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Neurodiversity Challenges in Job Interviews

Neurodiversity Challenges in Job Interviews

Neurodiversity in the workplace is an important topic that is currently getting a lot of discussion. As we strive to make the workforce more diverse, the unique strengths of candidates with neurodiversity are being recognized.

Unfortunately, the typical job interview format is not set up to be ideal for neurodiverse candidates. As a result, talented neurodiverse candidates may not do as well in the job interview, and therefore find it harder to land jobs, than their neurotypical counterparts.

We have had many requests to create some material that addresses this topic.

In addition to this blog post, we have also created specific lessons that walk neurodiverse candidates through the job interview process, focusing on the common challenges they face and how to overcome them.

Job Interview Challenges of Neurodiversity

The traditional job interview format assumes that everyone thinks and processes information the same way.

Candidates are evaluated based on certain soft skills and behaviors that can be difficult for those on the neurodiversity spectrum.

As a career coach, I have worked with many clients on the spectrum over the years.

I have seen how they struggled with aspects of the “standard” job interview process.

I have also seen these same clients go on to ace job interviews and advance in their careers after learning to anticipate and overcome key obstacles.

Today I’m going to help you to do the same.

In this post, we’re going to talk about where challenges can arise and WHY.

In Part 2 and 3 of our Big Interview curriculum, we get into how to prepare for your next job interview to get better results, the most common job interview questions, why hiring managers ask them, and how to give strong answers.

(Learn more about how to get access to our full video curriculum, including practice tools and mock interviews.)

Every individual is different.

In some cases, there are simple steps you can take in your preparation that will make a big difference.

However, not everyone who identifies as “on the spectrum” deals with the same challenges.

That’s why we want to cover the most common challenges so you can understand which you could work on.

Neurodiversity Definition (And Other Terminology)

I have done a lot of research beyond my own experience with clients, interviewing experts, job seekers, and hiring managers.

However, I am by no means a medical expert on neurodiversity or autism spectrum disorder.

I am a job interview expert who has had the opportunity to work with and speak with a lot of neurodiverse job seekers.

I’m going to refer to candidates as “on the spectrum,” meaning those with autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

Some of the challenges will also apply to other neurodiverse individuals — neurodiversity is most commonly used in reference to ASD but also can apply to a wide range of learning and thinking differences.

Some of these challenges also come up for neurotypical job seekers.

I’m defining neurotypical here to mean those who think, perceive, and behave in ways that are considered to be “typical” by the general population.

Understanding Neurotypical Interviewers

Many of your interviewers will likely be neurotypical — and they often won’t know much about neurodiversity or what it means in the context of an interview.

That’s where the disconnect can happen.

For example, let’s say you’re a great candidate with all of the right technical skills. Maybe you do great with the technical assessments, for instance.

But when it’s time to sit down with the hiring manager to talk about yourself and demonstrate your people skills, that’s when problems arise.

Your different style of communicating is misinterpreted. The hiring manager judges your lack of eye contact, difficulty with small talk, and long rambling answers as negatives.

They’re judging you based on neurotypical standards. So even though you’d be great in the job, you get passed over for someone who interviewed better.

The good news is that just a bit of preparation and practice can make a big difference.

Interviewing On The Neurodiversity Spectrum

Neurodiversity is all about different ways of thinking and processing.

So let’s talk about which of these differences tend to lead to problems in job interviews.

You may relate to all of them or only some. You probably are already somewhat familiar with many of these differences.

I’m taking the time to go through these to show you how they connect with the job interview.

The idea is to give you more insight into what you may need to work on.

Based on my experience with clients and my research, I think the following common tendencies of people with autism spectrum disorder lead to the biggest issues with job interviews.


1. Getting distracted or overwhelmed

This is a big one. Some on the spectrum have difficulty focusing on more than one thing at a time.

Others have issues with sensory processing and may be overly bothered by light, noise, and other stimuli.

This can lead to distraction and confusion and anxiety — especially in a busy office environment or with an interviewer firing multiple questions at once.

It’s very difficult to come up with great answers and connect with your interviewer when you’re overwhelmed.

2. Talking too much

Another big one. Most individuals on the spectrum have extensive knowledge about the topics that interest them. This can lead to long, rambling answers with way too much detail.

This can also result from some difficulty in understanding the other person’s perspective. It can be hard to translate what exactly the interviewer is looking for, so you just launch into all of the details.

In a work scenario, more detail is often better.

In an interview, they usually want you to start with the big-picture.

So when they ask you to “tell me about a time you worked on a team,” they just want to hear that you can get along well with others.

They will zone out if you launch into a 5-minute story about a work project and everything involved in it.

3. Avoiding eye contact

A defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder is having difficulty in making or maintaining eye contact.

For some, eye contact even causes uncomfortable anxiety.

This can lead to miscommunication if an interviewer is looking for eye contact as a sign of respect and connection.

4. Taking things too literally

Those on the spectrum tend to be very literal and have trouble interpreting expressions with non-literal meaning — for example, “up in the air” meaning undetermined or unknown.

This comes up a lot in interviews!

For example, with the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” one of my clients on the spectrum answered by talking about moving to a different country and what kind of house he would have.

What the employer was actually looking for were some general career goals.

This also comes up with yes or no questions. Interviewers ask them with the expectation you will elaborate on the “how” and the “why”. Candidates on the spectrum just give a “yes” or a “no”.

5. Speaking the truth with no filter

Honesty is generally a great quality, but it can hurt you in interviews.

Those on the spectrum rarely think about how to make things sound good and may be honest to a fault.

They may blurt out something negative or just overly candid about themselves or their past experience.

They may say something too blunt or negative about the job they’re interviewing for.

Meanwhile, a lot of neurotypical candidates know how to put the right spin on their strengths and goals.

6. Difficulty with tone/affect

Sometimes candidates on the spectrum have trouble reading tone, which can lead to misinterpreting questions or awkwardness.

People with ASD often speak without much tone, sometimes even in a monotone. This can come across as uninterested or low-energy. Especially if it’s combined with a lack of emotion, facial expression, and body language.

7. Difficulty reading social cues

Social cues are easily missed at times. For example, a person on the spectrum may just keep on talking when the interviewer shows clear signs of zoning out.

Or they may misinterpret sarcasm or other attempts at humor or small talk.

This can lead to awkwardness or just limited ability to make a connection.

How to Succeed in Interviews as a

Neurodiverse Candidate

You can see how the traditional job interview can be much more difficult for candidates on the spectrum.

There are so many factors that can easily distract you from being able to perform well, especially considering that hiring managers will judge you based on standards for neurotypical candidates.

More interviewers are becoming aware of the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace and have adapted their interview approach. For example, by providing questions to candidates in advance.

However, most interviews are still conducted based on assuming everyone is neurotypical.

That’s why we created these guidelines for how to prepare for interviews in a way that helps you show your strengths and work around any weaknesses.

This is not to say you should try to change who you are or how you think.

As a candidate on the spectrum, you bring a lot of incredible strengths to the table.

We just want to teach you how to “hack” the job interview process and unlock the best opportunities.

Ready to Get Access to the Full Curriculum?

To watch Parts 2 & 3 of our in-depth curriculum on Neurodiversity Challenges in Job Interviews and to access all of our job interview training, sign-up for Big Interview!
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Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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