How Do You Interview Someone Who is Neurodivergent?

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Interviewing a neurodiverse candidate can be different from interviewing a neurotypical candidate. Find out about neurodiversity and tips on how to interview a neurodiverse person.

What is a Neurodiverse Candidate?

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A neurodiverse candidate is someone who has a neurodiverse condition such as dyslexia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s syndrome, and/or other neurological conditions. Over 15% of people in the UK are neurodiverse, however, for many people, their neurodiversity is considered a “hidden” condition.

While each neurodiverse person is different, there are specific strengths that are commonly associated with individual conditions. For example, an autistic candidate may demonstrate above-average levels of concentration, reliability, conscientiousness, and persistence. They may also pay incredibly close attention to detail.

Many recruitment practices ask candidates to disclose their disability or neurodivergent status. However, candidates may not be able to elaborate. This means that hiring managers are often unaware of their disability or neurodiversity and cannot understand the kinds of support and reasonable adjustments they may need.

Employers can be proactive by offering neurodiverse candidates a personalised experience. This means an experience which can help them be open about their requirements and perform to their full potential.

Due to stigmatisation, candidates may not speak openly about their needs. Despite this, employers who offer candidates noise-cancelling headphones or a quiet workspace show them that they are in a welcoming working environment.

What to Consider When Reviewing Your Existing Interview Process to Support Neurodiverse Candidates

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Employers who interview neurodiverse candidates should consider the following when reviewing their existing interview process:

  • The interview environment.
    Ideal environments for interviewing neurodiverse candidates are quiet rooms that are free from clutter and distractions. This can apply to face-to-face interviews or video conferencing interviews.
  • Breaking up the interview if necessary.
    If several stakeholders need to hold the interview, they should break up the sessions by scheduling sequential interviews. This can make it easier for neurodiverse candidates to manage, especially if they have ADHD or autism.
  • Being patient and direct with their questions.
    Neurodiverse candidates might need extra time to decide how to answer the questions to the best of their ability. Employers should choose their questions carefully and be direct. Closed questions that focus on the candidate’s actual experiences, skills, and processes they require for the job are more beneficial than vague, open-ended, and hypothetical questions. A neurodiverse candidate may find the latter three types of questions confusing, especially if they have autism or dyslexia.
  • Focusing on the candidate’s skills.
    The employer changing the standard interview process to focus on skills-based methods, questions, and tasks will help them understand how the candidate can perform and deliver on specific tasks that are required for the role they are applying for. A great way for the employer to get a better understanding of the candidate’s skills is to ask them to bring in past samples of work that relate to the job they are being interviewed for.

What Should You Avoid Doing When Interviewing a Neurodiverse Candidate?

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Neurodiverse candidates can struggle to make eye contact, fidget, or exhibit physical tics. Avoid letting these challenges impact your decision-making of whether you should give them the job.

Employers are encouraged not to interrupt the candidate if they take longer to consider answering the questions.

Like with all other candidates, employers should avoid asking questions about the following points regarding the candidate:

  • Age or genetic information
  • Place of birth, country of origin, or citizenship
  • Gender or sexual orientation
  • Marital status, family, or pregnancy
  • Race, colour, or ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Disability

The employer who is conducting the interview should avoid asking questions that do not appear to connect to job responsibilities.

The employer should also avoid making decisions based on social norms that neurodiverse candidates do not follow. Judging a candidate’s capabilities based on their social awareness will not help the employer employ a diverse group of employees.

When advertising a job role, question whether requirements such as “interpersonal skills are essential” and, “the candidate must be a team player” are entirely necessary for the role. Autistic candidates may especially struggle with these requirements, and may not need them in a task based role.

How Do You Interview a Neurodiverse Candidate?

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  • Ask the candidate about their expert interests.
    This makes the candidate feel more comfortable discussing their passions.
  • Ask the candidate questions about their real experiences or past experiences.
    These can include “In your last job, did you do any filing or data input?” or “What processes or procedures did you create or use for your previous role?”
  • Politely tell the candidate if they are talking too much.
    This can especially apply if the candidate has ADHD. If you suspect that they are talking too much, say something like “Thank you. You have told me enough about that now. I would like to ask you the next question now please.”
  • Avoid asking abstract questions.
    Instead of asking “How do you think you will cope with working when there will be many interruptions?”, ask “Think back to your last job. Can you tell me how you coped with your work when people interrupted you?
  • Be mindful that the candidate may interpret language literally.
    For example, if you ask the candidate “How did you find your last job” the candidate may answer “I found it on a map” or “I looked for a job in a newspaper, completed the application form, and sent the form.”
  • Be aware that the candidate may attend the interview with an advocate. This can be an effective strategy for people of all kinds of neurodivergence.

Blog Author

April Slocombe