How to Tailor the Recruitment Process to Attract and Retain an Autistic Workforce

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Jun 14, 2019
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

I’m too anxious or unsure to apply, or I take too many days to think over the prospects of what that job would be and entail and how comfortable I would be in the position … and then the application period has closed. I’m not very good at speaking about myself and “selling” myself, particularly in fast-paced job interviews. — Library Media Technician, USA

How an organization approaches recruitment has the capacity to make or break a neurodiversity hiring initiative. Business practices that embrace out-of-the-box recruitment strategies allow space for extraordinary results. It’s not only good business practice to tailor the recruitment process to meet the needs of a diverse candidate pool; in some instances, it’s the law. Under The Americans with Disabilities Act an employer is required to offer reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including equal opportunity to apply for job openings. Individual states in the U.S. have legislation that extends discrimination protection beyond federal law.

Obstacles to Employment

Bear in mind the obstacles some autistics encounter prior to applying for a job. Incorporating compassion and empathy into job=screening processes goes a long way when working with neurodiverse jobseekers, as well as the general population.

 Autistic jobseekers often face many barriers to employment:

●     Where to start the job search

●     Career awareness and realistic job match

●     Locating a support person to assist job search

●     Maneuvering the recruitment process

●     Co-existing conditions such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder

●     Previous workplace or school trauma

●     Learned helplessness/Over dependence on a family member

●     Transportation logistics

●     Confidence-level and motivational-level

In most instances, an autistic individual has a strong need to know what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. For many the unpredictable nature of the hiring process can cause debilitating anxiety. This anxiety can affect personal relationships and self-care. To alleviate stressors, businesses should establish clear parameters for hiring, including length of assessment periods and when hiring decisions will be made. Explain every step of the recruitment process to an applicant, meet the established deadlines and markers, and communicate delays.

An effective approach to hiring job seekers on the autism spectrum involves not just understanding commonly known aspects about autism, but knowing the possible reasons behind the facts. Most recognize that autistics often use limited eye contact. But how many understand the reasons behind the lack of eye contact? How many know that 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. Recognizing that an autistic candidate’s poor posture might be a result of a weak ligament structure adds empathy and understanding to an encounter.

In the 2016 Autistics Present Conference hosted by Bellevue College, a member of the Microsoft Autism Inclusive Hiring Panel stated that he was “afraid to take the next step of finding a job” because of “lots of fears and anxieties.” As a result he “took lots of low-paying jobs.” Thousands of working-age autistics have faced similar employment challenges.

 An autistic jobseeker might encounter a number of barriers such as:

●     Uncertainty about how much detail to provide in a resume

●     Taking a job description literally and disqualifying himself from applying for the job

●     Being discouraged by descriptors like self-startergood communication skillsworks well on a team, or multi-tasking

●     Inferring that education, experience, and skill set must be an exact match to job description to qualify to apply

●     Not knowing the reason behind multiple job losses

●     Interpreting job posting language literally without understanding idioms (learn the ropesteam player, the bottom line)

●     Narrowing down what experience to mention and what to share and not to share

●     Conveying an accurate picture of aptitudes and expanding on positive traits

●     Differentiating between marketing one’s skills and bragging, exaggerating, or lying

●     Answering hypothetical questions that project into the future

●     Speaking in a monotone voice and sounding bored or unmotivated

●     Coming across as overly enthusiastic, overly confident, or struggling to scrape by

Ways to Tailor the Recruitment Process

Most, if not all, adjustments to the recruitment process that work to provide equal opportunities for autistics will directly benefit the whole of the job candidate pool. In other words, everyone who applies for a job at a place of business with inclusive hiring practices, tailored around the neurodiverse workforce, will gain from the inclusion adaptations. The following seven strategies are universal inclusivity approaches that can be applied across the recruitment process and tailored to meet specific agency needs.

Remember the details

Spell out the 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 the steps of the screening process. Share the document with candidates who apply for positions or post the document on a company website. Include timelines, answers to commonly asked questions, and exact persons to contact with concerns. To fine-tune the recruitment process, provide post-recruitment surveys where job candidates share what was effective and ineffective about the recruitment process. Use straightforward language in the job description, avoiding idioms and abstract language. And include a refined mission and vision statement about diversity and inclusion in the job description and other company literature.

Provide alternate ways for job candidates to “sell” themselves

Autistic job seekers might have an arduous time “selling” themselves during the job screening process. One reason autistics hesitate to showcase aptitudes is because of a desire to present as entirely transparent, truthful, and forthcoming. A candidate might not know what information to fully offer out, nor what to hold back. Even with thousands of hours into research of best hiring practices, I still bomb interviews when I am the interviewee, based on my presentation style, transparency, and tendency to provide more information than needed. Other challenges include not wanting to brag or appear over-confident. Many autistics have faced rejection, bullying, and shaming. Be open to candidates expressing their skills and experience in multiple ways.

Examples of showcasing skills and experience beyond the traditional cover letter and resume:

●     An online questionnaire

●     An alternative resume (listing volunteer work, self-taught skills, education, clubs, etc.)

●     An essay (questions provided ahead of time)

●     A remote assignment

●     Remote interviews over the phone or online with no image

●     A personal LinkedIn page, website, or blog

●     A YouTube or podcast showcasing skills

●     A virtual portfolio of accomplishments and past projects

●     A visual poster board of artistic renderings of aptitudes

Look for unique ways to attract potential candidates

Use word of mouth in social media channels, such as Aspergers and autism Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Create and post online articles welcoming a diverse workforce. Tag #autism #employment on a Twitter job posting. Get in touch with an autism advocate or autistic author or autism agency for community leads and resources. Establish a network with job coaches, vocational counselors, and government agencies. Steer away from massive job boards that won’t necessarily attract the desired diverse candidate pool. Consider job boards that specialize in individuals with disabilities or autism. Contact innovative staffing businesses like Operation Able Inclusion or disability counselors at local universities.

The Spectrum Careers (in the U.S.) addresses the challenges facing adults with autism in the job market by connecting employers with qualified individuals with autism. Hire Autism: The Sandy Lankler Jobs Portal (in Virginia) is currently in its demonstration phase and focused primarily on employment opportunities for autistic individuals in Northern Virginia.

An autistic perspective during the hiring process

Having an autistic as part of the hiring team, someone who can help to tailor the interview process and explain challenges that might come up, such as misinterpreting anxiety as “over-confidence” or “rudeness,” is a huge asset. Other ideas include:

●     An advisory board of neurodivergent individuals that can contribute ideas to the hiring process

●     A seasoned employee on the autism spectrum sitting in on interviews to provide feedback

●     A training session by an actual autistic person about how to implement the best strategies in employing autistics

●     An employment handbook written by an autistic professional


Part of my job includes welcoming new software testers to the company through an onboarding meeting. During the meeting, I introduce employees to essential company documents, including policies and procedures, and provide access to a go-to- spreadsheet that lists employees’ names, titles, job responsibilities, and contact emails. The go-to sheet outlines which company employee to contact for specific questions and concerns. New testers are shown how to develop a personal profile (using a company template) that includes their skills, interests, and needs. During the initial call, I ask if any job accommodations or adjustments are needed and inform employees to contact me if workplace assistance is needed in the future. A 60-day follow up call is scheduled and marked on calendars. New employees are invited to evaluate the induction process, and suggestions for improvements are integrated into management metrics, company surveys, and action plans.

Additional ideas for onboarding:

●     Explain (using visual graphics) the corporate structure, lines of communication, hierarchies of responsibility, and reporting procedures.

●     Create an introductory video of important aspects about the workplace culture.

●     Incorporate etiquette and unwritten rules of the workplace as part of the onboarding process.

Fair and effective new employee training

Introductory training for new employees is an invaluable tool. Each employee, whether on the autism spectrum or not, should receive training based on the job role and not based on a disclosed or undisclosed diagnosis.

To avoid potential litigation when providing employee training, it is advisable to not:

●     assume that a person considers themselves disabled and/or impaired;

●     draw conclusions or implying that an individual requires help based solely on a diagnosis or condition; and

●     offer or mandate differential education in which individuals are separated (segregated) into non-disabled and disabled groups.

Training tips for new employees:

●     Allow opportunities for introductions and the sharing of skills and talents.

●     Stress the importance of asking questions, provide repeated opportunities for questions, invite questions, and set clear perimeters of how and when to ask questions.

●     Provide an outline and introductory of the training.

●     Divide training into short manageable segments.

●     Use a flowchart and visual aids to demonstrate the steps involved in a complex or new task.

●     State clear examples and guidelines

●     Introduce soft-skills such as cooperative teamwork tips and rules-of-conduct.

●     Solicit the help of a neurodivergent employee who has mastered aspects of the job to serve as a support liaison or instructor.

●     Allow for breaks from sensory input, such as the sound of the leader’s voice and complex visuals.

●     Relax standards for group work and provide opportunities for independent work.

●     Continually check for understanding.

●     Give specifics. Don’t say, “You’re doing a fine job.” Be specific. Explain what about the work is effective (or needs improvement.)

●     Incorporate the assistance of an educator trained in autism to address multiple learning styles, attentions spans, and adult learning methods. Ideally, someone on the autism spectrum.

Maintain the recruitment process as a continual work in progress

A recruitment process is most effective when it’s continually scrutinized and adaptations are made accordingly.

●     Look at what’s working and what’s not, and implement change.

●     Work closely with the recruitment team to ensure practices boost candidate success and reduce anxiety.

●     Solicit feedback in the form of a survey at the completion of the hiring process.

●     Reinforce transparency in all elements of the hiring process.

●     Seek out resources about employment as it relates to the autistic workforce.

●     Address concerns as they arise and remain open-minded.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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