It is estimated that less than 29% (ons.gov.uk) of autistic adults are in any form of meaningful employment (Office for National Statistics, UK). Autistic people commonly have cognitive strengths that make them particularly well-suited for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Despite this, they are faced with barriers such as an exclusionary recruitment process, poor autism awareness, and employers feeling unprepared to offer support.
auticon is different. For our autistic-majority team, we provide a unique recruitment and interview process that encourages autistic job candidates to demonstrate their strengths, without the common social requirements of a typical job interview. Below, auticon’s recruiting team has put forward advice for employers on what makes their autism-friendly approach so successful:
Senda Herring, Head of Job Coaching and Recrutement, auticonsult France
Louise Stone, Head of Recruitment and Community Partnerships, auticon US
Kirsty Cook, Global Director of Neuroinclusion Services, auticon
Christin Hopp, Talent Acquisition Manager, auticon Germany
Q: How should recruiters interpret lack of eye contact with a job candidate?
Christin Hopp: “Be aware that there can be many reasons why a person cannot make and/or maintain eye contact. This is not a sign that the candidate is not qualified, but that they want to focus fully on the conversation. Many autistic people find eye contact, which transmits a lot of information that their brains must process, uncomfortable, exhausting, and distracting from the conversation.”
Senda Herring: “Some people on the spectrum may avoid eye contact in order to relieve their anxiety, but not everyone does. However, this does not indicate a lack of interest in the conversation or a lack of respect. Ideally, the recruiter would continue to interact with the candidate keeping this in mind, as naturally as possible.
Kirsty Cook: “Eye contact for some people is the difference between being able to listen and hear what you’re saying, and not. Would you rather them concentrate on eye contact and possibly be in pain and not hear anything you say? If a candidate avoids eye contact, an autistic person isn’t being rude, they’re making adjustments for themselves so they can perform as best they can during the interview.”
Q: Should a candidate be given interview questions in advance?
Kirsty Cook: “Every time! Giving a candidate the first few questions that they will be asked, and asking them in that order during the interview, can lower their anxiety during the beginning of the interview.”
Louise Stone: “Yes. In a real-world scenario we can look things up, refer back to previous work, or have an agenda or topic to prep with ahead of a meeting/presentation. Why should it be any different in an interview? Interviews should be a means to getting to know a candidate’s ability to do the job, which would include learning. If someone looked something up and learned about it ahead of the interview, is that a bad thing? Why do we need to try and stump candidates and see how well they can think under pressure?”
Senda Herring : “If the questions require some introspection, projection or professional background presentation, it could be of great help if the candidate had the opportunity to prepare the questions in advance. He/she would take the time needed to structure their thoughts, the unknown being a very specific stress factor to autistic people.”
Q: How should a recruiter react to a job candidate who has disclosed a neurodivergent condition?
Louise Stone: “A great way to start is to ask how that effects their work in a positive and negative way and how you can help support them. Let them share why this is a benefit to their work but also be open to hearing about struggles that can be supported. It’s important to start an open dialogue to see if this candidate will mutually be a good fit.”
Christin Hopp: “Thank him/her for his/her openness and trust. Ask him/her what kind of work environment is important for him/her to be able to concentrate and whether he/she would also like to talk openly about the diagnosis in front of colleagues. If so, what would he/she need from you to make this easier.”
Kirsty Cook: “The important part of responding well to someone disclosing they’re neurodivergent is to ensure you even have a reaction rather than ignore it, brush over it or pretend it doesn’t matter. A recruiter should thank the person for sharing and recognise that it may have taking a lot of courage to, then ask them compassionate questions to understand what this may mean for their recruitment process and what accommodations may help them to showcase their true strengths and abilities for the role.”
Q. What is your favorite piece of advice to recruiters wanting to have a more accessible recruitment process?
Senda Herring : “My best advice to a recruiter would be to trust autistic candidates and to focus on technical skills rather than social or communication skills, since it is difficult to assess their motivation from that perspective.”
Christin Hopp: “Even small changes can make a difference: For example, use a self-assessment questionnaire to ask more about the candidate’s technical knowledge and, based on that, include candidates who have an “odd resume.” Ask the candidate in which interview environment he/she feels comfortable (e.g. on-site or online).”
Louise Stone: “Do not make quick judgements based on a resume. Many people will negatively judge a candidate based on their resume design or gaps in-between jobs. A resume should just be a quick glance to see if there are positive indicators that this candidate could have the skills you’re looking for before taking further steps to qualify the candidate to the role. Making a quick judgement on a resume will inevitably weed out some of the best candidates and keep in some that aren’t actually qualified but knew what to write.”