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Hire Autistic People

What employers need to understand about neurodivergent interview styles.

Key points

  • In 2017, 83% of autistic adults were unemployed.
  • A study of hiring agents found negative beliefs about autistic people, such as that they may be "slow."
  • By learning about autistic communication patterns, employers can seek to overcome these disparities.

"I've gotten every job I've interviewed for."

I stared in awe at my friend. Every one? 100 percent. That's amazing.

I asked her to tell me more, bending to her wisdom. Bring your resume? Check. Research the company? Double checked. Yet, my interview success rate had been much lower, more like 7 percent, even for the entry-level positions I was interviewing for at the time. I would genuinely psych myself up for the meeting and do my best to show I'd be a committed employee.

Yet, my presentation would be awkward. I'd get thrown off by the questions. I wasn't getting calls back.

Unfortunately, my experience as a neurodivergent interviewee is not uncommon. In 2017, 83 percent of autistic adults were unemployed (Mai, 2019), a number high even when compared to individuals with other disabilities.

Yet, neurodivergent people can make excellent employees. A different view of the world naturally lends itself to innovative and creative thinking. Neurodivergent traits like hyperfocus, attention to detail, an affinity for pattern recognition, and deep interests (sometimes called "perseverations") are treasures in many work pursuits.

In his book, A Hidden Force: Unlocking the Potential of Neurodiversity at Work, author Ed Thompson explores the many advantages of hiring neurodivergent people. In particular, he highlights success stories of neuro-inclusive companies that have seen benefits across the board in areas ranging from attendance to company morale.

To share those strengths, the candidate must make it through the interview. Research shows that even in a simulation where "interviewers" were shown clips of autistic and neurotypical people, participants were more likely to "hire" the neurotypical person (Flower et al., 2021).

The candidate could disclose their neurodivergent status. Still, the stigma around neurodiversity exists. A study of hiring agents found negative attitudes and beliefs about autistic people, such as that they may be "slow," more likely to miss work, and that they could create an unsafe work environment despite evidence to the contrary (Mai, 2019).

For these reasons, many candidates do not disclose.

Neurodivergent communication patterns are often misunderstood as rude, inattentive, or even deceptive by unfamiliar interviewers. Hiding these patterns through "masking" can make it more difficult for the job candidate to focus on the interview and display their full strengths.

Hiring managers should educate themselves on how neurodivergent people may present in an interview to move toward inclusion and take advantage of the returns in hiring neurodivergent people.

What follows are eight common communication patterns among neurodivergent people in interviews and how interviewers can respond appropriately.

1. Lack of Eye Contact

What it Might Look Like

In American culture, we often associate lack of eye contact with lying, inattention, and disrespect.

What it Often Means

Autistic people often report that focusing is easier when not making eye contact. Decreased or "atypical" eye contact is common (Senju and Johnson, 2009). An autistic person not making eye contact may be trying their best to focus on the interview.

What Interviewers Can Do

Almost any interview can be done without consistent eye contact. Do not force eye contact or point it out.

2. Literal Interpretation

What it Might Look Like

Literal thinking is a hallmark of autism. An autistic candidate might take a comment or question literally. Without knowledge, the response generated could appear sarcastic.

What it Often Means

Imagine trying to decode a riddle. It could take a moment to catch on. When a neurodivergent person takes a comment or question literally, they are likely trying to piece together and make sense of something that, at face value, is somewhat confusing.

What Interviewers Can Do

Rephrase the question. Avoid unnecessary nonliteral language such as metaphors or sarcasm.

3. Difficulty With Demand Recall

What it Might Look Like

Demand recall is a term for pulling up information out of the blue. Interview questions that ask participants to name specific incidents, such as, "Tell me about a time you solved a difficult problem," rely on demand recall. While after the fact, a neurodivergent candidate may be able to list several, research shows that this kind of memory is often impaired in autistic individuals (Desaunay et al., 2020).

In the interview, this might look like long pauses. The interviewer might falsely assume that the candidate cannot answer the question.

What it Often Means

The interviewer might be overwhelmed by a lot of information going through their mind. The stress of the situation can make this worse.

What Interviewers Can Do

Let the candidate know that they are welcome to take their time when answering questions. Do not hold pauses of this kind against them. Instead of questions relying on demand recall, try a more specific question such as "One common problem in this workplace is X; how would you solve that?"

4. Nervous Tics and Twitches

What it Might Look Like

Tics and twitches are common among neurodivergent people. Movements like excessive eye blinking, facial tics, and sounds are common tics. An uninformed interviewer may be caught off-guard by these actions or mistake them for movement problems originating from substance use.

What it Often Means

Tics are most common when someone is nervous. Tics are also a trait of many neurodivergences like Tourette syndrome.

What Interviewers Can Do

Ignore the tics. Paying attention to tics will only distract from the interview. The self-consciousness that can come about as a result will likely only result in worsened tics.

5. Specialized Interests

What it Might Look Like

Many neurodivergent people have strong interests in one or a few areas. This might look like the same topic repeatedly appearing in an interview.

What it Often Means

This person has a true passion for this area of interest. This could be an asset to the workplace.

What Interviewers Can Do

Seek to understand the interviewer's specialized interest and how it could contribute positively to the job.

6. Difficulty Balancing Tasks and Social Aspects of an Interview

What it Might Look Like

Interviews typically involve a mix of social and work-related tasks. This can confuse some neurodivergent people who might become overly focused on one or the other. They may come across as cold or uninterested in the social piece.

What it Often Means

The interviewer is trying to maintain focus on the interview. They are likely interested in the social aspects. However, balancing both in this high-stress situation could be difficult. They may be doing their best to choose one or the other.

What Interviewers Can Do

Don't take it personally. Be patient. Give clear directions.

7. Varying or Monotone Voice Tone or Volume

What it Might Look Like

Autistic individuals often have less awareness of their tone of voice or volume. Their emotional state may impact these more or, on the contrary, be monotone. In an interview, voice tone or volume might change more or less often than others.

What it Often Means

The candidate is simply trying to communicate

What Interviewers Can Do

Please pay attention to the content of what the interviewer is saying over how they are saying it.

8. Being Very Honest

What it Might Look Like

Autistic individuals will often answer questions honestly, which might mean breaking certain social norms. They may speak candidly about their shortcomings in a way that most would not. For example, if asked to rate their confidence on a 1-10 scale, a person might rate "5" (average), envisioning that this would fall right in the middle of the bell curve.

At the same time, a neurotypical candidate might be more likely to give a higher number, anticipating that this is the desired response.

What it Often Means

This person values honesty. They are acting on their values.

What Interviewers Can Do

You can appreciate the honesty.


Desaunay, P., Briant, A. R., Bowler, D. M., Ring, M., Gérardin, P., Baleyte, J. M., & Guillery-Girard, B. (2020). Memory in autism spectrum disorder: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Psychological Bulletin, 146(5), 377.

Flower, R. L., Dickens, L. M., & Hedley, D. (2021). Barriers to employment: Raters' perceptions of male autistic and non-autistic candidates during a simulated job interview and the impact of diagnostic disclosure. Autism in Adulthood, 3(4), 300–309.

Iacomini, S., Vascelli, L., Berardo, F., Cavallini, F., & Dipace, A. (2022). Self-employment and Entrepreneurship for Youngs and Adults with Neurodevelopmental or Psychiatric Disorders: a Systematic Review. Journal of Clinical & Developmental Psychology.

Krzeminska, A., Austin, R. D., Bruyère, S. M., & Hedley, D. (2019). The advantages and challenges of neurodiversity employment in organizations. Journal of Management & Organization, 25(4), 453-463.

Mai, A. M. (2019). Hiring agents’ beliefs: A barrier to employment of autistics. SAGE Open, 9(3), 2158244019862725.

Senju, A., & Johnson, M. H. (2009). Atypical eye contact in autism: models, mechanisms and development. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 33(8), 1204-1214.

Thompson, E. (2023). A Hidden Force: Unlocking the Potential of Neurodiversity at Work. Fast Company Press.

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