How to Attract More Neurodivergent Job Applicants
Considerate adverts can make a big difference
According to The Donaldson Trust, a leading charity for neurodiversity, "Neurodiversity has a wide spectrum that covers a range of hidden neurological conditions, such as but not limited to Autism Spectrum, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Tourette’s and social anxiety.
For some people, their neurodivergence can mean that they are better at some things than many other people and for others additional support or adjustments are required."
In fact, in my efforts to educate myself on the subject, I've found long lists of possible conditions that could sit under the neurodiversity label, including Misophonia, which I experience and had never considered would sit under this umbrella.
For what it's worth since the umbrella covers an inexhaustive list, the conditions are 'hidden' and many people have conditions self-diagnosed or undiagnosed, I believe it's possible that any officially published numbers of estimated neurodiverse people could be conservative. Who knows?
What's important is that when we're hiring, managing and supporting people, ANY people, we need to do so with our eyes, ears and minds truly open. Open to differences and understanding and embracing those differences.
For anyone hiring, this means getting educated, not continuing to hire people like us, and taking practical steps to make the hiring process more inclusive.
I'm creating blogs to aid the argument for, and practical steps to, attracting under-represented groups, helping companies to create more diverse and successful workforces.
Morally and ethically, this is the right thing to do, but also it makes perfect business sense when companies are complaining daily that they are unable to fill their job vacancies.
First things first:
Why would you want to actively attract more neurodivergent applicants?
- Neurodivergent workers, like all your employees, will have their own unique view of the world, contributing to your team and the wider business with new ideas, and looking at problems in a way you hadn't considered.
Indeed these people will already be in your business so learn more about them here: https://exceptionalindividuals.com/neurodiversity/
- It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent. That's a significant number of people you could be inadvertently repelling in the recruitment process, at a time when we have a shortage of qualified people applying for job vacancies.
What are the challenges that neurodiverse workers face?
(1) Many neurodivergent people can get very tired during a working day when pressed to conform to the 'normal' office environment of chit-chat, interruptions and social interaction. Whether because they are working intensely on a piece of work, or being in an office environment where they 'mask' their condition from other people to mimic the actions and words of colleagues in an effort to fit in.
(2) Being judged as weird or anti-social when choosing to wear headphones. It's how some neurodiverse people concentrate. Having the radio on in the office might be nice for you, but could be very distracting for a neurodiverse person.
(3) Rarely do they encounter an environment where they feel safe to speak up about what they personally need, without disclosing their diagnosed or undiagnosed challenges, free from judgement or interference from well-meaning people.
Some of the easiest adjustments in an open-plan office can be as simple as where your desk is. For example, some people find it REALLY hard to concentrate if there are people sitting on both sides of them, so prefer to sit at an end desk.
In short, the adjustments can be simple for a neurodiverse employee, they just need an employer to ask.
(4) Things that are cited as 'perks', like office parties and Friday afternoons down the pub, are hellish for some neurodiverse employees.
(5) Fear of the unknown during the recruitment process which can be unnecessarily daunting and overly complex.
(6) Not everyone with neurodivergence sees it as a disability, but some do, and risk feeling judged.
(7) Not fitting in at their place of work.
(8) The fear of rejection: Did you know that some people with ADHD experience Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria?
How can I write my job adverts to address these challenges?
(1) Be sure to mention any flexible working policies. Remote or hybrid working is not the only solution.
Maybe someone can start early in the day and finish early? Or be able to leave the office early, take some time to decompress and then log on to finish their working day at home.
Sometimes all that's required is to be entrusted to take breaks when they need them. Making this clear in an advert could be:
"You'll be measured on results, meaning you'll have some flexibility in your hours, taking break times throughout the day as needed."
(2) If employees can choose to work around the building, in meeting rooms or designated quiet spaces then mention it in advertising.
If you don't have such options available, then you need to be open to allowing employees to tune out another way. Either solution can be expressed in advertising, for example,
"You'll be working in an open-plan office, but we understand everyone needs quiet time and your line manager allows the team to wear their headphones to focus."
(3) Don't fall into the trap of cutting and pasting 'this company is committed to DE&I' and hoping that's going to be enough.
It's an overused phrase which is often empty.
Evidence your commitment by using language which is understood and has meaning.
Try "We're a company committed to building a culture where everyone is seen, heard and understood, whatever their needs. Employees are asked about any reasonable adjustments required to undertake the role to the best of their ability."
(4) Many organisations are tempted to list all their brilliant social activities, seeing this as a benefit - be careful it's intimidating to many people, including those who are used to being criticised for their lack of eye contact or quieter nature, for example. And those who prefer to say 'no, thank you' or leave early.
Mentioning the company's annual BBQ or Christmas dinner is one thing, but Friday after work down the pub and weekends away are not inclusive.
Improving your advert to attract neurodiverse people try "The business encourages a healthy, friendly working environment with a couple of funded company social events a year to get the team together without work pressures." You could add "Attendance is encouraged but not compulsory."
Instead, highlight benefits which promote well-being like a subsidised gym membership, the yoga class held at lunchtime and the country park you're set in for nature walks in break times.
(5) This is a relatively easy fix, since you'll know your own process.
I'll give you a working example I have used for a games software testing business where the average employee IS neurodiverse. These are excerpts from an actual advert:
"What’s involved in the application process?
You’ll need a recent CV to apply for this position and then a human being will review your application. If it’s clear that the job is not suitable (maybe you live too far away to commute daily, for example, or you are too young to work on age-restricted games) then your application will be rejected.
If it’s clear we need to find out more about you, a very short email will be sent to you asking you to provide a little more information about your ability to commute, your availability to work and your love of gaming. This helps us to shortlist.
On receipt of your response, if you’re not suitable, you’ll be rejected on this occasion. If you are suitable you’ll be invited, at a time that suits you, to have a telephone chat for about 15 mins where the job will be explained more fully and we’ll talk about any concerns you might have etc. Before taking you through to booking an online assessment.
The assessment will be done remotely on your computer, with or without a camera on, where you will learn about the business and the job, along with a demonstration of the tasks. You'll have a go yourself and prove you’ve understood the instructions given and that you’re able to fulfil the brief. Nothing to worry about, we promise, and a green screen is available if that makes the test more comfortable.
Assessment slots are typically held daily, Monday to Friday with availability in the mornings and afternoons, replacing the need for a face-to-face interview and you'll be offered one that is convenient to you.
You’ll know whether you’ve passed the test within a few hours and if you do pass (most people do), you’ll be offered a start date. Depending on where we are with the hiring process for the projects you may have a few days’ notice or might be added to a list for an invite to start in the coming weeks.
Whatever the process, you’ll be kept informed throughout but if your circumstances change at this point and you no longer wish to be considered, that’s fine. Just let us know."
Anyone I take through to the second stage, I reiterate what they have applied for, include additional information and don't assume anything. Jobseekers may have applied for many jobs and a re-cap is helpful. The telephone call I refer to is booked by them, using my open calendar so they can choose a day and time that works for them and they can make sure they are in a place convenient to take that call.
I had a young man who needed his mum on the call because of a stutter. He sailed through the process and received a job offer, which he accepted.
You'll note that this company is so committed to the neurodiverse community, it made provisions, including a green screen test option for those with dyslexia.
And the wording in the advert is 'talking' like you would to a human being. That's the key to ALL good advertising and applies here in particular.
You should also look beyond the application process and how you'll make your neurodivergent interviewees comfortable, or else you're creating an unnecessary barrier, having attracted them in the first place.
A local business owner and hiring manager told me "When we interview we are super specific about the interview; we specify that it’s casual dress; we let them know we don’t have a reception area but we will all be expecting them so they don’t have to feel awkward on arrival, and at the beginning of the interview we outline who will ask what and that any competency based questions are just to get an understanding of their skills - they’re allowed to say “I don’t know”
And sharing the interview questions in advance is helpful.
It's not 'cheating' since the point of those questions is not to catch people out, but allow them to have the time to think about a suitable response. If you're asking for real-life practical examples, interviewees are more likely to come to the interview with a good example if they can plan, rather than being put on the spot.
(6) If you are committed to diversity, prove it.
No, this does not help you to adjust an advert but rather, what happens when you get a response to that advert.
Be a little kinder when viewing applications which contain some inaccuracies.
We know it's obvious to run your CV through a spell-checker before sending it off for a job but mistakes happen, especially if you're dyslexic. Spelling is important if you're hiring a copywriter, but less so in IT and customer services.
You might only spot the 'poor English' once an offer has been made and the applicant is now communicating regarding the contract and start date via a smartphone, on the move, on a small keyboard and without spell check. Be patient.
A little reminder, to reply to EVERY application, whether successful or not.
(7) Many neurodiverse people have spent their entire lives feeling out of place and not accepted for who they are. This can exclude them from the workplace.
We all ask ourselves before applying 'Will I fit in?' and we look for clues in the advert, which still rarely contain any context.
For this group of people, the assumption is likely that they won't, so challenge that perception by explaining a little more, encouraging them to apply.
Using a real example, for the same games software testing company, you can alleviate some of those fears.
"Once on the job, you can expect regular hours with a 30-minute break. During this break in your shift, your time is your own, whether you need to take a walk alone or grab some food whilst socialising with loads of other friendly, avid gamers all doing the same job as you.
Your office premises are modern and comfortable and you'll have someone to buddy up with during those early days to make sure you're picking things up OK and settling in well."
(8) Ensure anyone who is not taken through the recruitment process receives a warm communication advising them accordingly. This applies especially to neurodivergent people, but I believe EVERY SINGLE PERSON in a recruitment process deserves this. It's appropriate, respectful and kind.
At Clarity Appointments, we send this video to everyone who applies for a job and is rejected immediately (despite containing terrible lockdown hair)
We have had really incredible feedback from people who were rejected using this video, thanking us for taking the time, that it helped them understand the reasons (even though it is generic), and that they felt valued as an applicant.
Anyone taken into the process with a phone call, assessment or interview deserves specific feedback so that they can understand why they are not being taken forward. It may be something they can work on in the future so it's not just respectful, it's helpful.
Employers are often scared of this bit, for fear of some sort of terrible backlash from a disgruntled applicant. It's actually very rare, rarer still if you are specific.
Because what actually frustrates people more than helpful feedback is no feedback.
Last, but not least
Consider advertising on a job board which specialises in attracting people from the neurodiverse community.
This will undoubtedly improve your reach, but the very fact that you're there, you are evidencing your commitment to people who are frequently misunderstood.
Would you like to learn more about opening up your talent pool?
You might also find this blog useful:
Contact us now for a free, no-obligation chat. Contact Clare here.
Clare Wight is the founder and Managing Director of Clarity Appointments, an independent recruitment specialist. She served as a Regional Director for The Employment Agents Movement, supporting other independent recruiters.
She remains an active member of Recconnect (formerly Members Only), a recruitment leadership network promoting high ethical standards, collaboration, diversity, equity and inclusion.
She believes business owners are more fulfilled and higher-performing when they provide emotional and professional business support to other business owners, even those they deem to be competitors. She does this actively, whilst challenging and updating her skills and knowledge of the recruitment sector, enabling her to offer the best advice to firms looking to make their next hire.