Why neurodivergent people can find the recruitment process harrowing

For many neurodivergent people, the recruitment process is so unaligned with the individual’s skill set (and those required for the job), that they cannot even get their foot in the door. And that means employers may be missing out on the unique creativity and innovation neurodivergent people can bring to an organisation. By Rebecca Fairbrother.

 

Embracing neurodiversity in a workplace is all the rage these days. As a neurodivergent I’m glad, even if we are only in the ‘awareness’ phase of change.

Neurodivergents think differently from neurotypical ‘normal’ people. My flavour of neurodivergence is ADHD and autism, but there are a bunch of others such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.

While this newfound neurodiversity awareness is good stuff, it only helps neurodivergent people who are already employed, meaning they have gone through the hiring process and succeeded. But what about those of us for whom the hiring process is an insurmountable hurdle?

For many neurodivergents, the recruitment process is so unaligned with the individual’s skill set (and those required for the job), that they cannot even get their foot in the door.

A job interview typically involves the candidate having to describe the things they can do well, shrouded in a series of ‘trick’ questions, despite that the role itself tends not to require them to describe the things they can do well.

Furthermore, plenty of neurodivergents struggle with social cues, eye contact and fidgeting, among other traits that don’t fit with the accepted blueprint for professional behaviour.

I’ve become incredibly adept at masking my behavioural ‘problems’. But it takes so much energy and brain processing capacity. Coupled with the acute anxiety of expecting to fail or seem incompetent during the interview, I have very little brain power left to perform well.

During an interview I constantly evaluate my behaviour and adapt it, with varying degrees of success. One particular foible is going off-piste and delving into the minutiae of a small element of the question they wanted me to answer.

During an interview I constantly evaluate my behaviour and adapt it, with varying degrees of success. One particular foible is going off-piste and delving into the minutiae of a small element of the question they wanted me to answer.

Sometimes I catch this early and get back on track; other times I find myself far down a rabbit hole and realise I’ve forgotten the question entirely.

In an attempt to avoid the wandering answers, I’ve been working with a psychologist and a career coach on some scripts to answer interview questions, in a prescribed format designed for neurotypicals.

They are both magicians, able to turn my rant-like responses into curated and concise answers. However, in the interview I have to actually remember to employ this strategy, then identify the right script for the question, tailor the wording of the script to match the question, and all this without it sounding like it is indeed a script.

When faced with a question I don’t know how to answer, because I haven’t written a script for that one, I freeze. My mind goes blank, the anxiety of feeling incompetent rears its beautiful head, and panic ensues. (Not that anyone would know, however: the mask fits tight.)

If this was the only thing that was a struggle for me in an interview, I reckon I’d be able to work through it. But what terrifies me about job interviews is that I don’t believe I can demonstrate that I am capable of the things I know the interviewers will ask.

All I can think of is how bad I was in previous roles. I cannot conjure up accurate and meaningful examples of desirable behaviours that don’t sound trite or feel like fibs, even with pre-interview preparation and certainly not impromptu in an interview.

When I am able to shake off the trauma-inducing feelings of incompetence fuelled by traumatic experiences of feeling incompetent, I know I’d be able to do the job, if only I could show them.

Although my fellow neurodivergents and I might benefit from a change to the current hiring approach, once we are in the door, won’t we just be a nuisance to management and colleagues? We’ll need extra ‘support’ that will slow everything and everyone down, won’t we?

Yes, we will need help with things that neurotypicals take for granted. But the value we bring – our so-called ‘superpowers’ – far outweigh perceived negatives.

We see more than neurotypicals, we can process information faster, join seemingly disparate dots, creatively solve problems often seen as unsolvable by others, and draw remarkable conclusions.

We see more than neurotypicals, we can process information faster, join seemingly disparate dots, creatively solve problems often seen as unsolvable by others, and draw remarkable conclusions. This leads to more innovation, improved productivity, and better employee engagement. We are also curious, kind, energetic, and often funny as hell.

But to get more neurodivergent folks onboard, recruitment practices need to change. That must come from decision-makers at the top.

The hiring process must reflect the hallmarks of a workplace safe for neurodivergents: where genuine neurodiversity and inclusion is entrenched in the culture, instilled in everyday practices, and lived by leaders.

Rebecca Fairbrother lives in Wellington and is a financial services professional with a first-class honours degree in economics. She was diagnosed with ADHD 10 years ago and autism just a few months ago. 

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