How to Interview a Neurodivergent Candidate

Rachel Worsley  |  26/08/2023

Imagine this all-too-common scenario in interviewing a neurodivergent candidate. 

Background: Sarah is an autistic individual who has applied for a software developer position at a reputable tech company. She possesses strong coding skills and relevant qualifications for the role.

The Interview Process:

  • Initial Phone Screen: Sarah's application impresses the hiring manager, who schedules an initial phone screen. During the phone screen, the manager asks several open-ended questions about her background and experience. Sarah, who finds unstructured conversations challenging, struggles to provide comprehensive answers and feels anxious during the call.
  • Technical Interview: Despite her difficulties with the phone screen, Sarah is invited to an in-person technical interview. The interview panel consists of three team members who ask her a series of technical questions, which Sarah answers confidently. However, the interview panel doesn't provide any visual cues or feedback, making it difficult for Sarah to gauge her performance.
  • Lack of Communication: After the technical interview, Sarah doesn't hear back from the company for several weeks. She sends a follow-up email but receives no response. She begins to worry that her application has been rejected.

In this scenario where Sarah, a neurodivergent candidate, faced barriers during the interview process, there are several actions the manager and the company could take to make her experience better and ensure a more inclusive hiring process. 

Before the Interview

  • Before the interview, the manager should send Sarah clear and detailed information about what to expect, including the format of the interview, who will be present, and what topics will be covered. This helps reduce anxiety and uncertainty.
  • If Sarah has disclosed her neurodivergence, be prepared to have a conversation with her about her reasonable accommodations. Here is an example of how you can hold this conversation. 

Manager: "Hello Sarah, I appreciate your openness about your neurodivergent condition, and we want to ensure that your interview experience is comfortable and fair. Can you please share any specific accommodations or preferences you may have for the upcoming interview?"

Sarah: "Thank you for understanding. During interviews, I sometimes struggle with unstructured questions and find it hard to gauge my performance without visual cues."

Manager: "I appreciate your honesty. To address those concerns, we can certainly make some accommodations. First, would you prefer a more structured interview format with specific, job-related questions?"

Sarah: "Yes, that would be helpful. It allows me to provide more specific responses."

Manager: "Great, we can do that. Additionally, to provide visual cues during the interview, I'll make sure to provide non-verbal feedback through nods and affirming gestures. How does that sound?"

Sarah: "That would definitely help. Thank you for being understanding."

Manager: "You're welcome, Sarah. We want to make sure you have the best opportunity to showcase your skills. Is there anything else you'd like us to consider, or any other accommodations you think would be helpful?"

Sarah: "I think having a clear schedule or timeline for the interview would also reduce my anxiety. It helps me mentally prepare."

Manager: "Understood. We'll send you an agenda with the interview schedule, including breaks, and who you'll be meeting with. Is there anything else, like specific topics or technologies you'd like us to focus on or avoid during the interview?"

Sarah: "No, I think that covers it. Thank you for being so accommodating."

Manager: "You're very welcome, Sarah. We appreciate your input, and we're committed to making this interview experience as comfortable and fair as possible for you. If you have any other needs or concerns leading up to the interview, please don't hesitate to reach out. We're here to support you."

This interactive process involves open communication between Sarah and the manager, ensuring that accommodations are tailored to her specific needs and preferences. It demonstrates the company's commitment to creating an inclusive interview environment that allows all candidates, including neurodivergent individuals like Sarah, to perform at their best.

During the Interview

The biggest adjustment that managers can make in this scenario is to ask structured interview questions. What are these interview questions? Some examples include the following: 

Behavioral Questions:

  • "Can you describe a specific project where you had to work collaboratively with a team to overcome a challenge? What was your role, and what was the outcome?"
  • "Tell me about a time when you encountered a difficult problem in your previous role. How did you approach it, and what was the result?"
  • "Could you provide an example of a situation where you had to manage multiple tasks or projects simultaneously? How did you prioritize and stay organized?"

  • Situational Questions:
    • "Imagine you're faced with a tight deadline for a critical project. How would you go about planning and organizing your tasks to ensure the project is completed on time?"
    • "Suppose you receive constructive feedback from a colleague about your work. How would you handle it, and what steps would you take to improve?"
    • "If you were presented with a complex technical issue that you hadn't encountered before, how would you approach troubleshooting and finding a solution?"
  • Technical Questions:
    • "Can you explain the process you follow when debugging code or identifying software issues? Please provide a step-by-step overview."
    • "What programming languages or software tools are you most comfortable working with, and how have you applied them in your previous roles?"
    • "In your experience, how do you ensure the security and privacy of data when developing software applications?"
  • Role-Specific Questions:

    • "For this software developer role, we're looking for expertise in [specific technology or framework]. Can you provide examples of projects where you've used this technology to solve complex problems?"
    • "As a software developer, attention to detail is crucial. How do you ensure the accuracy and quality of your code and software applications?"
  • Problem-Solving Questions:

    • "Imagine you're tasked with optimizing the efficiency of an existing software application. What steps would you take to identify bottlenecks and implement improvements?"
    • "Can you describe a situation where you had to troubleshoot and resolve a critical software bug under time constraints? What was your approach, and how did you resolve it?"
  • Teamwork and Communication Questions:

    • "In a team project, how do you ensure effective communication and collaboration among team members with diverse backgrounds and skills?"
    • "Describe a scenario where you had to convey complex technical information to non-technical stakeholders. How did you ensure clear and understandable communication?

After the Interview

  • Keep Sarah informed about the interview process timeline and any delays that may occur. Timely communication can help alleviate anxiety and uncertainty.

Here is an example message of how to keep Sarah informed about the interview process. 

Subject: Update on Your Interview Process with [Company Name]

Dear Sarah,

I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to provide you with an update on your interview process with [Company Name] for the software developer position. We appreciate your interest in our company and your patience throughout the process.

Firstly, I would like to commend you for your impressive technical skills and qualifications, which have not gone unnoticed by our hiring team. We were particularly impressed with [mention specific aspects of her qualifications or performance during the interview, if applicable].

I understand that interviews can be a challenging experience, and I want to assure you that we value the effort and dedication you've shown throughout this process.Moving forward, here's what you can expect:

  •           Feedback: We are in the process of reviewing the interviews, and we will be providing feedback to all candidates, including yourself. This feedback is designed to be constructive and help you understand your strengths and areas for improvement.
  •           Next Steps: Depending on the outcome of our evaluations, we may invite you for further discussions or assessments. We are committed to ensuring that our hiring process is fair and thorough.
  •           Timeline: We understand that timely communication is important. We are working diligently to finalize our decisions, and we aim to provide you with an update on the next steps within [specify a timeframe, e.g., two weeks].

In the meantime, if you have any questions or require additional information about our company or the role, please feel free to reach out to me directly, or you can contact our HR department at [HR contact information].Once again, thank you for considering [Company Name] as your potential employer. We genuinely appreciate your interest, and we look forward to the possibility of working together in the future.

Best regards,

[Your Name][Your Title][Company Name][Your Contact Information]

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