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How to make your hiring process accessible to those with neurodiversity

July 3, 2024
Gareth Whyatt

Diversity of thought process, creative style, project approach and perspective can only make a team or business stronger. When you think about it, this kind of diversity challenges us, and each other, to work smarter, more efficiently and ultimately get bigger and better results.

Alex Linley, co-founder of Cappfinity, a global leader in strengths-based talent acquisition, assessment and development, told InsideHR.com, ‘Employing people who genuinely ‘think differently’ is guaranteed to bring new perspectives and insights…It allows companies to be more innovative, to spot value and solutions others may have missed, and make better decisions as a result.’

In order to harness the potential of this diversity, more and more companies are recognising the benefits of employing neurodiverse people and gaining from their different ways of thinking and approaching tasks.

When advertising for a new role, many companies will claim to welcome all applicants. However, hiring teams must be mindful of how the entire process, from the job advert through to interview and beyond, could be considered inaccessible to neurodiverse people and prevent them from applying for a role that, frankly, they could excel at.

A growing number of prominent companies have reformed their HR processes over recent years in order to access neurodiverse talent. Learning Disability Today reports that Google searches related to neurodiversity in the workplace have skyrocketed in the past year, ‘there has been a 120% increase in searches for ‘neurodiversity at work’, a 91% increase for ‘ADHD workplace’ and an 86% increase for ‘autism workplace’.

We’ve outlined some steps your business could take to ensure your hiring processes are accessible to those with neurodiversity, so you really can get the very best applicants for your vacancies.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity doesn’t have an official definition, but generally speaking, it refers to variation that exists in the human brain with regards to mood, attention, learning and sociability. Indeed.com states, ‘while the term was initially coined to describe autism to avoid labelling the condition as a disability, it’s generally accepted that it also includes people with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, dyslexia and dyspraxia’.

Robert Wojciechowski, in an article for the BBC, states that one in seven of us will have some form of condition linked to neurodiversity. The condition means that someone’s brain may function, process and learn information in a different way from someone who is “neurotypical”. Unfortunately, this prevents some from being able to find the jobs they want. In fact, he argues, that just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment in the UK, despite 77% of unemployed autistic adults wanting to be in work.


Neurodiversity misconceptions

Workplaces and working practices that are not inclusive of neurodiverse ways of thinking, can create barriers for neurodiverse employees, which can lead to discrimination, pressure and underperformance.

One common misconception about neurodiversity is that it only includes autism. This can be pretty limiting as understanding the several different conditions that fall within neurodiversity will allow employers to provide the best support. Whilst neurodiverse people will have thought processes or approaches that are different to neurotypical people, this doesn’t mean that all of these approaches are the same. Not all neurodiverse people have the same challenges or same talents as each other.

Arguably, the biggest misconception is that neurodiverse people cannot succeed in the workplace. Whilst neurodiverse individuals may face challenges at work, many will think outside the box and be more creative, innovative and offer a different way of approaching a business or team challenge. This can lead to higher productivity levels than neurotypical employees.


The benefits of having a neurodiverse team

The Harvard Business Review argues that neurodiverse people, ‘have higher-than-average abilities. Research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers.’

ND people can have unique strengths, ranging from data-driven thinking to sustained focus over long periods, an ability to spot patterns and trends, and the capacity to process information at extraordinary speeds.

Also, if the hiring process is not prohibitive for ND people, the unique skill sets they often display can make it easier to attract and retain skilled workers in hard-to-fill positions.

How to make each stage of your hiring process accessible to neurodiverse candidates


To harness neurodiverse talent and ensure that hiring teams are not unwittingly screening out ideal applicants, they need to consider how a recruitment process can be made accessible and fair for both neurotypical and neurodiverse applicants.


Job advert

Job ads can be pretty lengthy and are often full of jargon. This could discourage a neurodiverse applicant from considering a vacancy, as long and wordy role descriptions can be anxiety inducing for them. Instead, hiring teams should try to clearly break down what skills they are looking for and why. For example, if they are looking for good organisational skills can they clearly detail whether this is relevant to time management or the ability to prioritise work? Are the skills listed actually required, or are they just listed as standard, regardless of the role? Including really broad and cliched requirements, such as ‘great communication skills’ can be open to interpretation and many neurodiverse jobhunters may see these phrases and decide not to apply, even if they are highly skilled and otherwise ideal for it.

Instead of using ‘generic’ words and phrases, you should be really explicit about the skills you are looking for. Weareadam.com advises that ‘presenting them in bullet points can be very helpful. Clearly outline which criteria are must-haves, and which are desirable.’

Indeed.com even advises employers to review the careers pages of their websites, or pages potential applicants might take a look at when considering applying for a role. It states, ‘You should also try to ensure your online careers pages are accessible and inclusive. While rich media can be a great way of making your pages stand out, blinking or flashing content can be unbearable for someone with autism.’

This might go without saying, but including a diversity and inclusion statement in a job ad, will also outline up front that a business is one that is inclusive and accepting of all, and may further encourage a ND applicant to put themselves forward for a role.

Application process

An unclear application process creates confusion for anyone and those barriers are bigger for ND applicants. How does someone apply? Where should they apply? What steps must applicants take during the process? What are the expectations for each step? Including answers to these basic questions upfront, will make the process clear and transparent for all and also demonstrate your commitment to setting clear expectations and goals for the role. You might just find adding in this pretty basic information improves your application rate, especially among neurodiverse job seekers.

Consider too, what methods of application you will accept. Does it have to be an emailed CV, or could it play to the creative strengths of a ND applicant in the form of a video? Outlining that you accept varied forms of application formats in the job ad could encourage more ND people to apply, as they will feel less restricted and pressured to conform to a traditional (and arguably outdated) application process!

Your hiring managers should also confront their unconscious bias. Many might be used to seeing a red flag when they come across a patchy work history on a CV. Instead of seeing this candidate as unreliable, it may be that a ND candidate was unsupported in previous jobs (or experienced unfair or inaccessible hiring processes), and therefore has a few gaps in their employment history.

When faced with a stack of applications, and if under pressure to get a shortlist together quickly, it can be easy to discount a candidate if a CV contains typos or small errors here and there. Hiring managers shouldn’t be too critical however, as they may be discounting an ideal candidate who happens to struggle with dyslexia. The Independent reported recently on a dyslexic M&S employee, who was awarded more than £50,000 when a tribunal confirmed she had been unfairly dismissed due to typos and mistakes in her emails.

What hiring managers are really interested in, is how well an applicant can do the job. So rather than going through a CV or application with a fine toothcomb, looking for grammatical errors or typos, consider reviewing examples of a candidate’s actual work – it will be a better and much more accurate indication of their abilities and skills. We don’t mean interview assessments – they can be extremely stressful! But give candidates the opportunity to share examples of how they have previously used their skills in ‘real life’ scenarios when they apply for a role. This is a fairer analysis of their competency and will also allow a hiring team to make more informed decisions.

The interview process

Traditionally, an interview process might have relied heavily on social cues such as body language, eye contact and communication skills. However, to ensure your interviews are not discriminatory towards neurodiverse applicants, interviewers should focus on specific skills needed for the job – not necessarily how well an applicant applies or interacts with these social cues.

The Harvard Business Review argues that ‘although neurodiverse people may excel in important areas, many don’t interview well. For example, autistic people often don’t make good eye contact, are prone to conversational tangents, and can be overly honest about their weaknesses.’

Importantly, interviewers and hiring managers should understand that a potential hire may need additional support through the process. The interview process can be an especially stressful situation for a ND person as they are in an unfamiliar location and meeting new people whilst being judged on their abilities.

Interview processes may need to be adapted and interviewers should reach out and check ahead of time to see if the person that they’ve invited to interview needs any additional support.

For example, meeting the interviewee at the door at a specific time and walking with them to the interview room can ease a lot of pressure and anxiety.

Diversely, an organisation that helps businesses adapt their processes to be more inclusive, also advises providing sight of the interview questions in advance, an outline of the interview structure, and overview of the interviewer/s and guidance on what preparation is required before the interview even takes place.

Many neurodiverse people struggle to read or pick up on body language, so whilst the interviewer may think that they’re coming across as friendly, the interviewee may not be able to pick up on this and think that they’re not performing well. For this reason, Diversely also recommends one on one interviews, rather than a panel format. Trying to read the social cues of 3-4 different interviewers could put a neurodivergent job seeker at a significant disadvantage.

Post interview

Thinkingautismguide.com advises companies to consider their process for rejecting a candidate. ‘Rejections are hard for anyone, but incredibly hard for those who catastrophise, as NDs often do. Wording rejection emails more positively, by adding what they did well, can help take the sting out.

Rejection emails don’t need to include why you went with someone else, or what someone needs to improve on, because you never know if what you’re seeing as a “flaw” might just be a neurodivergent trait.’


Further resources

Autistic and ADHD activist, Ellie Middleton and Kate Griggs, a dyslexia and dyslexic thinking expert and author of two best-selling books in this field, are great people to follow and engage with to learn more about neurodiversity and how to create a culture and environment that is inclusive, supportive and nurturing.

There are many companies too, such as Diversely, who actively assist and advise companies on how they can improve their employee diversity and support staff in the long term.

However, businesses can take steps themselves to provide safe spaces for neurodivergent staff, such as having a neurodivergent person in a leadership role so other NDs have someone they can talk to and who understands their specific challenges.

Training too, needs to be consistent and regular. Having a neurodivergent inclusion officer or advocate to carry out the training means that other members of staff are getting first hand and accurate information.

Thinkingautisimguide.com also advises signing up to neurodiversity celebration week, autistic acceptance month, and other weeks/months of awareness where businesses can learn and adopt better habits to help their ND employees.

We can support your business to ensure your next recruitment process is inclusive and accessible to both neurodiverse and neurotypical applicants. Get in touch, and let’s see how we can work together to ensure your next hire is the very best candidate for the role.

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About The Author

Gareth Whyatt

After 12 years’ experience within the industry predominantly focusing on Operations and Supply Chain, founding The Sterling Choice has provided me with the opportunity to take a step back and focus on my passion for developing people and teams! As the self-proclaimed Head of Training I love seeing people develop and grow through the recruitment ranks and ultimately achieving both their personal and business goals.

For me The Sterling Choice is all about fun, results and collective success

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