Neurodiverse Kiwis contribute significant value to the workforce, but structural problems within the interview process mean many can be locked out of the job market. Katie Harris speaks to those on the ground about how to improve interviews for neurodiverse Kiwis.
"Tell me what you're most proud of?"
For some, this may seem like a simple question to answer, but for many neurodiverse Kiwis its vagueness can throw off even the most well-prepped applicant.
Neurodiversity encompasses neurological differences including dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and Tourette's syndrome.
The neurodiverse can bring a wealth of creativity, hyperfocus and out-of-the-box thinking that many organisations need, but often interviews can pose as a barrier to success for some.
Autism NZ chief executive Dane Dougan told the Herald the whole recruitment process isn't set up for neurodiverse people.
Autism NZ employment facilitator Megan McNeice told the Herald a big roadblock for the neurodiverse in interviews is open-ended questions.
Neurotypical people, she said, find it easy to understand the intent behind the question, what to answer, and how much information to give.
But, particularly for autistic people, she said this can be difficult so breaking questions down and being specific is a better option,
It can also be a matter of rephrasing questions from things like tell me what your most proud of, to what's the work achievement in your last job that you think was the most successful, McNeice said.
Limiting the amount of people in the room can also be really helpful, she said, and creating more certainty, like sending instructions of how to find the room or a park beforehand, can be beneficial.
One of the barriers for getting autistic people into work is misconceptions, McNeice said, as many believe autistic people won't be able to interact with others.
She said overseas, some companies are giving autistic candidates the questions before the interview as that can help give them time to process.
"There are some government departments that are getting better about that, but I think they still think they're giving someone an unfair advantage, but they're not," she said.
ADHD New Zealand chairperson Darrin Bull said when it comes to interviews his first tip for applicants is to let their potential employer know about their neurodiversity.
"Especially with the stigma attached to neurodiversity, I've found people keep it quiet. Then in a year's time they're having performance discussions because they can never turn up to meetings on time. So that's the first thing, and if you didn't get the job because of your neurodiversity, then that's illegal."
But a lot of people are too nervous to tell their employers, which he said shows how far we have to go.
He believed allowing people to move during interviews, even on a swing chair will help, and one way he's done interviews in the past has been doing it while walking.
Because people with ADHD and autism can be black and white with interview answers, missing the nuance of questions, he said this can lead employers to thinking the person is arrogant, which isn't what they intended.
Workbridge is an organisation that helps connect workers with disabilities or health conditions to employers in Aotearoa. In the past financial year, 655 of the 2498 job seekers enrolled there were neurodiverse.
Chief executive Jonathon Mosen said they encourage "positive disclosure" if it comes up in an interview or in the workplace.
"To explain to their employer what their requirements might be, how they are neurodiverse, and discuss how that can be accommodated. Because often it can just be working in a slightly different way."
He said it's hard to be specific in relation to interviews because neurodiversity is such a broad term, but that's where his organisation can help.
"If we learn about the kind of environments where a candidate can be at their best and demonstrate their skills, we can work directly with the employer to facilitate that so the employer gains the best possible understanding of what the applicant can contribute.
"I would urge employers to be willing to create a process that lets a potential staff member demonstrate what value they would add."