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Benedetta Doro offers some advice for neurodivergent candidates needing support and encouragement through the recruitment process.
Here at workingmums.co.uk one of our core beliefs is that work should be accessible to anyone and no one should be excluded from a job because of their gender, race, disability, age, class or sexuality. Last March, we held a roundtable to bring employers together to discuss best practice in recruiting for and managing neurodiverse teams.
We wrote about the benefits and opportunities of hiring neurodivergent employees, and now we are addressing some of the fears neurodivergent candidates might have when applying for a job.
It is important to remember that neurodiversity encompasses different areas, from autism and dyspraxia to ADHD and dyslexia, and that it affects different people in different ways. What follows is general advice and examples for neurodivergent candidates.
Stereotypes and our society’s tendency to categorise people and their worth based on the way they look, act or communicate might lead you to think that you will only be judged based on your neurodiversity. However, it is important to remember all the skills and experience you have to offer.
Take this opportunity to show off your skills and the reasons why you think you are the right candidate.
Sometimes standing out is not a bad thing after all… The chances of you having tried to be “normal” and fitting in are high, but offering a different approach to tasks and problem-solving could be what will land you the job you are going for. Do not apologise for who you are – everyone is different and it’s actually that difference that can make a company thrive. Research the companies you are applying for to see what their approach to diversity and inclusion is so that you know that they will value the different perspective you bring.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and it is likely that your neurodiversity also comes with certain advantages which a “neurotypical” person might not have. So, use the benefits of your neurodiversity to your advantage, as well as showcasing them as an additional benefit, instead of hiding them for fear of being judged.
Being aware of yourself and of your skills can also help you to find the job that suits you best. For example, some of the common strengths people with ADHD have are hyper-focus which allows them to be super efficient when working on tasks of interest, creativity which helps to spark original ideas, enthusiasm and innovation. Autistic employees might have a stronger attention to detail and higher retention of a broader range of information. They tend to be logical thinkers and work well following rules and sequences which means that a certain structure can benefit them.
Dyslexic people are often creative and tend to think outside the box, their spatial awareness and pattern recognition allows them to design graphics and structure things in ways others might not consider. They are also good entrepreneurs and managers due to their ability to consider the bigger picture. Soft skills such as active listening and empathy are big strengths of dyspraxics. They can also be really good at problem solving and creating strategies to overcome particular challenges.
It is also important to be aware of those factors which might inhibit your work so that you are not always having to fight against them. This will help to preserve your physical and mental wellbeing. Even though it is good to push yourself outside of your comfort zone a bit, you do not want to burn out after a week of work.
Knowing your skills and limits also means making sure that you feel comfortable in your workplace, with your tasks and whether you require anything to be changed or added into your workday. Any reasonable adjustment you might need should be discussed before you sign the contract. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to ask certain questions during the interview, then when you are offered the job is the right time. Remember, that the interview is a two-way process, where you are also assessing whether you would like to work for that company.
Sometimes those changes might start right at the interview process, for instance, if you have a preferred approach to interviews, whether that is an in person, video or phone interview. Asking for any adjustment that might work better for you could help. If it is something that could affect your interview performance, asking about it when you are offered a job interview might be beneficial and would show the interviewer that you are focused on performing at your best.
Once you get the job, there may be other adjustments that could help you thrive. If the office environment is too noisy and disruptive, suggesting a quiet area or asking to work remotely when possible could help. Other changes could involve flexing the working day. Whatever the change is, it is a good idea to both be upfront about what you need and why this will benefit both you and the employer. This can also save some time in the back-and-forth with your manager.
If you do not feel comfortable negotiating on your own behalf, you could seek help through organisations like Exceptional Individuals. They carry out assessments in the workplace to identify solutions to the difficulties neurodivergent employees might face.
There will be employers who are less flexible and accommodating than others and the former might not be the right place for you to thrive. There is no shame in turning down a job offer because the environment or the people you would be working with do not seem the right fit.
Understandably, deciding whether or not to disclose your condition can be a difficult choice. Some of the benefits of disclosure highlighted by the National Autistic Society (NAS) are that employers are legally obliged to support you and make reasonable adjustments and it might lead to a better understanding between you and your employer and colleagues.
Although it can sometimes be tempting to hide your condition if you can due to the stigma or lack of understanding around neurodiversity, the job application process should be a moment for you to shine for all of your qualities and skills and, ultimately, being able to show your unique self will boost your confidence.
Trying to be someone different than who you are requires a lot of energy and it might prevent you from doing your job to your full potential. You should feel confident to be yourself and, if a company does not fully value you for who you are, there are many more out there who will.
On the other hand, there is a possibility that your workplace might lack the support and understanding you need. You may also fear prejudice and being treated or excluded unfairly because of your condition.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong decision, it is your choice and you should do what you are more comfortable with. Asking for advice from a friend or mentor could help. Also, even if you choose to disclose your neurodiversity, you can decide what information will be useful in the workplace and what to keep private.