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How job interviews can be made more inclusive for autistic people

A high angle view of a businesswoman talking to one of her colleagues while siting at her desk in the office. job interviews
For autistic people, job interviews can be even more challenging because the process isn’t inclusive of neurodiverse people. (Willie B. Thomas via Getty Images)

The process of finding a new job, from scouring listings to filling in applications and being interviewed, is notoriously difficult. Even for the most qualified and experienced people, landing a new role can depend on sheer luck. And for autistic people, job seeking can be even more challenging because the process isn’t inclusive of neurodiverse people.

Only 30% of autistic people are in work, the latest official figures show. According to the recent report on autism in the workplace by Sir Robert Buckland, a lack of accessibility in the job interview process is largely to blame.

So what are employers getting wrong when it comes to being inclusive when hiring?

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Kelly Grainger, the co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, a neurodiversity consultancy, was diagnosed as autistic and with ADHD in his forties. He shares his tips on how employers can make interviews more inclusive for autistic people.

Too much emphasis on eye contact

“Recruitment processes have often been designed only with neurotypicals in mind, and some of these processes can unintentionally exclude or discriminate against neurodivergent individuals,” he says. “Some of the difficulties for neurodivergent people can include feeling uncomfortable with eye contact or having less typical or uncoordinated body movements.

Read more: Why psychological 'recovery' after work is so important

“We place a huge emphasis in society on good eye contact and body language and link it directly to success, particularly during interviews. When I worked in recruitment, we would specifically ‘judge’ candidates on their handshake, eye contact and body language, before they even said one word.​”

Grainger adds that some people may need longer to process information, whether it is written or spoken, and therefore need longer to formulate a response. “An interviewer may not realise this and then wonder why they aren’t answering questions immediately,” he adds.

Informal aspects of interviews

​There can also be difficulties with social aspects of interviews — such as informal group tasks or socialising during a lunch break, Grainger explains.

Some companies create scenarios to see how candidates behave in group situations. For example, during all-day team-building activities. Although few people look forward to these, they can be particularly challenging for people with autism.

Phrasing of job adverts

There are a number of barriers that also deter autistic people from applying for jobs, including the wording of listings.

Read more: What to do if you can't answer a job interview question – and how to recover

“For example, ‘you must have excellent communication skills’ or ‘must have three years of experience’ — autistic individuals often take things literally and may think ‘I only have two and a half years, so I won’t apply’.”

Lack of confidence

Some people may also lack the confidence to apply for jobs because of negative past experiences.

​“There is also an uncertainty as to whether or not to disclose they are autistic. People may need support but fear they will be overlooked because of their differences,” says Grainger.

How employers can make hiring more inclusive for autistic people

Keeping application forms clear and simple is a great way to start. Specify a word count and also what information is required. Also, it’s important to specifically state the working conditions and expectations​.

“Make sure the interview process is clearly laid out​,” advises Grainger. “Share details and photos of exactly who people will be meeting during the interviews, how long they will be there for and also photos of the building and room they will be in. Also letting candidates know in advance if there will be tests or tasks​ — don’t just spring it on them.”

Read more: How to cultivate 'grit' during a long job search

Offering short work trials can be a good alternative to interviews​. “Give people the chance to have an interview online instead of it being in-person, so that people feel comfortable in their surroundings,’ suggests Grainger.

“Also, the option to submit an application via video is another way to be more inclusive. It’s important to remember that these should be offered to all interviewees, not just neurodivergent people.”

Finally, it is important to include a short statement in the job advert that clearly states you are happy to discuss reasonable adjustments. This gives the message that your organisation welcomes candidates with neurodivergent thinking styles — so people aren’t put off from applying.

Watch: Majority of those with disabilities say their career options are limited

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