As well as their personal strengths and talents, autistic people often demonstrate above-average skills in some or all of the following areas:
- High levels of concentration;
- Reliability, conscientiousness and persistence;
- Accuracy, close attention to detail and the ability to identify errors;
- Technical ability;
- Detailed factual knowledge; and
- Excellent memory.
However, autistic people can be disadvantaged when it comes to getting and keeping a job because of difficulties with social communication and interaction, and other people's lack of understanding. Autistic employees may need some simple support within the workplace, including adjustments to recruitment procedures.
The job advert
Job adverts should be objective about what abilities and experiences are genuinely essential for the job to be done well, and leave out any that are not. They should list essential skills and should be clearly presented in plain English, avoiding jargon and unnecessary information.
The job description and person specification
These often include skills that are not essential for the job to be carried out effectively. Do not include qualities such as 'excellent communication skills' or 'good team player' as default skills if they are not necessary.
It is not always obvious what information the applicant needs to provide. Include clear guidance on this, and ensure that there is a space for applicants to highlight any support or adjustments they may need at an interview.
The interview process
Interviews rely heavily on social and communication skills, so autistic candidates may struggle to 'sell themselves', even if they have all the right skills. In particular, they may face difficulties with:
- understanding body language and maintaining appropriate eye contact;
- knowing how to start and maintain conversations;
- judging how much information to give – especially if questions are open;
- thinking in abstract ways, or considering 'what if?' scenarios;
- varying their tone of voice and finding the appropriate level of formality.
Making reasonable adjustments during an interview is essential to enabling autistic candidates to portray their skills and competencies fully. If you need to interview candidates, be aware that asking each applicant exactly the same question does not always equate to equality of opportunity. Consider offering an adapted interview for autistic candidates, during which you might:
- Ask closed questions (eg 'Tell me about any jobs/voluntary work you have done in the last five years') and avoid open questions (eg 'Tell me about yourself'), where the candidate may not be able to judge what you want to know.
- Ask questions based on the candidates' real/past experiences, eg 'In your last job, did you do any filing or data input?'; 'What processes/procedures did you use to do this effectively?'
- Avoid hypothetical or abstract questions, eg 'How do you think you'll cope with working if there are lots of interruptions?' A better question might be 'Think back to your last job. Can you tell us how you coped with your work when people interrupted you?'
- The candidate may find it hard to judge how much information you need. Tell them if they are talking too much, eg 'Thank you, you’ve told us enough about that now, and I’d like to ask you another question.’
- Prompt the candidate in order to extract all the relevant information and gather sufficient information.
- Be aware that the candidate may interpret language literally eg asking, 'How did you find your last job?' may result in an answer of 'I looked on the map' or 'I looked in the paper, sent for the application form and completed it'.
- Be aware that eye contact may be fleeting or prolonged, depending on the individual.
Potential alternatives to the traditional interview:
- Inviting a supporter to accompany the person: Many autistic people perform much better in interviews if they have a supporter with them.
- Work trials: Some employers find that a work trial, or a period of work experience, is a better way of assessing skills than a formal interview.
This guidance is based on a web document from the National Autistic Society (NAS).