Here are several strategies for attracting and retaining autistic job candidates, based on my experience working as a job recruiter and community manager for a U.S. technology company that provides employment for individuals on the autism spectrum.
Understand autism from different perspectives
Take time to read up on autism, including cultural and historical context by respected journalist. Examples of two well-received books are: NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity and In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. Consider professional accounts from well-known experts in the autism field, such as psychologist Tony Attwood and job coach Barbara Bissonnette.
To gain a greater understanding of autism from a personal perspective, review first-hand accounts from actual autistics, including videos, live presentations, blogs, and books.
For large companies, with many employees, look into bringing on an autistic as a community manager (or similar job title), to serve as an autism expert during companywide meetings, managerial sessions, and/or monthly newsletters.
Move beyond the basics of common knowledge about autism
An effective approach to hiring a neurodiverse workforce involves not just understanding commonly known aspects about autism, but knowing the possible reasons behind the facts. Most recognize, for example, that autistics sometimes use limited eye contact; but how many know the reasons behind the lack of eye contact? How many know it’s not often a choice but a necessity for both controlling anxiety levels and accurately processing input?
Likewise, knowing the reasons behind a person’s tendency to over-explain or under-explain is more helpful than just knowing there is likely to be differences in communication style. Keen observations, such as recognizing that poor posture during an interview might be a result of poor ligament structure, adds empathy and understanding to an encounter, instead of mere facts and statistics.
Recognize autistics have multiple skill sets, not just one stereotypical subtype
Stephen Shore, in a recent webinar stated: “There is a certain sector of us, on the autism spectrum, who are IT geeks; and for those of us who are, we can make incredible contributions to the world of information technology.” He goes on to say, “… but my question also is what about everybody else? What about people who have skills in other areas? And what about people who are perhaps more significantly affected with autism? What type of employment are we going to find for these individuals?” (From Embracing Autism, a webcast with Dr. Stephen Shore, Oct. 25, 2016.)
Don’t typecast an autistic individual into one particular job role. Autistics are as unique in their skills and aptitudes as any other human being. Though autistics often share some common attributes with others on the autism spectrum, such as exceptional pattern seeking ability, vocational skills and interests vary. Some on the autism spectrum are drawn to the field of teaching, writing, and counseling. Other autistics make fine lawyers and doctors. Some perform well with repetitive, predictable tasks. When considering an autistic workforce, the possibilities are limitless.
You never know what an employee might bring to the job. As Steph Diorio, in her YouTube: On the Archival Job Hunt Whilst Autistic, shares, “I have all these amazing work qualities. I’m extremely creative and innovative. I am phenomenally focused. Every employee I’ve ever had in the past has been amazed at how much stuff I can get done in with the level of accuracy that I get done in such a short amount of time … I’m always going to try new things, to bring new ideas …”
Spell out your hiring process in detail
Let candidates know exactly what to expect and eliminate surprises and unpredictable outcomes. Provide a recruitment process overview document, spelling out in detail the steps of the hiring process. Share the document with candidates who apply for positions, or post the document on the company website. Include timelines, answers to commonly asked questions, and exact persons to contact with concerns. Update and adapt the document as needed. Like many inclusive hiring practices, establishing clear guidelines benefits everyone.
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Provide alternate ways for job candidates to “sell” themselves
There are several reasons persons on the autism spectrum might have an arduous time selling themselves. One reason is a tendency to want to be entirely transparent and forthcoming, and not knowing what information to offer out fully nor what to hold back. Other challenges include not wanting to brag, appear overconfident, or worrying in general about how another is interpreting their words. Many autistics have faced continual rejection, bullying, and shaming. Be open to candidates expressing their skills and experience in multiple ways:
- Email correspondence
- Cover letter
- An alternative resume
- A traditional resume
- An essay
- A remote assignment
- Remote interviews
- Probationary (paid) remote training
- Job shadowing
- A candidate’s LinkedIn page, website, blog, or YouTube showcasing skills
Look at unique ways to attract potential candidates
Use word of mouth in social media channels, such as Aspergers and Autism Facebook groups. Create and post online articles about your company and how you welcome a neurodiverse workforce. Tag #autism on a Twitter job posting. Get in touch with an autism advocate and/or autistic author for leads and resources. Establish a network with job coaches, vocational counselors, governmental, and autism agencies. Steer away from massive job boards that won’t necessarily attract the candidate pool you are addressing. Consider job boards that specialize in individuals with disabilities and/or autism.
Adapt the interview process to fit the needs of individuals with autism
When interviewing autistics there are multiple effective strategies an employer can use. Consider the following:
- An introductory video from the interview team.
- A public list of general interview topics (teamwork, work experience, promptness, organizational skillsets).
- The same questions for everyone with a precise scoring grid.
- An autistic as part of the interview team, review board, or interview strategist.
- Remote interviews without visuals.
- Non-abstract interview questions with concrete examples and few questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
- Follow up questions to ask, if a candidate’s response is very brief. What to say if a candidate’s response goes beyond the allotted time.
- Limit and refine “socializing” questions (teamwork, clubs).
- Re-asking questions that received initial low scores and inviting a candidate to send a follow-up email with clarification or additions.
- Avoid company-based tardiness or rescheduling and explain exactly when you will get back to the candidate. Make sure to follow through.
- Explain feasible next steps and provide a realistic timeline.
- Provide courteous, well-thought-out rejection letters with a link to a resource site or a free service, such as a training video.
- Remember many autistics have faced repeated rejection. Know candidates have likely had ongoing anxiety from Day 1 of the hiring process. And recognize your own biased assumptions.
Maintain the recruitment process as a continual work in progress
Look at what’s working and what’s not, and implement change. Work closely with the recruitment team to ensure the company is incorporating practices that encourage inclusion and promote success. Continue to reinforce transparency in all elements of the hiring plan. Solicit and welcome feedback in the form of a survey at the completion of the hiring process. Continue to seek out resources about the workplace and autism. Address concerns as they arise and remain open minded.