February 14, 2018

Make Better Hires: Adjusting Your Interview Practices to Include Neurodiverse Talent


Every business looks for ways to improve the bottom line. This is often achieved by hiring the most capable and qualified candidates. A strong, talented workforce sets your company up for ultimate success.

What few companies realize is that they can find more great talent if they open up their talent pools to include people with all types of disabilities, including those who are neurodiverse. Disability inclusion positively affects multiple aspects of a business, improving productivity, company culture, and overall morale while decreasing turnover and absenteeism.

However, some companies don’t have the necessary experience to implement inclusion strategies into their hiring practices. Here, we’ll outline a few considerations organizations should take when opening their hiring processes up to neurodiverse talent.

The Interview Process: Are You Focused on the Essential Functions of the Job?

The goal of any interview is to find the best candidate for the position, one who will work well with the existing team to produce strong results for the company. Businesses might be hesitant to change their hiring practices because of the legal issues that surround the interview process, or because they believe their practices are already effective. Such rigid thinking may cause companies to inadvertently filter qualified candidates with disabilities out of their hiring funnels.

Questions and Impressions

HR professionals are trained to stick to the canon of legal questions and company-standard questions during interviews. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t allow for much room when looking for diverse hires. If your HR staff isn’t trained to hire people with disabilities, your diversity hiring initiative won’t progress very far.

Additionally, even the most well-trained interviewers can carry unconscious biases that favor typically “charming” candidates who maintain direct eye contact and convince the interviewer of their capabilities because of their social skills.

Interview Checklists

Many companies use checklists to score candidates during interviews. Some of the standard criteria might include: Do they have a firm handshake? Do they make eye contact? Are they confident when they speak about their abilities?

However, when interview checklists focus more on social skills, people with social disabilities are automatically going to be phased out – even if they are more qualified for the position.

Group Interview

Sometimes, after a candidate successfully interviews with HR, they will then interview with their potential colleagues. Usually, these interviews focus more on how the candidate will fit in with the team and less on their qualifications for the job.

It is difficult to ignore this social factor for many people, which is often the reason why qualified people with disabilities do not get the job. Stigma can stand in the way of unbiased hiring decisions.

Recommendations for a Successful Interview Process

There are many opportunities in the interview process for hiring authorities to overemphasize first impressions and overlook an individual’s demonstrated ability to successfully do a job. Preparing your HR team to interact with the full spectrum of job candidates will help them find the talent that is right for the job without stigmatizing candidates with disabilities.

1. Checklists

Ensure that interview checklists contain items that are essential to a person’s ability to perform a job. If you are hiring for a position where the employee would work independently, is it essential for the candidate to have the best social skills?

2. Training

Provide disability-awareness and etiquette training to all employees involved in the interviewing process, including any potential colleagues who may have a say in the selection process.

Hiring people with disabilities can have substantial benefits for companies, but these individuals can go overlooked simply because they lack the soft skills HR professionals look for during interviews. It is vital for organizations to establish disability inclusion strategies that are unique to their cultures.

Kathy Bernhardt is managing director for Tangram Business Resourcing. Her work is focused on disability inclusion and developing disability outreach initiatives for companies.

Read more in Diversity

Kathy Bernhardt is a corporate disability consultant and inclusion trainer. As the managing director of Tangram Business Resourcing, Kathy is responsible for the strategic development and implementation of programs to support businesses to build collaborative relationships aimed at achieving their inclusion goals. Kathy's experience includes more than 20 years of successfully establishing corporate and community relationships.