Conducting Interviews for Neurodiverse Job Candidates
So, you've got a neurodiverse job applicant and you want to assess their fit for your role. How are you going to go about that?
Interviews are pretty standard in practically every industry for every role - so how do you make reasonable adjustments in interviews for candidates with Aspergers or Autism for example? Would those adjustments be similar for other neurodiverse candidates?
What adjustments can you make if you do conduct an interview?
In order to provide the opportunity for a neurodiverse candidate to perform at their best in an interview, making reasonable adjustments to the interview process and performance expectations may be necessary.
You could change your interview to use ‘closed’ questions, focussing on previous roles and experiences. Open ended questions, which may centre on a hypothetical situation can only serve to create confusion for many candidate, especially those with Aspergers or Autism who tend to think more literally.
Keep in mind, providing exactly the same interview or assessment process for all candidates, regardless of their background is not providing equality or inclusiveness. It’s understanding the adjustments in approach and mindset that provides the same opportunity of participation and outcome that is important.
Some of things that you could do:
- consider the location of the interview carefully: certain environments with harsh light or noisy equipment can affect Aspergers or distract them due to their sensory sensitivities
- to make them feel more comfortable you could ask about their expert interests – you will see them come into their own talking about their passions
- ask closed questions (eg 'Tell me about any jobs/voluntary work you have done in the last five years') and avoid open questions (eg 'Tell me about yourself'), where the candidate may not be able to judge exactly what you want to know
- ask questions based on the candidates' real/past experiences, eg 'In your last job, did you do any filing or data input?'; 'What processes/procedures did you create or use for this?'
- avoid hypothetical or abstract questions, eg 'How do you think you'll cope with working if there are lots of interruptions?' - a better question would be 'Think back to your last job. Can you tell us how you coped with your work when people interrupted you?'
- tell the candidate if they are talking too much, eg 'Thank you, you’ve told us enough about that now, and I’d like to ask you another question' – they may find it hard to judge how much information you need
- prompt the candidate in order to extract all the relevant information and gather sufficient information
- be aware that the candidate may interpret language literally eg asking, 'How did you find your last job?' may result in an answer of 'I looked on the map' or 'I looked in the paper, sent for the application form and completed it'
- be patient if they take longer to consider their answer and possibly clarify if they understand after a pause
- be aware that eye contact may be fleeting or prolonged, depending on the individual
- don't expect too much small talk: however they may discuss larger issues
Using an advocate or support person in interviews
For some neurodiverse candidates, having an advocate accompany them into interviews can be an effective strategy. For Autistic or Aspergers job seekers, having someone on hand who can help rephrase questions or assist with prompting for responses can help the job seeker perform at their best.
Remember though that it is not the support person’s role to answer questions for the job seeker, merely to assist in clarifying expectations of the interviewer and smoothing communication between both sides.
This benefits both the candidate as well as the employer in gaining the best possible understanding of each other during the limited time of the interview session.
If you really want to make the interview process as comfortable and effective for everyone involved, then here is my last bit of advice:
Pick up the phone or email your candidate, ask them what you could do to help them with the interview.
It could be just outlining the interview process, including who will be present, the nature of the questions etc. Perhaps sending them the interview questions in advance will allow them the time to consider and formulate responses and be more relaxed.
Keep in mind, you've got 45-60 minutes to make an evaluation of who someone is going to be up to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week - they, like everyone else are only human.
They'll likely be nervous, anxious yet keen to impress and ultimately, if they are making the time to interview with you, it's because they really want that job and believe they can add value to your organisation.
Give them the space to show you how!
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