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Interviewing Neurodiverse Candidates in the Technology Space

8 months ago by Gravitas Recruitment Group
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Many employers recognise the value of cultivating inclusive and diverse workplaces, and the immeasurable benefits this can bring, not least a hugely increased capacity for creativity and problem solving.

This can be enhanced even further through embracing neurodiversity in the workplace. Bringing together a myriad of individuals who think and behave in different ways can create a rich tapestry of ideas, improve productivity and increase profits. One organisation found, that neurodiverse hires, as part of its Autism at Work Initiative, were, on average, an incredible 90% to 140% more productive than employees with five or 10 years tenure– they were doing the work of two people with zero errors.

In the UK, 15% of people are considered to be neurodiverse, this rises to 28% of those working in tech, clearly indicating an alignment with STEM skills. Yet despite this and the obvious employer benefits, many neurodivergent people remain underemployed, for example, up to 85% of autistic adults. For me this is a heart-breaking statistic, especially when you consider the ongoing tech talent shortages.

Employers are certainly missing out on a significant pool of potential talent. Outdated and traditional interview processes are often to blame, with many having a bias towards neurotypical, presenting a significant hiring barrier.

In this article, we share the 3 main ways you can consider using to optimise your interview process, helping to remove some of those barriers, aid equity, and giving neurodiverse candidates the best chance of success.

Understanding neurodivergent interviewee challenges

Cambridge University Hospitals describes Neurodiversity as ‘the different ways a person’s brain processes information’.It covers the following, (and potentially several other different ways of processing information):

  • Autism, or Autism Spectrum Conditions

  • ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder

  • Dyscalculia

  • Dyslexia

  • Dyspraxia, or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)

These groups cover a broad range of thinking styles, but it is important to not form stereotypes. No two individuals within them will think alike and individuals will face different challenges within the interview process. In general, these could include difficulties with:

  1. Distractibility.

  2. Anxiety.

  3. Making eye contact.

  4. Taking things literally.

  5. Interrupting or speaking over people.

  6. Talking too much.

  7. Writing/reading or writing speed.

  8. ‘On the spot’ thinking.

  9. Social cues

  10. Reading body language.

  11. Slower processing speeds.

  12. Organisation.

  13. Testing.

  14. Time perception.

When you consider these in relation to the traditional interview process which focuses on things like; confidence, building rapport with the interviewer, reading body language, demands for immediate responses to questions and social etiquette; it is easy to see why this type of interview presents difficulties for neurodivergent individuals.

Tackling unconscious bias

The first change that needs to be made during the interview process is that interviewers need to stop making decisions with their ‘gut’. Decisions based on instinct are not informed decisions and often lead to unconscious bias.

Interviewers that look for cultural fit, or a particular way of thinking or behaving will often dismiss neurodivergent candidates because they don’t fit that mould or because they are influenced by a particular stereotype. For example, there is a tendency in the tech world to judge people who may not be aware of the latest ‘buzz words’ which isn’t necessarily an indication of somebody’s capabilities or talent, or looking for somebody that will be a ‘great team fit’.

Becoming aware of both your own and cultural biases, how they may be represented in your interview process, and then working to overcome them, is crucial.

Audit and update interview questions, process, and format

Review your current interview process. There has been a big shift lately from equality to equity, in recognition that not everybody is starting from the same point initially. Is it weighted towards someone who is neurotypical?

Are your assessment criteria fair, consistent and based on fact? Assess your interview questions closely. Are they clear and specific? Neurodivergent people can often struggle with open-ended questions or more generalised ones. They may also take the questions you ask literally so consider if you need to phrase them in a different way.

Also audit your process. Do you conduct testing? Whilst it may seem that testing is a fair way of assessing abilities it can often be detrimental. A pressurised environment does not always produce the best work and there are many people, neurodivergent or not that don’t do well under those types of conditions. Many employers in the tech industry conduct coding tests and in my experience with working with neurodivergent candidates, they don’t go down very well.

Alternatives such as ‘Show & Tell’ sessions give candidates confidence, as they have time to look and digest a task and come up with a script before presenting on it. Another popular alternative is a ‘pair programming’ exercise, working in partnership with someone on a remote programming program. These give a much better idea of how somebody would interact within the working environment.

Gathering ongoing interview process feedback from both successful and unsuccessful candidates will help you better understand what changes you may need to make to your process.

Offer reasonable adjustments

Speak to candidates beforehand, give them lots of details about the interview format and how to get there. Ask if they have any additional needs and would they like you to make any interview adjustments. Even if they don’t want to divulge any personal information on neurodiversity, they will still benefit from having choices for possible adjustments. These could include:

  • Sending interview questions in advance.

  • Offering options of face to face or video interviews.

  • Using automated captions in video questions.

  • Typing questions into the chat.

  • Interviewing in a space that is private and free of distractions.

  • Offering extra breaks.

  • Providing extra time for any tests you want to conduct or offering a choice of tests as in the examples above.

  • Offering alternative test formats such as oral or visual testing rather than written ones.

  • Allowing the candidate to bring notes and refer to them.

  • Providing lots of details and directions.

  • Offering the option of bringing in an advocate to interview.

Many of the neurodiverse candidates I’ve worked with, tell me that these adjustments have given them confidence in being themselves and playing to their strengths. I’ve also worked with several employers who have offered these adjustments, subsequently adopting them as permanent fixtures within their interview process.

Are you ready to make steps towards a more equitable interview process?

There are numerous benefits to be had by creating a diverse workforce which also includes a mix of neurodiverse and neurotypical individuals. However, the traditional interview process presents real challenges and barriers for many. Employers that recognise this and consider the needs of all neuro types are, not only reaping the rewards by securing exceptional and diverse tech talent, they are also taking big strides towards equity.

If you would like advice on making the whole hiring process as inclusive and equitable as possible, then contact our team and we will be happy to advise you on a strategy.

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