Neurodiversity and Recruitment

 As a late diagnosed autistic person, and with a new qualification (Master's in Climate Change), I've tentatively been considering looking at roles specific to my qualification. It's by no means a given that I really want to make a shift (I love my current job!) but it has caused me to explore this area a little bit, in a way that I haven't for some time.  The reason I mention the autism, is really because, being in that recruitment sphere, and experiencing it with a different lens, has made me reflect a lot on recruitment for neurodivergent people.  It has to be said that some progress is being made in this area, with an acknowledgement of the fact that traditional recruitment processes may not be well equipped to bring out the best in neurodivergent people.  There is an Irish organisation Specialisterne which, (as the name suggests) specialises in recruitment of neurodivergent people.  From their website:

'We match the skills and characteristics of these individuals with roles that will suit their unique ways of working, while also harnessing their particular strengths. We help them find employers who will make the most of their abilities while appropriately accommodating their challenges.'
Pale pink square saying neurodiversity and recruitment

For me, the idea of a 'unique way of working' makes sense and connects with my own experience.  I can often have a different take on topics or processes,  or use a methodology or way of working that may not fit exactly with the norms.  I tend to work in intense bursts, with in between periods of 'zoning out'.  I say zoning out because this is the best way I can describe it, and it may look like a lack of productivity, but in fact it's a very productive way of working for me. If I have something I need to concentrate on, or come up with ideas for, the best way for me to get results is to allow myself to side track on to something else that I find interesting and then the other project kind of works like a background computer programme in my head.  So instead of struggling with the main project, and using the above method, I can often end up successfully accomplishing two or three things at the same time.  This obviously is my own experience, and I can't speak for all autistic people but I think it's true to say that many autistic people like to try things a little differently, or need particular accomodations in order to be the best they can be in a work environment.

I attended an interview recently, and again, with a new perspective on this, I realised, in the aftermath, how unsuited traditional interviews are for me.  This is no reflection whatsoever on individuals or any particular organisation, because recruitment processes have similarities across the board, but it did make me wish that there was better awareness of neurodivergence/disability inclusion.  This awareness, I feel, shouldn't be dependent on candidates declaring a disability, but rather having an openness to diversity in general.

Particular ways in which my autism creates difficulty in interviews are :

  • The need to maintain eye contact.
  • Questions which don't make sense.
  • Processing time.
  • The need to keep still.
I'll elaborate a little more on each of these. Eye contact in 'normal' society is seen as a measure of trustworthiness.  For autistic people, maintaining eye contact can be difficult and it absolutely isn't a sign of being evasive if an autistic person looks away whilst speaking.  In an interview context, I can become so focused on trying to maintain eye contact (which is really hard for me) that I struggle to concentrate or gather my thoughts.
The idea of questions not making sense is not what you might think, it's not that I don't understand the questions.  What can happen with me, is that my brain goes at the speed of light into all the multiple layers of the question and situates it into a much bigger context.  So for example, a typical interview question could be 'have you ever had to deal with a difficult person, and how did you manage it?'  Genuinely, my first thought on hearing this quesion is 'why are you asking me this, I'm a human being, of course I have dealt with difficult people and situations!' So my own strong reaction is that I can't condense a lifetime's experience of human behaviour and my own interactions, into some simplistic rote learnt formula, which is obviously what is required.
Although, having said that it's not that I don't understand, there can be situations where a question seems very vague to me.  I have no problem asking for clarification but clear specific questions are much easier for me. 
Processing time is a big one.  One of my own autistic traits is that I process much better when I can read information and I tend to express myself much better by writing, than I do verbally.  So I don't tend to be great off the cuff in general but I combat that by doing huge preparation for every single thing I do, and by rehearsing conversations in my head so that I seem to be processing quicker than I actually am.  Obviously, in an interview situation, it's impossible to be fully prepared for every single question, so I can be slow to respond to something very unexpected.
The need to keep still is, of course, a very traditional norm.  Unfortunately, it may be a barrier for many autistic people who have improved concentration when stimming (which is repetitive movements that can help with self-regulation). As with the eye contact, the effort to remain still can often impair my concentration.
So, as you can see, traditional interviews may not be a great way of assessing the potential of a neurodivergent candidate but I hope that by talking about this and by moving forward to greater diversity inclusion, that future generations of autistic and adhd people will perhaps have better experiences. (One person really worth following in this area is Clare O'Connor on Linkedin, who writes a lot about diversity and inclusion in workplaces).
This article offers suggestions on how to make your recruitment process neurodiversity friendly and some of those connect to what I was speaking about previously, for example (from the website) -
  • Use clear and concise language.
  • Make your interviews inclusive - 'Traditional interview techniques rely heavily on things like communication, eye contact, confidence and body language, something autistic candidates could experience challenges with.'
  • Avoid 'left-field' quesions - 'Left field questions are questions to catch a candidate off guard, and can be especially difficult for autistic candidates.'
I strongly feel that making recruitment more open to diversity can add a huge amount of talent and inclusion to workplaces.  This is not something that just benefits those with a disability, it benefits everyone.  Having a greater openness to different ways of thinking and behaving is a positive move forward.

'People that are neurodivergent have talents, perspectives and skills that can be beneficial in many work environments.
Hiring neurodiverse employees can provide companies with a competitive edge that brings measurable benefits, both financially and in terms of workplace culture.'

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