Food For Thought

Changing Perspectives: Recruiting and Hiring Neurodiverse Talent

-By Paul Lachhu

Neurodiverse talent are not people who are anomalies outside the norm. They are just people who have brains that function differently. It is an inherent difference in neurological functioning that creates a pool of innovative talent that many (if not most) companies are overlooking. Our society has given labels to people who are neurodiverse in order to differentiate their differences, and sadly, all the terms are filed under “disabled.” They may have autism, dyslexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD or any of a number of other cognitive functioning differences compared to neurologically typical people. Yet, these are people who can bring incredible skills and new perspectives to the workplace, the very things employers desperately need and are searching for, to maintain competitive status.

People who are neurodiverse are not disabled. They are simply abled in a different way. They have a different way of looking at problems, which leads to new solutions. Many have excellent tech skills, are detail oriented, superior at analyzation and can solve complex problems. Whatever the neuro difference and skills, they can deliver new perspectives that people who are not neurodiverse could never bring to the table. Neurodiverse talent can help reduce the labor shortage and provide insights into untapped markets.

So why does neurodiverse talent have so much difficulty getting hired? Why are companies not recruiting and hiring them? For example, most autistic adults are underemployed or unemployed. One reason is that people who are neurodiverse may not interview well, because their mannerisms and ways of expression are not “normal.” The recruiter assesses job candidates based on standards that do not allow for different mannerisms, speech or perspectives. Perhaps the person shows excessive nervousness, talks too much, rocks, has unusual hand movements and has difficulty answering direct questions about skills. These behaviors fall outside of the behaviors typically assessed during recruitment and hiring meetings.

The strategy to attract and hire neurodiverse talent begins with changing the perspectives of organization leaders, because buy-in is critical. With buy-in, the traditional recruitment and hiring procedures then need adaptation. The usual practices are not applicable. For example, Ernst & Young recognized the traditional face-to-face interview may be too stressful for the autistic person who communicates differently. Interviews are conducted by phone instead, along with online skills assessments. After hiring neurodivergent people, the company experienced benefits the first month. The new hires identified process improvements that reduced technical training time in half, and the team learned how to automate processes faster.

So many neurodiverse people are not hired because they do not communicate or think in the traditional and expected ways. However, it is their very differences that make them valuable employees. It is not the neurodiverse people who must conform. It is the organization’s perspective that must change.