D&I clinic: How to make recruitment processes more inclusive for neurodivergent workers

Our resident D&I expert Huma Qazi advises HR on recruitment and neurodiversity.

Q. How can I make recruitment more accessible for neurodiverse candidates? Are there specific phrases in job ads or interviews I should avoid?

A. In the UK, 15% of the UK’s population has a neurodistinct profile. That’s nearly one in seven people whose brains function, learn and process information differently, including people with attention deficit disorders, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

People who think, see and process information differently are key to true diversity of thought in any industry. Recruitment must always have clear communications alongside transparent processes.

Neurodiversity tips:

Attracting, recruiting, and supporting those with ADHD

HR professionals lack confidence in spotting neurodivergence

Networking when neurodivergent could be made easier

With job descriptions and candidate profiles, keep sentences brief, to the point and list only relevant skills for the role. Where possible, avoid jargon and acronyms. If they must be used, ensure they are defined up front.

Consider where you advertise or upload job descriptions; look for platforms, service providers, charities and recruitment agencies offering bespoke services to advise or run recruitment projects for greater success at attracting neurodistinct candidates and addressing blind spots within your processes.

When talking about diversity and difference on your various recruitment channels, mention neurodiversity when highlighting diversity, equity and inclusion. Make it intentional. You might have a diversity demographic to talk about, employee stories to showcase, or have specific encouragement for neurodistinct people to apply.

You may have an employee resource group that focuses on neurodiversity and committee members who may be open to being contacted by candidates ahead of interviews.

Mention the recruitment process is accessible, that specific accommodations will be made and how to request them.

Don’t use language such as ‘special needs’; instead think about ‘adjustments’ ‘adaptations’ and, more formally, ‘accommodations’.

Due to stigmas and assumptions, many people may not feel comfortable disclosing they are neurodiverse during the recruitment process for fear it might go against them. Interviews can be adjusted to mitigate concerns to meet various needs by ensuring people perform at their best.

For virtual interviews, platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet have closed captions as a standard. Mention this and activate captions at the start of interviews.

Interview questions can be provided beforehand to create a more equitable interview process, or have flexible interview formats with breaks, or shorter sessions if someone may not fare as well with lengthy interviews or consider holding the interview in two parts for those not best suited to a timed environment.

For in-person interviews, consider lighting and heating in a room, as some neurodistinct professionals may experience sensory sensitivities, which can impact comfort levels and their interview performance. Simply check-in before starting and adjust, if needed.

When considering tests or assessments, many measure the time it takes to answer a question.

These assessments have been criticised as they can create an un-level playing field and be unfair on many levels to those who do not test well under these circumstances. Such testing standards are not necessarily indicative of job suitability or career success. As a recruitment metric, they are inherently flawed.

With interview questions, be precise. ‘Tell me about yourself’ can be too open-ended for some people, and instead you might consider questions like ‘Tell me about how you became interested in this role’.

Consider framing questions clearly and ensure they are directly relevant to the skills for the role. Hiring managers should be given specific training of how best to interview neurodistinct candidates to give everyone an equal chance to contribute and shine in their interview process.

Clear and transparent recruitment processes should be a given for all candidates. However, for many neurodistinct professionals, it can be the difference between a great applicant experience or an unfortunate realisation that an organisation is not as inclusive as it claims to be.


Huma Qazi is founder of The Privilege Project. This column was written with input from D&I consultant Áine Maher.

If you have a pressing D&I problem you can't get to the bottom of, send in your query here where it will be be answered by our resident D&I specialist Huma Qazi in the next issue of HR magazine.

This piece appears in the May/June 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.