance in percentage terms. I appreciate this takes a bit of thought, but at the same time, doesn’t defining a role make it better for the business in terms of what you are asking your staff to do, and what they should be doing? This is also a helpful document that can then be used at onboarding reviews or appraisals. It’s also worth looking at the expectations you have stipulated on the job description, particularly around working location, hours, dress code etc, and whether these are really necessary as they currently sit, and whether there’s any flexibility around this.
The whole point is to be reducing the barriers that are currently in place, and reviewing what is really a necessity for applying for the role, and then meeting the candidates and having the conversation with them in terms of what works. Flexibility is key.
Job Interviews There’s a great deal to be said around the topic of job interviews, so I will touch on a few aspects that I know personally make a great difference to me. Though as usual, please bear in mind that every autistic candidate will be different and its about getting to know each person and finding out what accommodations could work for them. Remember that the onus shouldn’t always be placed on the autistic person to figure this out, and a collaboration goes a long way. Trust me on that point!
Sending across a photo of the interviewer/s, a map and clear directions on precisely where the candidate will need to go, and will go to once reaching reception (where possible), will greatly help reduce anxiety as you are reducing the number of unknowns and level of unfamiliarity for the day itself. Sending information on public transport and directions to the organisation is also helpful.
What would be even more helpful, would be organising a site visit to the location a few days before the interview itself. This would help considerably as the candidate can feed back directly on any environmental adjustments that they may need (and others) from directly visiting the site. This can also help with anxiety levels and help build familiarity and understanding with the location itself.
Interview questions in advance can be helpful for some candidates as it reduces the element of surprise and allows greater, more considered responses to be given.
Asking one question at a time helps (not the usual five questions in one).
At the start of the interview, it’s worth laying out the format of the interview and how it will be split out, for instance ‘person A will ask three questions relating to the organisation’s values, while person B will ask you more about your skills and experiences’.
Provide clarity in what you are looking for in an answer (hint: this comes from asking clearly defined questions in the first place). Plus, feel free to ask follow-up questions if you need more information after. It’s not about getting a conversation right first time. Be open to this.
Be conscious that autistic candidates may take questions very literally, avoid making eye contact and explain more on a subject or topic of interest than you may have required. None of this is the end of the world, and with patience, grace and kindness, the interview can be brought back on track. We’re all trying to get it right, and we can do this together. Try to put the judgement and expectation of what you want your perfect candidate to look like aside. You may just be pleasantly surprised.
And finally, if the candidate isn’t quite right for your role or department – could they fit in elsewhere? Recruitment is an expensive matter and if you’re really keen to increase diversity in the workplace, and feel that the candidate could work well elsewhere: have that conversation. It’s all about equity at the end of the day.
Every autistic person is different and presents with their own spikey and dynamic profile.
having a more narrow and specific set of skills and experiences that guide the recruitment process, while following these basic tips on interviewing is likely to improve your chances of attracting autistic candidates, as well as candidates more generally. If we can define roles more specifically, think more broadly about where a candidate could fit within an organisation, and simply be more open to difference and adjusting our neurotypical’s interview styles, we can recruit more diversely, and then achieve greater equality in the workplace. But first we need to discard our templates of what an ‘ideal’ candidate looks like. And re-write those job descriptions! (You can read more about alternatives and interview adjustments in our recruitment section.)