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Including Neurodivergent Workers: Job Descriptions and Interviewing

Ensuring that job descriptions and interview processes are inclusive can help attract skilled candidates, including neurodivergent workers.

Employers interested in hiring neurodivergent workers should review job descriptions and interview processes to make sure they are inclusive and welcoming to candidates with disabilities. A few small changes can make a significant difference. 

Job Descriptions

Employers should ensure their job descriptions use language that is inclusive and makes it clear that the organization welcomes neurodivergent people. Inclusive language should be used consistently throughout job descriptions. While writing these descriptions, managers and HR staff should distinguish between what jobs “require” and what is “preferred” or “nice-to-have.”

Many companies currently use a “more is better” approach to develop their job descriptions for open positions. These employers often provide detailed job descriptions with “requirements” that could inadvertently deter qualified neurodivergent job candidates from applying. Many neurodivergent people may take these requirements literally, assume that they are not qualified for a job, and thus not apply. In addition, these listings may overwhelm potential job candidates and make it difficult for managers of disability-focused hiring programs to identify neurodivergent candidates.

Similarly, some organizations use job descriptions that include very general skill requirements that can apply to multiple settings, such as “strong communication skills” or “ability to work in a team environment.” Descriptions like these can make some neurodivergent people, especially autistic people, apprehensive about applying for a position due to the vagueness of the phrases being used or differences in social skills/reading social cues. Employers should clarify if qualifications or tasks are not essential to accomplish the job, or not include non-essential qualifications at all. Essential qualifications and tasks—the job duties that a candidate must be able to perform—should, of course, stay in the listing.

Employers should also consider making job requirements easier to understand. For example, employers could offer alternative formats, such as video clips to accompany text-based job descriptions. When writing a description, use plain language wherever you can. Experienced and qualified candidates of all backgrounds find complex job listings difficult to understand, and this challenge is especially acute for many neurodivergent people.

Interviewing

Conventional job interviews can be inaccessible for many neurodivergent people whose communication styles may vary widely. At a minimum, interviewers should receive training on what to expect and how to conduct interviews with neurodivergent candidates. These training sessions should discuss what to ask and how to interpret verbal and non-verbal responses to reduce biases that can put neurodivergent candidates at a disadvantage.

Avoid vague or open-ended questions such as “What can you bring to the table?” which can be confusing or interpreted literally. Instead, ask direct questions, such as:

  • “Can you talk about a key project on which you recently worked for an employer and how you contributed?”
  • “What work did you perform for this project? How did it support the success of the project?”
  • “Can you describe some of your core strengths and talents? How do these assets help you thrive in jobs or volunteer roles?”

Interviewers should also consider the environments in which the interview process occurs. Noisy and distracting environments can create discomfort for neurodivergent job candidates with sensory access needs. In fact, some companies invite job candidates to visit their offices prior to beginning interviews or the selection processes to help these candidates familiarize themselves with the office setting. Virtual or remote interviews can also benefit many neurodivergent candidates.

Certain hiring practices can benefit all candidates, including neurodivergent ones. Work to ensure that job interviews are as structured as possible and ask specific questions. Explain in advance what will happen in the interview. Employers may also consider providing the interview questions in advance. Many candidates, including neurodivergent job seekers, provide stronger responses when they know what questions will be asked during the interview and have time to prepare their answers.

Some organizations now forgo the typical interview process by taking a skills-focused approach toward hiring, for example, by conducting a series of interviews for job candidates that focus on specific skills or completing certain tasks. Businesses may also adjust how they conduct interviews or make use of resumes and other skill-centered documents. Many employers now have candidates complete skills assessments or participate in work trials to determine their qualifications or fit for the organization.

Other organizations host large-scale screening events for potential employees, which allow them to gain a sense of candidates’ strengths, interests and fit for open positions. Some employers also offer specialized training sessions to help prepare neurodivergent employees for the work environment. These sessions sometimes focus on employability or soft skills training for areas such as interpersonal skills, teamwork and ways to communicate in the workplace. An employer may tell applicants what the hiring process involves, and may ask applicants whether they will need a reasonable accommodation for this process. You can learn more from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which has information on accommodation ideas for autistic workers and those with other conditions, like ADHD and PTSD.

Note that employers should not ask an applicant if they have a disability during a pre-offer interview. The candidate has the right to decide whether or not to voluntarily disclose a disability, such as when requesting a reasonable accommodation.

Indeed, many neurodivergent people may choose to disclose their disability during the interview as that is a key aspect of their identity and experience. It is important to understand that employers may not use their knowledge of an applicant's disability to discriminate against the applicant. Employers must also keep any medical information on applicants confidential. Visit JAN’s page on medical inquiries to learn more. You can learn more about an employer’s obligations with respect to disability-related inquiries before and after a job offer is extended, as well as during employment, from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) website.

In certain circumstances, employers can also invite applicants to voluntarily self-identify as a person with a disability when the question is asked for affirmative action purposes. See EARN’s guidance on proactive recruitment and hiring practices for more information.

Federal agencies also engage in self-identification efforts to meet obligations under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act to support affirmative action and recruit, hire, retain and advance workers with disabilities. In doing so, federal agencies must take certain steps to protect workers’ confidentiality.