Improving the Hiring Process for Autistic Candidates

Published April 16, 2021

Navigating the job market is difficult for everyone, but it is especially challenging for autistic people. The employment process can pose many barriers to this community, even before they apply. Luckily, employers can make a few small fixes that make a big difference in including autistic candidates.

Developing job positions and looking for candidates

Avoid requirements that may unintentionally exclude autistic people

When deciding upon job qualifications for a position, avoid requirements that may exclude autistic people based on their set of abilities. For example, unless it’s absolutely necessary, try not to make interpersonal or communication skills or a job requirement. This is because autistic people may find it challenging to live up to communication expectations made by and for non-autistic people.

Look beyond the resume

The Autism @ Work Playbook (PDF) noted that the resumes of autistic people are not always representative of the extent of candidates’ skills or experiences. Employers should discuss qualifications with candidates to get a fuller picture of the candidate’s abilities.

Interview

Consider an activity in place of a formal interview

While interviews test candidates’ skills and qualifications for a position, an unspoken rule is that they also test someone’s social skills. Thus, interviews can be very anxiety-provoking for autistic people, who may struggle in this area. If possible, I would suggest foregoing the interview altogether and instead having the applicant do an activity that can demonstrate their competency in the position. For instance, if your applicant is applying for a data engineer position, you could make the applicant solve a data-related problem that would commonly occur in the job.

Or, be flexible in interview format

If you must have an interview with your applicant, you could allow the applicant to choose the interview method that is most comfortable for them. Some people may communicate most easily by phone call or text rather than by video call, for example.

The Autism @ Work Playbook says that employers should do the following:

  • Train everyone involved in the hiring process about autism and interview techniques that benefit autistic people.
  • Choose interview spaces that are meet the needs of each candidate, such as a need for quiet spaces.
  • Perhaps have someone prepare the candidate for the interview, including giving the candidate a mock interview or overview of "expected" and "unexpected" social skills in this setting.
  • Ensure that the overall interview is structured.
  • Have blocks of unstructured time that candidates can use to recharge from the stressful interview process.
  • Let candidates know what the interview will involve: the people attending, the topics being discussed, and the overall process of it all.
  • Debrief every step of the process, both upcoming and past, with the person. This allows job seekers to "reduce stress and anxiety about the unknown. This helps candidates prepare mentally. It also allows job coaches to work with candidates to identify their needs as they relate to the itinerary and identify accommodations that will enable them to perform their best."
  • Give job seekers specific instructions for the various activities of their interview. Give the candidate various options of ways these instructions can be delivered, whether through writing, audio, or something else.
  • Limit the number of interviewers interviewing the candidate.
  • Use direct, literal language when communicating with the candidate.
  • Ask one single question at a time and confirm that the person understands those questions.
  • Allow job coaches to attend interviews for support.
  • Expect in advance that the interview may not go as planned — for example, the candidate could become anxious and go silent — and be flexible to changing plans if such things happen.

Personality tests and other algorithms

Personality tests makes it easier to discriminate

While it is illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, personality tests can be used as a mechanism to sidestep the law. Personality tests often screen for so many autism characteristics that they come just short of outright asking a person if they’re autistic. As the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) noted in Algorithms in Hiring Tests Make it Easier to Discriminate Against People with Disabilities (PDF), personality tests can be used to deduce how well people fit in with others, how well they handle change, and other common autism characteristics. It’s good to be aware of this and act accordingly (tips below will help you do this).

Skip the video recording

The CDT also cautions employers against using a test that makes candidates "record themselves on video answering questions." Algorithms can use these tests to judge an autistic person’s use of eye contact, facial expressions, and voice tone. These are forms of communication that some autistic people may feel uncomfortable using. Thus, it would be best not to use this form of testing.

Making automated hiring tests more inclusive

The CDT advises that employers who use personality tests and other automated hiring tests (algorithms) work in the following areas to make such tests inclusive.

Disclosure

Inform people about the nature of the algorithms they are about to take. This includes letting people know what these algorithms look for, as well as telling them how these algorithms work. If the algorithm rejects the person, you can be transparent about why this occurred.

Accommodations

  • If the algorithm is inaccessible because of the test format or because of, as the CDT puts it, “what you have to do to use the test,” then employers should give out accommodations for the test or modified versions of it. Accommodations are changes to the way someone takes a test, such as giving someone extra time to complete it. Modifications involve changes to the content of the test, such as changing a test to focus on the examination of certain skills rather than others.
  • Employers should be proactive and place accommodations in their algorithms before candidates even start the employment process. In other words, companies should make their tests flexible so that they allow for many types of test-taking before candidates even have to ask for accommodations. For example, instead of having a test be audio-based with possible accommodations available upon request, you can give people an upfront choice of an audio, visual, or other kind of test. By doing this, job seekers don’t have to go through the stigma-filled burden of disclosing they have a disability to get the help they need. This also shows candidates that your company is very progressive; that you have put a lot of forethought and care into including the disability community.
  • Employers also can give people, regardless of abilities, a choice between the algorithm and an alternative test. This way, employers will have no way to tell which candidates have a disability or not.

Algorithm bias checking

  • Ensure that your algorithm solely focuses on the essential requirements of a job and nothing more. If social-skill-related questions aren’t absolutely essential to the job description, for example, they should not be included in your test.
  • Ensure that your algorithms do not exclude autistic people based on autism characteristics or how those characteristics may play out in a workplace setting. For example, a question about a prospective employee’s attitude towards teamwork may inadvertently discriminate against autistic people, who may find teamwork stressful because of their disability.
  • Resume mining algorithms may exclude autistic people who have gaps in their resume due to hiring discrimination or other sensitive issues. Check to ensure your algorithms do not discriminate against autistic people based on this.

Algorithm creation

Have autistic disability advocates work with you in creating your tests. This way, inclusion will be baked into the assessment from the start with fewer changes needed.

If you make these simple changes to your hiring process, it’s a win-win: your autistic candidates will have a better chance to succeed, and your company will benefit from having a diverse workforce.

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