3 top tips to help attract and retain autistic talent

A plastic t-rex with noise cancelling headphones on in front of a disco ball to showcase the need to attract and retain autistic talent

Autistic unemployment is high worldwide. In the UK fewer than 3 in 10 autistic adults are in work despite many actively job seeking and interviewing for roles. Doing the work to attract and retain autistic talent in your workplace benefits not just your business interests now and in the future, but your workforce as a whole. Here are some top tips to start making a real impact today.

3 top tips to help attract and retain autistic talent

  1. Write inclusive job descriptions focus just on the skills needed.
  2. Share interview questions with all your candidates to help them prepare.
  3. Challenge your work culture to be more transparent and inclusive.

Ambitious about Autism is a charity dedicated to supporting autistic children and young people by championing their rights and creating opportunities. Salt UK have been fundraising throughout 2023 to support their important services – here’s how to support their work.

In this expert blog, their Progamme Manager Nicole Curtin explains how employers can support and attract neurodivergent talent, and play their part in reducing autistic unemployment. She explains why it’s so crucial businesses embrace the neurodivergent future now – making real changes to their hiring processes and working environments to – before they get left behind. Read her top tips below, her insights into the business benefits of neuroinclusion or tune in to Creating Futures by Salt podcast to hear her full interview.

The importance of hiring inclusively of autistic talent

If we lived and existed in a utopian society, we wouldn’t have to prepare anyone for anything. because it would just be set up to work for everyone equally. But we are very aware, particularly in our organization, that that’s not the case.

Ambitious about Autism is a charity dedicated to supporting autistic children and young people by championing their rights and creating opportunities. Our Employ Autism Programme, which helps place autistic candidates in companies, is about changing the system and not the individuals we work with. So, whilst we do support autistic people to help them go in for interviews and understand work environments, we are not trying to get them to change who they are to fit into the current systems. I don’t think the onus to change should ever be on the individual.

Employers hold the power in the relationship and that should never be forgotten. You can make changes and shape that environment to work better for neurodivergent and neurotypical people alike.

Here is how to challenge your work environments to be more inclusive, to attract and retain neurodivergent talent, support your whole workforce, and prepare for a neurodivergent future.

1. Write inclusive job descriptions focus just on the skills needed.

The first point of contact that a lot of candidates are going to have with you is through a job description. So, this needs to be clear and to the point. You need to remove ambiguous language and pages-long lists of tasks and personal attributes.

A job description should give the candidate a good understanding of what the job will require them to do and what the actual skills are that they need to have to complete the role.

So, if you say that I need to be a team player, what do you mean by that? Are we going out onto the football pitch every lunchtime? Or do I need to make sure that I need to complete my bit of the project on time so that my colleague can do theirs? The latter is really more about time management than being a team player – which shows how the language used in a job specification can be confusing.

Another pet peeve of mine is companies saying that they would like you to know how to use a particular software but then add that training will be provided. If you can provide training, then it’s irrelevant. If you’re going to train me regardless, then it doesn’t need to be said.

All of this unnecessary stuff that gets added in could be cleared out of the way to make your job description really clear and easy to understand.

Top tip: show your job description to someone who doesn’t work with you!
When you write a job description, show it to someone else who does not work in your company. Get them to sense check it. Go home and ask a family member: do you understand what I’m asking this person to do? Aside from technical skills, it should be easy to read and understand.

2. Share interview questions with all your candidates to help them prepare.

A key area to mention to help employers support autistic candidates is interview questions. This is something that comes up time and time again. It’s quite a hot topic, certainly in my world.

I think that everyone can agree that an interview is a tough enough environment for anyone. Interviews are particularly stressful for autistic candidates. Letting them know specifically what the interview will entail, who will be interviewing them, where the interview will take place and sharing the questions in advance can really help them manage anxiety and stress around interviewing for jobs.

Top tip: share interview questions with all candidates in advance
This is a great policy some companies have adopted not just for neurodivergent candidates, but in general. Interviews are better for everyone when candidates can prepare.

If your argument is that it isn’t fair to the other candidates to share interview questions only with some, then share them with everyone! I received the interview questions for Salt’s podcast in advance and my answers are much more coherent as a result. I can prevent myself from rambling, which is something that I would definitely be doing if I wasn’t aware of what I’d be asked. It doesn’t mean that I lack knowledge, or I don’t have valuable experience to share, but it does mean that I can focus on those key points and remember all of my statistics. It made me less nervous as I knew what to expect.

You should be setting up your candidates to succeed, not trying to trip them up, which will make a far more positive experience for both the candidate and the interviewer.

3. Challenge your work culture to be more transparent and inclusive.

I think it’s really great that employers want to hire more autistic staff, but I want to also make sure that they’re setting those people up for success.

I don’t want to send someone into battle.

I can prepare them as much as possible, but I really need companies to be looking internally at what they can be doing before they’re inviting autistic and neurodivergent people in and making sure that it’s going to be a welcoming environment.

Top tip: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
When it comes to making your own workplace more inclusive, start with who you know: your own employees. They can help identify challenges and opportunities to improve on.

Looking at your current staff base, try answering some of these questions as a starting point:

  • Are there neurodivergent staff networks within your company?
  • Do you know how many of your current employees are neurodivergent or autistic?
  • Are there specific groups or lived experience networks for those with different neurodivergent conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia?
  • Are there processes, policies and supports in place already for autistic staff?
  • Does the workplace culture need to change?

Top tip: challenge unwritten rules in your workplace
There are just so many written and unwritten rules in many work environments, which are completely unnecessary and need to be challenged. They don’t really exist for any purpose other than because that’s the way it’s always been.

The example that I always use is birthdays because it’s something that people are all familiar with. What do you do when it’s someone’s birthday?

Every company that I’ve worked for does something different. As a candidate, you’ll be asking yourself why do you want to know when it’s going to be my birthday? Are you going to jump out from behind a bush with a cake if it’s my birthday? Do you celebrate birthdays or not at all? Will I have to give a pound for somebody’s card?

It’s a really basic example, but you can see how that could become really misunderstood or actually cause someone quite a lot of anxiety if their birthday is soon after their start date!

You can apply this lens to so many other things in the workplace: how meetings happen, how authority works, how information gets cascaded from executive leadership, how your leadership interacts with your function at the company… You know, can I expect my CEO to pop up over my shoulder every once in a while? Or am I never going to see them?

These rules change across different workplaces – and especially if you’ve not had the experience of working in a similar environment before, this can be really stressful. For autistic candidates, not having prior experience is a real possibility, and they can experience high levels of anxiety and struggle to find where they fit in and how they should behave.

Let’s make it a bit easier for everyone. Let’s not have these undercurrents in situations where you’re supposed to be guessing what is happening. Just let people know.

Do your part as a business with Ambitious about Autism

The future is neurodivergent. Numbers of diagnoses are increasing – and many go undiagnosed. A supportive, inclusive workplace and hiring process gives you a competitive advantage now and in the future, better supporting your whole workforce and helping you to attract neurodivergent talent who know they’ll be supported at your company. Read more about the business benefits.

How to get involved with Ambitious about Autism

Want to learn more? Have any questions? You’re also welcome to reach out to me on LinkedIn! I’m always happy to have a chat and go over anything employment, autism related and probably lots of other things as well!

“Autistic unemployment is a worldwide issue, and unchecked biases mean employers miss out on outstanding talent. This is an issue I am dedicated to personally – and I’ve worked closely with Ambitious about Autism as Salt UK’s charity partner over 2023 to raise funds and awareness. As part of Salt’s mission to Create Futures, experts including myself help our clients reach further with their recruitment, accessing untapped talent pools globally and providing opportunities to Neurodiverse candidates with value to add.”
Richard Norris
Managing Director of Salt UK

Hiring? Salt connects you to outstanding top talent worldwide

If you’re interested in hearing about how Salt’s top talent recruitment experts around the world can help with your hiring right now, get in touch. Click below to contact the closest Salt team to you!

Keep up with Salt’s top talent job market insights and hiring advice! You can keep in the loop by following us on. LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify

Hiring? Salt connects you to outstanding top talent worldwide

If you’re interested in hearing about how Salt’s top talent recruitment experts around the world can help with your hiring right now, get in touch. Click below to contact the closest Salt team to you!

Keep up with Salt’s top talent job market insights and hiring advice! You can keep in the loop by following us on. LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify

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