Interviewing Candidates with Autism/IDD

By: Taryn Oesch – 02/01/2018

So you’ve decided to include candidates with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) in your search for a new position at your company. Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step toward becoming a more inclusive and successful business. You probably are ready to learn about the accommodations you’ll need to put into place once you’ve hired your new employee, but have you figured out what supports you’ll need to put in place to make sure the hiring process is fair and effective for both you and the candidate?

The interview process is a significant barrier to employment for many adults with autism/IDD. Traditional interviews depend on understanding social cues and the unstated “rules” of an interview (make eye contact, shake hands, speak in a professional cadence and tone of voice, etc.). Unfortunately, many adults with autism/IDD – who would make successful employees, once hired – have difficulty with these skills.

Fortunately, there are several simple but effective accommodations you can make in order to have an interview where the candidate can put his or her best self forward, and you can get a good sense of the person you are considering hiring.

First of all, communicate openly with the candidate and their advocate or job coach, if they have one. Ask them what accommodations they’ll need in the interview and what information you need to know to have a good conversation. (But make sure you know what you’re not allowed to ask under the Americans with Disabilities Act.) Be clear about what they should expect in the interview (and then don’t deviate from the plan unless you have to).

Alter your communication expectations. Know that a lack of eye contact, for example, doesn’t mean a lack of respect or interest. Speak directly and clearly, without metaphors or figurative language that could be easily misunderstood. If the candidate doesn’t understand a question, rephrase it. If the candidate brings an advocate or coach with them, don’t address questions to that person; address them to the candidate. Don’t make any assumptions, though; get to know the candidate as you would any other person during the interview.

Instead of, or in addition to, asking candidates to talk about their skills, ask them to demonstrate them. If, for example, you’re interviewing a candidate for a data management position, provide a spreadsheet with some exercises for them to complete. (This is a good practice for any candidate, not just those with autism/IDD.)

These are just a few of the ways you can make sure that the interview process is successful for you and the candidate, regardless of ability level. To learn more, check out The Power of the Dream’s inclusive employment program.