Interviewing autistic candidates

With planning, accommodations, the right questions, and a bit of understanding, you will be more able to determine if a candidate is the right person for your job.

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Interview skills

Interviews rely heavily on social and communication skills. These are skills that many people with autism find difficult.

In a job interview, a candidate on the autism spectrum might have problems with:​

  • understanding body language
  • maintaining appropriate eye contact ​
  • starting, maintaining, and finishing conversations​
  • judging how much information to give – especially if questions are open ​
  • thinking in abstract ways
  • responding to ‘what if?’ scenarios ​
  • varying their tone of voice
  • finding the appropriate level of formality​

Autistic people can bring diverse and creative skillsets to your workplace. They can be loyal, reliable, and trustworthy employees.​

With planning, accommodations, the right questions, and a bit of understanding, you will be more able to determine if a candidate who is on the autism spectrum is the right person for your job.

Planning the interview

Give the candidate written instructions

Give the candidate clear written instructions about:

  • where the interview will be held
  • what time the interview will be held
  • how long the interview will take
  • the format of the interview
  • who will be conducting the  interview (for example, a panel interview with three interviewers)

You can also help the candidate to reduce their anxiety before the interview by providing things like a photo of the building, a map of the address, or a decription of what style of clothes you expect the candidate to wear to the interview.​

Ask the candidate what they need

You should ask the candidate if they need any accommodations during the interview.  ​

You can offer to hold the interview on the phone or in a video meeting.

You can offer to give the candidate they interview questions before the interview so they can prepare their responses. This removes the ‘pop quiz’ element that makes interviewing difficult for some autistic people.

You can ask the candidate if they would like to bring a supporter to the interview. The supporter’s role is to rephrase questions and help the autistic person to understand what the interviewer wants. Many autistic people perform better in job interviews if they have a supporter with them.

Interview formats and settings

Formats

If you are going to use a specific interview method, such as STAR (situation, task, action, result), explain it clearly.

Group interviews can be overwhelming for autistic people. You are more likely to get good responses if you interview the candidate by themself.

Settings

Consider any potential environmental sensory issues in your chosen interview room. These might include temperature, noise, and light.

Holding the interview

Accept differences in communication

An autistic candidate may interpret language literally. For example, if you ask an autistic person ‘how did you find your last job?’, they may answer ‘I looked at a map’.​

Some autistic people have a style of communication that can come across blunt or arrogant. When this happens, their intention is usually to communicate facts. ​

The concept of ‘selling’ themselves is foreign to many people with autism. They tend to simply tell the truth.​

Eye contact may be fleeting or prolonged, depending on the individual.​

Ask clear questions

Do not ask hypothetical, ambiguous, or abstract questions.​

Think about the words in a question. Is there assumed knowledge in your wording?

Ask closed questions and avoid open questions. ​

Here are some examples of question formats you can use:

Traditional interview questions  

  • Tell me about yourself.​  
  • What are your strengths?​ ​  
  • Do you have any weaknesses?​  
  • Why do you want to work here?​   ​

Autism inclusive interview questions​

  • Can you tell me about your previous work experience?​
  • Can you tell me what you did well or enjoyed in your last role? ​
  • Are there any areas that you may need support with, in the workplace?​
  • Can you tell me what you know about (the organisation) and why it might be somewhere you would like to work?​

Interviewing an autistic jobseeker – 12 minutes

The unemployment and underemployment of capable autistic employees can be due to the recruitment and selection process. Traditional recruitment processes negatively impede candidates on the spectrum as they can often struggle to understand unspoken communication and social norms. This training is designed to help recruiters use more autism friendly hiring and communication techniques when interviewing an autistic jobseeker. Providing small adjustments, such as a low sensory interview environment, clear and concise instructions, and avoiding open-ended questions ensure an autistic candidate can adequately represent themselves in an interview.

Help the candidate to understand what you want

Check that the candidate has understood your question, and provide clarification if they need it.​​

Tell the candidate what information you are looking for. For example, you can say ‘what I am looking for with this question is your experience doing…’

Offer to rephrase or repeat questions.​​

Give encouragement and reassurance. Avoid being condescending.

If the candidate is talking too much, let them know in a supportive way. They might find it hard to judge how much information you need. ​

Be prepared to prompt the candidate in order to get enough information. Let them know when you have heard enough relevant information.​

Be aware of the candidate’s responses to being interviewed

  • Make sure you are on time. Being late may increase the candidate’s anxiety levels.​

If you think the candidate is experiencing difficulties with anxiety, offer them a break. A break might also let the candidate gather their thoughts.​

Do not let sensory sensitivities, anxiety, or unusual stims negatively impact your impression of the individual. ​

Summary

Some common interview practices can rule out autistic candidates. This is a bad outcome for both the autistic jobseekers and employers.​

You can improve the situation by:

  • Giving candidates clear instructions. ​
  • Asking candidates what they need.
  • Creating the right interview setting.
  • Understanding differences in communication.
  • Asking the right kinds of questions.
  • Helping candidates to understand what you want.
  • Being aware of how candidates might respond to being interviewed.

Helpful links 

National Autistic Society UK have some great videos on interviews:  

References  

Whetzel, M. (n.d.) INTERVIEWING TIPS FOR APPLICANTS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER (ASD). Job Accommodation Network Consultant’s Corner: Volume 10 Issue 01.

Cole, K. (2016, August 15) A 5-STEP GUIDE TO HELP INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM PREPARE FOR A JOB INTERVIEW. University of Utah, Department of Educational Psychology.

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