As we discussed in part one of this series on hiring employees who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), people on the autism spectrum tend to struggle with social skills. This makes it particularly challenging for them to succeed in job interviews, which rely heavily on reading social cues and following a particular set of unspoken rules about how to act. 

Job interviews are often nerve-wracking for the average person, so imagine how much more difficult they would be if you weren’t able to easily read social cues. While practice and the right conditions can make it easier for people with ASD to learn how to perform well in a job interview, it’s often an ongoing struggle. Some of the challenges people with ASD may face during job interviews include:

  • Understanding social cues, body language, appropriate eye contact
  • Judging amount of information to provide when asked a question
  • Using the right tone of voice and level of formality
  • Thinking in abstract or hypothetical situations, such as ‘what if’ questions

As an employer, there are lots of ways you can tweak your job interviews to support a range of neurodiverse people, including people on the autism spectrum. When you make these changes to your interview process, you make it more accessible for everyone. You don’t need to wait for a person who has ASD to walk into an interview to implement any of these changes. Taking steps now positions your company as an employer who cares about their employees and supporting diversity in all its forms.

adapt interview process for autism spectrum disorder
adapt interview process for autism spectrum disorder

offer an opportunity for candidates to disclose their condition before the interview

Sometimes it can be difficult to know when it’s safe to bring up their ASD without judgment from an employer. Signal to candidates that you’re open to making accommodations if they have a disability or need support during a job interview. One way to do this is to ask if they need any special accommodations for a disability when booking the interview. But remember that candidates do not have to disclose their condition if they do not feel comfortable. The best thing you can do is make sure your interview process is accessible to every candidate who walks through your door, whether they disclose a disability or not.

provide information about the interview in advance

People with ASD thrive when they are given information. They like knowing what to expect so they can plan ahead. Providing written or visual instructions on aspects of the interview such as: how to reach your workplace, what to do when they arrive, a detailed timetable, the names and roles of the people they will be meeting, and even a list of questions you plan to ask can help neurodiverse candidates prepare and feel more at ease.

offer a quiet area for candidates to wait before the interview

Simply having a quiet waiting area for the candidate to wait in can help people on the spectrum feel more at ease. Candidates with ASD are often sensitive to noise and their surroundings. A bustling waiting room can be distracting or make them uncomfortable, which is not going to put them in the right mindset to ace an interview. If you don’t have an appropriate waiting area, allowing candidates to wait in the quiet interview room until their interviewer shows up is a safe workaround.

avoid open and hypothetical interview questions

People with ASD often have trouble thinking in abstract, such as answering ‘what if’ questions. They may also have difficulty answering open questions that leave it up to the candidate to decide how much information to disclose. These types of questions have become quite commonplace in interviews. An easy way to avoid ‘what if’ questions is to ask about a previous experience instead, for example, ‘tell me about a time when...’ These types of questions allow the candidate to frame the answer in reality. Just make sure to be specific and not too open-ended. 

let candidates know when to move on if they’re talking too much

People on the autism spectrum often struggle with knowing how much information to provide, and that holds true in an interview setting. They can be very passionate when talking about a subject that they care about and have a lot to say. It is often helpful to let them know when to move on if they’re going into too much detail. It can be as simple as saying, “Thank you, you’ve told me enough about that. Let’s talk about X next.”

be very literal when asking questions

People with ASD tend to be extremely literal, so avoid idioms or phrases that can be unclear when you’re asking questions in interviews. For instance, a candidate with ASD may hear the question ‘how did you find your last job’ and tell you about how they physically got to work. Use straightforward, clear language, but do not talk down to candidates or be condescending (i.e. no need to use small words or over enunciate). People with ASD are typically very intelligent and capable of answering a direct question, their brain just processes language differently.

provide opportunities to break, especially in long interviews

If the interview is going to be more than 30 minutes, offer candidates the option to take a break from answering questions. For some people with ASD, long periods of concentration and social interaction can be challenging. Allowing a bathroom break, a chance to grab a beverage, or even signalling at the beginning of the interview that the candidate can ask for a break whenever they need one can be helpful.

allow candidates to bring and refer to written notes

Bringing written notes can help some people on the autism spectrum gather their thoughts and make sure they don’t miss anything important that they wanted to talk about in the interview. Many people with ASD are highly visual and prefer written or visual mediums since they can struggle with verbal language and communication.

offer a work trial to see their skills in action

Some candidates with ASD struggle with articulating their skills and explaining how they can apply them to your workplace. One workaround for this is to offer a work trial in lieu of a more expansive interview. This serves the dual purposes of allowing you to see the candidate’s skills in action, and allowing the candidate to get a feel for your work environment and if it would suit their needs and preferences.

allow a support person to accompany the candidate

This option can be a little more controversial. However, if a candidate discloses that they are on the autism spectrum, you may suggest that they bring someone they trust along to the interview for moral support. Typically, their support person should be available for emotional support and to gently guide the candidate, if they’re unsure. They should not be answering the questions on behalf of the candidate or driving the interview.

making your hiring and interviewing processes more accessible is a journey. if you want to keep learning about ways to make your recruitment funnel more accessible for a variety of marginalized groups, check out more of diversity and inclusion content.

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