Rethinking The Hiring Process from a Neurodivergent’s Perspective

by | Aug 10, 2023

Kate is a UX designer whose intuitive creations have earned her the moniker of “the simplifier.” She works for a B2B software company focused on mental health and she’s revered by her leaders and peers — but it hasn’t always been this way.

Neurodivergent individuals like Kate often struggle to find a job because traditional hiring processes overlook and even penalize them. For years, Kate felt like she couldn’t do anything right, but we know today that Kate isn’t missing anything, except for an inclusive hiring process that gives her a fair chance to perform. 

Neurodivergence Isn’t a Weakness

As a child, Kate would sit during recess, watching her classmates combust into a frenzy across the schoolyard. She’d see shapes and patterns, colors, and noises trailing behind her classmates, zig-zagging everywhere. The sounds of feet pattering and rubber balls hitting the handball court would reverberate between her ears. Recess was overwhelming up close, but she enjoyed it from afar. 

With a handful of colored pencils and white paper, Kate would sit and draw what she saw; it was her way of being connected to the chaos. Early on, she was recognized as a talented artist and even won awards for her abstract depictions that showed the unique way of how she experienced the world. Still, she struggled to fit in. 

Growing up, Kate tried to mimic the behaviors of those around her and took caution in conversations. While she had a few meaningful relationships, she never thrived in large groups of people. She navigated life aware that she was different but unaware of how or why. Her ‘aha’ moment came at 33 when she finally received an official diagnosis: autism.

As it turned out, Kate’s human experience isn’t flawed; it’s unique. As a neurodivergent individual, Kate’s brain works differently, and those differences have shaped her greatest traits and deepest challenges. 

Leveraging her unique view of the world, Kate graduated from Otis Art and Design School at the top of her class. She started a budding career at a friend’s startup and proved to be a phenomenal product designer. Unfortunately, the company eventually lost funding and Kate lost her job. As a talented artist, she should’ve settled right into a new role, but instead she faced countless obstacles in the job hunt. 

Job Hunting is Hard, and Harder for Neurodivergents

Despite glowing references and a drool-worthy portfolio, Kate struggled to land a new position. Her re-employment journey ended up being a long and grueling two-year affair, one that only came to a happy ending when Kate found a company that was approaching hiring differently than the rest.

Interviews are often intimidating and draining to job seekers, but for neurodivergent people like Kate, they can be paralyzing. Open-ended questions lit up her thoughts and made it hard to constrain her answers, while hypothetical scenarios demanded careful consideration before she could respond. Through two years of job searching, Kate was always close, but never closed.

On a random Tuesday, Kate sat down at her computer to start her daily job search. She silenced her doubt and desperation, carefully sorting through spam when a message caught her eye. It was from a recruiter for a software company looking to hire their first UX designer, and the email was different from all the rest. 

The recruiter commented on Kate’s previous user research and one of her mobile designs. She felt seen. The note summarized key details like the job description, pay range, and recent company press. It was all clear. Kate had a sense of clarity that she hadn’t experienced in her job search before, and that’s when the tables finally turned.

How Can Hiring Processes Support Neurodivergence? 

Small changes in your hiring process can have a resounding impact on the talent you’re able to attract and how well they’re able to showcase their abilities during interviews. Here are a few considerations that empower neurodivergent individuals like Kate and can help your company attract more diverse candidates. 

Supporting interview preparation 

Everyone could use assistance prepping for an interview, but failing to provide neurodivergent individuals with certain information puts them at a disadvantage. 

Two days before the interviews began, Kate received a briefing that outlined every step of the process, including:

  • A list of the interviewers with their names, pronouns, titles, and LinkedIn profiles.
  • A short list of the key competencies that would be evaluated during the interview with an explanation as to why. 
  • An HR contact for inquiries about benefits and workforce policies to help guide candidate questions.

Giving candidates control

Everyone gets flustered and anxious, but for neurodivergent individuals, certain environments can be completely overstimulating, making it impossible to effectively perform during an already high-stress interview. 

For each stage of the hiring process, Kate was given the option to choose her interview method. Her first interview was to take place remotely, and she was able to choose if she wanted a phone call or video call. For the assessment round, she was given the choice between focusing on a case study or a hypothetical scenario. 

You can give candidates the best chance by: 

  • Offering multiple interview methods, including over-the-phone, over video, on-site, or asynchronous interviews. 
  • Planning multiple assessment options, ranging from practical and evidence-based to hypothetical and open-ended. 
  • Employing creative methods for information gathering beyond interviews, like the option to submit an additional written response. 

Cultivating an inclusive culture

From rethinking your company’s holiday calendar to opening discussions on pronouns, inclusive cultures foster human connection and create a sense of belonging. At Kate’s company, an employee-led inclusivity committee, representing all types of individuals, leads the company’s initiatives. 

Your company can create and showcase its inclusive culture during the interview process and beyond by:

  • Using positive language that showcases your company’s policies and its stance on major issues. 
  • Supporting mental wellness and investing in programs that encourage employees to seek support where needed. 
  • Educating employees on the vast and varied human experiences, and the importance of acceptance. 

Ensuring Equity in Hiring Practices

Thanks to an inclusive and candidate-guided interview experience, Kate was able to secure a new position after two long years of job searching. Three years on, she’s now a celebrated member of her team, all because the company approached hiring differently, ensuring unique talent like her didn’t get lost in the shuffle.

In a world where diversity of thought is celebrated and embraced, your hiring processes must evolve to do the same. If your company is seeking to revamp its practices to ensure more innovation, more inclusivity, and more impact, Digital Knack can help. Reach out to our team today to get assistance designing a better hiring experience.


Written by Megan Mulvey