How you can better accommodate neurodiversity in your job interviews

A job interview is far from suitable for everyone as a selection tool. How can you make job interviews fairer and more inclusive for people with disabilities and individuals with different learning styles – thus giving everyone a chance?

Peter Boerman on June 12, 2024 Average reading time: 4 min
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How you can better accommodate neurodiversity in your job interviews

In recent years, it has been increasingly recognized that a job interview is not suitable for everyone. Consequently, the ‘winner’ of a selection round is often the one who can conduct the best interviews, which may not necessarily be the most suitable candidate for the position. Additionally, many selection procedures hardly accommodate neurodiversity, people with disabilities, or individuals with different learning styles. How can you better respond to this, in order to offer everyone a fair chance, and for yourself as a recruiter: to ultimately choose the best candidate?

‘The next step is to assist candidates in considering what types of accommodations are feasible.’

To find answers to those questions, journalist Rebecca Knight cites two experts in Harvard Business Review: Ludmila Praslova, a Russian professor of organizational psychology at Vanguard University, and Katie Bach, former nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Both believe that it’s a good idea to adapt traditional procedures to candidates. “What I see as the next step is not just asking if someone needs accommodations, but helping candidates think about what accommodations are possible,” says Bach.

No mention of a level playing field

An accessible, inclusive application process where individuals with disabilities or neurodiversity can showcase their strengths expands the talent pool and fosters a more equitable workplace, according to both experts. However, in practice, such a ‘level playing field‘ is still far from reality, they observe. “We’ve been using the same methods for years without considering what is truly needed for a specific job and how we can identify the right candidate,” says Praslova.

‘We’ve been using the same methods for years without considering how to identify the right candidate.’

According to Bach, the first step is mainly about breaking free from your biases. “Many of us still have a certain image of what a disability looks like and assume that we haven’t worked with many people with disabilities.” But that doesn’t quite align with reality, she also states. For example, an estimated one in four Americans live with a disability, and it’s also found that approximately 9% of Americans have a learning disability. Many of these differences and disabilities are hidden or invisible.

The limitations of empathy

For job interviews, this primarily means “listening without judgment and not assuming that someone is pretending, lazy, or requires a lot of attention,” asserts Bach. Acknowledge that people may need accommodations and that strict adherence to traditional interview methods can perpetuate biases, adds Praslova. Empathy is important, but even empathy has its limitations, she notes. “It’s not about you, but about the other person. And their reality can be very different from yours.”

Praslova also advises taking a close look at your current interview practices. “Sometimes job interviews are designed to deceive people, make them emotional, and throw them off balance to see how they perform under pressure,” she says. However, these tactics can disproportionately disadvantage candidates with social anxiety or neurodivergent thinking, placing them in greater challenges in these situations. This often puts them at an unfair disadvantage, she adds. “Because you usually aren’t interviewing for the secret service.”

Don’t turn it into a marathon

Therefore, she recommends examining your current recruitment practices and techniques and identifying unnecessary obstacles that do not align with the job requirements. Bach agrees with this. So, look at “physically and psychologically demanding practices,” she says, and adjust them where possible. Do job interviews really need to be day-long marathons? Should they involve 90-minute case studies? And should they even be in-person? “If it’s not part of the job, you have to ask yourself: are we creating an environment where everyone can thrive? Or are we artificially making it difficult?”

‘If it’s not part of the job, you have to ask yourself: are we artificially making it difficult?’

She doesn’t have a ready-made solution to make job interviews more inclusive. “Even people with the same disability can have different symptoms and severity, so you have to work with individual candidates to determine what they need,” says Bach. Therefore, she suggests creating “a menu of possible accommodations” with examples from the past. Consider: giving extra time for certain tasks or interview questions, presenting questions in different formats to address different learning styles, or conducting remote interviews for candidates with mobility issues.

Ensure safety

Praslova recommends sharing this menu of options with all candidates and encouraging them to ask for additional support if needed. “Make it clear that it’s safe to ask questions and that it won’t be held against them,” she says, pointing to research showing that disclosing a disability at work is often a fraught experience. Praslova advocates for the platinum rule – an evolved version of the golden rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated,” she says. Because: “It’s not about what you want, but what the other person wants.”

‘It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the other person wants.’

Praslova also recommends providing all candidates with interview questions in advance. This not only gives them time to prepare thoughtful answers but also alleviates some of the psychological stress associated with job interviews. Otherwise, she says, you might unintentionally place more value on their confidence rather than their skills and abilities. “If you’re measuring how quickly people are, sometimes you get overconfidence.” Additionally, she advises not to let the conversation be influenced by factors such as what someone is wearing, how nervous they appear, or how easily they engage in small talk.

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Peter Boerman

Peter Boerman

Blogger at ToTalent

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