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Does the key to talent lie in untapped neurodiversity?

James Milligan - Hays Technology

Adults with conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and Tourette syndrome, are hugely underrepresented across many sectors of the jobs market. While many neurodiverse people may find some parts of work and socialising more difficult, neurodivergent conditions can also give individuals particular strengths and attributes that make them unique and valuable. With many sectors experiencing acute skills shortages, making organisations more accessible for neurominorities could be key to plugging the skills gap.

James Milligan, Global Head of Hays Technology, commented, “The tech industry is only just starting to realise the benefits of embracing a neurodiverse workforce. Autistic people can approach problems differently and can provide extremely creative solutions. There are many benefits that neurodiverse employees can bring to the workforce, particularly in filling technical skills gaps.”

James continued, “While neurodiverse candidates bring many benefits to the workforce, many interview processes do not give them the best chance of success, as traditional recruitment methods can favour neurotypical candidates and neurominorities can be automatically screened out.”

James explores some of the issues neurodivergent individuals can face during the recruitment process, and potential solutions.

1. Issues with the interview process
Traditional job interviews can be problematic for neurodiverse people, especially those that can struggle to understand social norms and non-verbal communication. However, there are many ways an organisation can adapt its interviewing techniques to help neurodivergent individuals, such as conducting a series of sequential interviews with one interviewer at a time, instead of using a panel of interviewers.

James added, “There are potential challenges for neurodiverse people in the interview process, but there are steps you can take to make the experience easier. For example, send candidates the questions in advance of the interview. This can provide candidates with the opportunity to give more detailed, quality examples, which can help interviewers to better understand their suitability for a role. As working memory can be an issue for many neurominorities, this simple adjustment can be particularly beneficial.”

2. Adapt your job interviews
Traditional interview questions can be difficult for neurodivergent candidates to answer. Organisations should consider changing the nature of questions to make them more manageable for neurominority candidates, including avoiding vague questions and instead focusing on those with a discernible connection to the tech job.

James said, “Make sure the questions are accessible, for example, instead of “what are you most proud of?”, try to be more specific such as “name a technical problem at work you’ve solved in the last couple of months”. Instead of “tell me about your CV,” ask for specifics from their CV, and so on.”

3. Get inventive with your interview techniques
Organisations should consider avoiding traditional interview processes and instead consider work trials, short internships and practical assessments. These provide alternative ways for candidates to showcase their talent and focus on an individual’s ability to perform the specific job role. Organisations can replace psychometric testing, which are often more favourable to the neurotypical cognitive profile, and instead ask candidates to provide examples of their previous work, to help better understand an individual’s fit to the job in question.

James added, “Regardless of the approach you take, it’s important to consider what you are trying to get from the process. A standardised recruitment process for every role may not ultimately lead to the best candidates. Think about what the role needs and how you can identify those skills in a candidate, without putting unnecessary barriers in the way.”

4. Help candidates and interviewers prepare
It’s important that organisations prepare candidates for the selection process and provide them with clear information on what the process involves, avoiding any ambiguity in its instructions.

James commented, “If you intend to ask the candidate to complete a coding test, for example, make them aware of this part of the interview and, if possible, provide them with a way to get to grips with your coding environment before the interview. Also, consider consulting with neurodiversity experts to help your interviewers prepare for interviewing and hiring neurodivergent individuals. Otherwise, they could – consciously or unconsciously – make negative judgements on an applicant’s suitability for a role.”

5. Consider the wording of your job adverts
Job adverts need to be precise, clear and free of jargon. Organisations should include a diversity and inclusion statement in job descriptions, stating they are happy to discuss reasonable adjustments to help candidates.

James added, “When writing job adverts, consider the skills attributes that are really necessary for the role, rather than listing generic skills. By including unnecessary requirements, you could end up losing out on the strongest candidates.”

Hiring neurodivergent tech professionals can have a positive effect on an organisation’s entire workforce, bringing a whole pool of untapped talent into the industry at a time when the digital skills gap is at an all-time high.

James closed by saying, “If you want to start hiring a neurodiverse workforce, the first step for many tech businesses is to engage with specialists in this field, make sure any supplier has both professional and HR credentials and can also ‘walk their own talk’ by being a neuro-inclusive employer themselves.”

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