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How can recruitment processes be more inclusive for autistic applicants?

Having a diverse workforce undoubtedly brings benefits to businesses and their employees. Embracing neurodiversity – those with alternative thinking styles such as autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD or ADD – should be an important consideration for all recruiters and employers as they approach hiring.

There is a growing appreciation of the benefits of hiring and retaining people with autism, as evidenced by the emergence of a number of autism-focused companies and hiring initiatives in the private and public sectors.

In many cases, people with autism have excellent cognitive abilities related to concentration, accuracy, analysis and memory; all skills which are widely valued in the workplace and important for senior leaders.

Despite this, according to the National Autistic Society, only 29% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment. Recruiters and employers therefore have a vital role to play. Organizations in every sector are waking up to the fact that there is a huge amount of untapped talent in the autistic community and they need to think and act differently to be more inclusive.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a development disorder that affects communication and behavior. Autistic candidates can therefore be disadvantaged when it comes to securing a job because of difficulties with social communication and interaction, and a lack of appreciation or assumption on the part of the recruiter or employer about the valuable skills they can bring, as well as the additional support they might need. Regardless of the seniority of the role, typical recruitment processes can unintentionally create challenges; there are minor but valuable actions that recruiters and employers alike can take to ensure an inclusive recruitment process for all candidates, including those who are autistic.

What should be in the advert/candidate brief?

This should clearly outline the essential skills, and avoid any unnecessary information or ambiguous language. In other words, make the implicit explicit. When listing key criteria, care should be taken not to inadvertently discourage autistic applicants through the use of phrases such as “strong communication skills” which they may not feel apply to them.

When it comes to the job description, any assumptions and the language used should be tested to ensure potential barriers or biases do not creep in.

To encourage diverse interest in the role, it is helpful to include a diversity and inclusion statement, highlighting the organization’s ambition to create a diverse and inclusive workplace and welcoming applications from a broad range of candidates.

How to structure the recruitment process:

It is important to provide clear guidance on what information is required and to ensure candidates have the opportunity to stipulate any support or adjustments they may need. Autistic candidates may need support and guidance when drafting a CV and application letter. There should be a clear sense of the anticipated process and timelines, ideally in the form of a process overview document detailing the stages.

How to structure the interview:

Ensure that the candidate has the opportunity to showcase their skills. Candidates may have difficulty starting and maintaining conversations, assessing the appropriate amount of information to share in response to questions and maintaining eye contact, amongst other things. It could be helpful that the candidate is given the opportunity to have an initial discussion or first interview on the phone or by video rather than in person. If you know you will be interviewing an autistic candidate, you should consider giving them the opportunity to have someone accompany them to the interview (the individual may be able to help rephrase questions) and to let them see the list of questions in advance so they can better prepare.

When it comes to the interview, it is important to recognize that adapting interview questions and format for autistic candidates can help level the playing field.

Appropriate adaptations could include: asking specific rather than open or abstract questions; prompting for further information where necessary; and being clear when enough information has been provided. Throughout, it is important to use clear and unambiguous language.

How can work trials help?

There has been some evidence to suggest that temporary assignments can be a better way for autistic candidates to showcase their skills over a few days or weeks, rather than a traditional interview process.

Making reasonable adjustments to ensure an adaptive and inclusive recruitment process will be to the benefit of all – the company, employees and the individual. 

If you would like to know more about how recruiters can be more inclusive, please get in touch with Anne Murphy directly, our Neurodiversity Allies Group Chair Charlotte Smith, or get in touch with our Inclusion and Diversity Consulting team. You can also find your local Odgers Berndtson contact here.

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