Job interviews are a standard process job applicants are required to go through to be assessed for their competency for a given job role. However, they can be considered an incredibly flawed way of assessing potential candidates, especially those on the Autism spectrum.
This is primarily because interviews tend to favour certain groups of individuals – such as those who are tall, conventionally attractive and extroverted. However, these traits do not necessarily correlate with success on the job, and many organisations could be rejecting competent individuals for superficial motives. It means that many job applicants including those on the spectrum are simply not being allowed to reach their full employment potential due to characteristics that they have little control over.
Blockers and barriers
Currently, job interviews can act as a barrier for those who struggle with nonverbal communication skills such as eye contact, facial expressions and body language, all of which are traits related to poor performance in job interviews. Furthermore, many of those on the spectrum are also diagnosed with dyspraxia which often leads to issues with verbal communication. These communication issues are often exacerbated when individuals are put under stress. As someone with dyspraxia, when I am in a relaxed setting I can communicate clearly to the extent that most people would not recognise I have a speech disorder but when under pressure, I often mispronounce words and express them in a disorganised fashion.
In recent times many employers have signed up for the Disability Confident Scheme, which has the goal of promoting individuals with disabilities to obtain work. However, when job hunting, I found that many employers still judged the candidate’s competency for the role largely based on the interviews. In these interviews, where I disclosed my disabilities to the interviewer, it was often assumed that my disability would not be a deciding factor on whether I got the role and that ‘no applicants are discriminated against and everyone is judged equally based on their success during the interview’. However, I have to question how employers can claim to be Disability Confident, yet reject candidates based on a poor interview performance, which can be attributed to their disabilities – it feels like they just parrot empty statements of non-discrimination.
The issues relating to Autism and poor interview performance could partly explain why only 22% of Autistic adults find themselves in any kind of employment, according to the Office for National Statistics. This rate is far lower than the 80% for non-disabled people, and even lower than the 50% employment figure for disabled people in general (ONS, 2020). These figures are alarming as it suggests that society is failing to utilise the skills Autistic individuals have, and existing structures are preventing people from entering the work force.
Change is coming
So, what is being done by companies to improve the recruitment of Autistic individuals? At a Danish social innovation company, Autistic employees are the norm and they report that their Autistic IT consultants were 10% more efficient at checking software codes for errors than their non-Autistic counterparts. Schemes such as this provide an opportunity for Autistic people to get the sense of purpose and satisfaction that work can provide. Therefore, local initiatives to promote schemes such as this should be encouraged by funding from philanthropic organisations, and both local and national governments.
Another solution can be seen by SAP which launched its Autism works program in 2013 to ensure that 1% of its workforce would comprise individuals with Autism by 2020. SAP uses a longer screening and interview process which allows the recruitment team to fully understand the candidates and their preferences so the interview process can be tailored. SAP also puts emphasis on skills-based assessments where recruiters evaluate candidates based on skills such as teamwork and their ability to follow instructions. Each candidate is given a mentor and once they are hired their mentor becomes their job coach whose duty is to ensure they are settled into their new role. This scheme has so far hired more than 100 employees on the spectrum in 18 roles.
Companies such as these show that the traditional interview process is not the only model for selection, and companies such as SAP have incorporated many tasks over a prolonged period to examine the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses over a wide range of tasks. Although this scheme has been implemented in programs designed to hire Autistic adults there is no reason these interview models cannot be implemented for the Neurotypical population as well, which will allow potential employers to more fairly examine skills and competencies.
What else can be done?
Overall, I believe with a change in how employers view the prospect of hiring an Autistic employee, properly funded schemes and programs to promote such employment, and diversifying the tasks undertaken in the interview setting, have the potential to aid Autistic job seekers in obtaining work and reduce the employment gap. Furthermore, I believe the implementation of skills-based assessments into the interview process can also allow for a fairer way for all candidates to be assessed, whether they are neurodiverse or neurotypical.
Furthermore, the recent Kickstart Scheme is a government-funded scheme to create more jobs for 18 to 24-year-olds, which has so far provided more than 20,000 new jobs for young people with over 200,000 being approved by the government. This shows the great effect targeting an employment scheme for a certain demographic can have if the incentives and support to employers are provided.
Therefore, I recommend that either within the kickstart scheme or in a separate scheme, exclusive roles should be created for Autistic and other neurodiverse candidates, with incentives provided by the national government to help solve the large-scale unemployment among Autistic adults. Providing Autistic adults with work will also help remove the stigma currently surrounding those on the spectrum and employment by showing employers that with adequate support an the right opportunities Autistic individuals can prosper in a professional environment. Having more employers seeing the benefits of having employees on the spectrum will also likely encourage them to change their interview practices to seek out further talent on the spectrum.