5 Easy Ways for HR to Tweak Hiring Processes to Foster Neurodiversity

Photo by  Kat Yukawa  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

Inclusion as a concept is not new and has certainly been around for quite some time. In contrast though, whilst the concept of Neurodiversity is not new, it’s place on the corporate Diversity and Inclusion or talent strategy agenda is.

The value of a diverse workforce has been the subject of research and analysis. Unsurprisingly, greater diversity of thought and perspective leads to be better business outcomes. The avoidance of group think resulting from hiring people like ‘us’ also leads to improved employee engagement and retention.

In all honesty, I don’t think that inclusion is complex, in fact it is often very simple. But be mindful that simple does not necessarily equate to easy. If it were easy, well, you’d not be reading this article because I’d not have felt any need to write it…

To help provide some clarity on the how, I’m going to cover some relatively simple strategies you could employ, and I do encourage you to think how you could incorporate each idea. Not everything will work for everyone, I understand and accept that. But even just making one or two changes to the way that you recruit could make all the difference to the level of diversity you could achieve in your organisation.

1. Job Ads

Typically the very first point of interaction for potential candidates. However how often do your job ads list out the characteristics of the ‘perfect’ candidate? That person who is highly skilled in all facets of your business.

Imagine if you were building a football team (and let’s run with the European game with the round ball). Building out that team you need multiple players. Each highly skilled and capable. Though you’d not be looking for players who could play any position on the field with equal skill.

In fact, you’d be looking for the best people possible to play each position. The skills required for a goalie are different to those of a striker or a midfielder. Each position has a critical role to play in the success of the team. Yet they each have their own individual requirements for success.

Just as in your football team, each candidate you’re hiring is going into a different position. What is it that is critical to the success of that role? What capabilities do they really need? Be honest with yourself here.

These are the things that should be the job description. The extraneous character descriptions, the nice to have experiences and qualifications, the hyperbole that so often finds it way into so many job ads. These all serve to put off and discourage many amazing candidates from even applying for your roles.

You’re not interviewing more diverse candidates and missing out on talent because they are self selecting out of the recruitment process. Before it’s even had a chance to begin.

2. Asking for Reasonable Adjustments

This could also cover any accessibility adjustments that candidates may have. This might be something you do already, or perhaps you’ve not fully incorporated it yet. However, in order to really be successful with this i would urge you to think about the following two points:

  1. How often you ask

  2. How you ask

How often you ask

For the first, many organisations include a question in their application form. It’s likely that you have something like this in place already. My challenge to you here is, do you ever ask again? Is the working assumption that if someone didn’t check that box at application, that they have no or would not benefit form any adjustments of any kind?

I’ve heard numerous stories of candidates who never ‘ticked the box’ only to show up for an interview, an assessment centre and it can become painfully obvious that adjustments should have been made. This is even harder to manage when the assessment is an online cognitive or psychometric test before you’ve even met the candidate.

A great natural check point is when contacting candidates to arrange an interview or their progression to the next stage in your process. Quite likely you already outline the specifics of the next step, what that looks like, where it will be and what is expected when you connect with candidates. Now they have that context, you could follow that up by asking them if there is anything they may need, adjustments or allowances or other considerations you should be aware of. After all, you want to set them up for success.

How you ask

Language is often both a very unsubtle and subtle thing. The perception of a ‘disability’ can vary greatly depending on the person looking at that question. Even for some asking about their need for reasonable adjustments can be a bit of a quagmire. Keeping that in mind, there will be some candidates who won’t identify with the language that you’ve used in the application form and won’t identify or disclose a need.

When speaking with candidates it can often be easier to try a mix of language when posing that follow up question noted above. Positioning adjustments around disability alone won’t resonate with many people, but being able to be more conversational about it can help increase your chances of drawing people out.

There will always be some people who will be very reluctant to disclose or ask for adjustments, and more who will never ask. Poor past experiences and fear of being discriminated against is very common. Never mind it’s illegal pretty much anywhere you go, it still happens. Both consciously and unconsciously.

3. Providing Copies of Interview Questions in Advance

I know what you’re thinking - “but they’ll just come in with completely prepared answers and everyone else will have an advantage”. Or perhaps it’s - “but putting candidates under pressure and catching them by surprise helps us to get a better insight into their personality”.

This may be true, to some extent. However, a small scale experiment in the UK police force found that providing interview questions in advance provided no advantage for neurotypical applicants. It did though substantially improve the interview performance of neurodiverse candidates. Reducing anxiety allows candidates to exercise improved executive functioning, which allows them to think clearer, access memories more readily and communicate more effectively.

This applies to anyone.

Try to remember the last time you were really anxious and stressed about a conversation or interaction with someone. Did you function at your best or did you feel afterwards you could have said things much better and offered better suggestions as well as suddenly remembered facts that would have been helpful at the time?

And unless the normal work environment requires your employees to be constantly seconding guessing what’s about to happen next and being surprised with constant changes and disruptions, then perhaps a more ‘sedate’ approach to interviews and evaluating how people are actually likely to act and perform on any given day may be more insightful.

4. Cognitive or Psychometric Assessments

As I’ve covered separately, not everyone is going to perform equally in Psychometric assessments. Evaluating every candidate against a derived ‘norm’ is great to get an understanding of their degree of homogeneity to that norm. What is important is how you use that information and how well you’re able to interpret it.

Appreciating that many people can end up with results that are either highly anomalous or at times just very misleading.

An autistic client of mine came to realise that the amount of credence she had been giving the results of these assessments when recruiting (yes, she manages a team of more than 10 people, how very normal!) was higher than it should have been after she saw her own.

Her own assessment indicated that she would struggle with planning and coordinating tasks. Yet she was the senior manager that other senior managers and more junior staff would turn to for mentoring and advice on planning and coordinating their various projects! It is a real area of strength for her.

These assessments can be challenging for people to respond to for a variety of reasons. Questions can be confusing often compounded by their repetitive nature. There are also a number of assessments that present a choice of two or three options to a given question where quite often none of which are an appropriate answer for the candidate which can leave them second-guessing how to respond and frustrated and questioning the reasonableness and validity of any output.

5. The focus of your interview

Being clear on what the true objective of the interview is should guide you to how to best conduct that interview. It should also provide clear criteria for what a ‘good’ candidate will look like.

Understanding cultural fit is important, but there’s certainly an argument that ‘cultural fit’ does not mean that everyone is the same. For me it’s something more like a jigsaw puzzle. Lots of different pieces in different shapes, different parts of an image on them that, when combined are able to create a picture.

To what extent do you focus on the core parts of the role to be performed and the required skills and capabilities. Going back to what I mentioned under Job Ads, are you looking for the extraneous and nice to have capabilities?

Are you building a rock star football team or one made up of all goalies who may be great at saving goals but have little chance of ever scoring one?


There are a multitude of things you could be doing as part of your recruitment process to make it more inclusive of neurodiverse candidates. However, to make significant in roads there are a number of quite simple strategies you can use.

To get you started you could:

  1. Revisit the amount of detail and the expectations you’re setting in your job ads;

  2. Ensure that you’re asking candidates more than once if they have a need for process adjustments - don’t just rely on your application form;

  3. Send candidates details of any interview questions they may be asked as part of your interview;

  4. Psychometric or Cognitive testing can yield results that may exclude many candidates. Be aware that not all ‘bad’ results are actually bad; and

  5. Focus on the core skills and capabilities required to perform in the role. Not everyone needs to the super outgoing influential great team player.

Need more tips on how to interview neurodiverse candidates? Download your free Neurodiverse Interview Guide here.

chris turnerComment