In my last post, we talked about better interviews from the position of the person being interviewed. So, naturally, today we have to talk about the person, people, and organizations conducting the interview. Because despite interviews being a common practice, it’s also something that is seldom critically analyzed. More often, it’s an unconscious and repeated process. Content around the subject is typically built around providing increasingly more clever interview questions to use, or ways of assessing candidates through a particular frame of reference. I’m going to take a different approach.

In this post, let’s thoroughly examine some of the problems with today’s common interview practice and propose some better paths forward.

Since this is a longer one, I’m including a table of contents.

Exclusions & Alternatives

This most obvious drawback of an unexamined process is that it can be exclusionary, by design. Many of the standard practices found in today’s interview process will be more difficult or possibly even prohibitive to neurodivergent people.

Situational Interview Questions: The Problem

Situational interview questions can be extremely challenging for people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or Autism. Due to the way different brains relate to time and memory, recalling a relevant or recent answer may be challenging. Additionally, when required to provide an answer on the spot, a neurodivergent person may have difficulty managing to relay the main points versus the gritty details, or may find themselves going off on tangents attempting to tell the story in real time.

Situational Interview Questions: A Simple Solution

A simple fix for this is to provide any situational questions to candidates ahead of time so that they have time to prepare a relevant and concise answer. Additionally, allowing candidates to bring notes with them, may allow them to feel more comfortable in the conversation rather than struggling to fight against their memory and recall issues.

Interview Expectations & Values: The Problem

Related to the use of situational interview questions and how it can disadvantage or exclude neurodivergent people, assessments of body language can likewise keep some candidates from even being considered.

For example, maintaining eye contact has become widely considered a mark of professionalism. And yet, it’s nothing more than an arbitrary social construct. To a neurotypical person, this often goes unquestioned, and any resistance to it is judged. To someone who is autistic, the experience of maintaining prolonged eye contact can feel, almost quite literally, like laser beams blasting a hole through the back of their head. It’s not nerves, it’s not disrespect, and it’s not a rebellious choice to shun social norms of professionalism. It’s a literal sensory experience of pain and discomfort.

You may have a candidate fidgeting or bouncing their leg through the entire interview. Are these nerves, or is this person “stimming” which is a common self-stimulatory behavior to self-regulate or self-soothe among those with autism or ADHD?

Interview Expectations & Values: The Solution

People’s brains are all quite literally wired differently. Taking that into consideration, it’s important to be really specific about what aspects of a person we are judging, and why. There’s a big different between assessing behaviors that are relevant to the job function versus those that are not. Keep everything dialed in to what is relevant to the job this person would be performing.

Additionally, it’s important to think about how to construct the interview process in order to maximize inclusivity. This means thinking about the number of interviews a person would go through per day, how long they might have to wait, and what sort of environment the interview might take place in. Will there be lots of distractions, will there be fluorescent lighting, will they be meeting with multiple people at once? All of these are things to consider.

The best way to manage these various design challenges is to actually bring in neurodivergent people to help build a neuroinclusive interview process. Further, invest in develop the awareness of your team so that you don’t hold things against people that they can’t help.

Data Analysis

Presumably, the goal of any interview is to find the best candidate. Yet, too often the best candidates can be disregarded or never even given a chance due to circumstances beyond their control. This is the product of a culture that individualizes information without regard to larger systems. Every single element on a person’s resume and job history, is the product of their life circumstances. People aren’t so much a product of their choices, but of the choices available to them. So, how does that play out?

Job Hopping, Resume Gaps, & Loyalty: The Problem

I’ve overheard gaps in employment or a series of short stints jumping from job to job be described as “red flags.” I’ve developed a term for this sort of thinking: total horseshit.

Gaps in resumes are rarely evidence of issues with a person’s work ethic, or loyalty. It is not a signal for a person’s future reliability.

Gaps in employment can come from all manner of places from caring for a sick relative, or being laid off in a bad job market, or even taking some time off to reflect on where they want to take their career. Job hopping is likewise a ridiculous thing to judge. Everyone is out heree trying to survive and thrive. When people leave one job for another, it’s almost always for the same 3 reasons:

  • their job was awful, so they left
  • they found a better job
  • they were doing seasonal work, or moved

Loyalty is a laughable myth in a culture where layoffs are an annual event and the law is commonly written to fire people for any reason, “at-will,” so long as the reason is not discrimination based on various identities or protected classes, which would be illegal — if the company explicitly stated that as the reason instead of dancing around it by saying “performance issues.”

Job Hopping, Resume Gaps, & Loyalty: The Solution

Completely disregard job hopping or resume gaps as red flags. Instead, ask people what they learned at each of those jobs.

Pedigree: The Problem

People who go to Ivy League schools are smarter, right? While we often use the name of a candidate’s undergraduate or graduate institution as a heuristic, it’s not actually particularly insightful. Many people are able to go to better schools because they won the being-born-in-the-right-family lottery. This includes being able to afford a particular school, having a family member previously attend the school (legacy admissions), or having access to conditions that make gaining acceptance easier: better a high school, test prep services, tutors, etc.

But even with all of that, all we can be sure of, is where they went to school. But remember, school is not work. The ability to pass classes is not the same as being able to thrive in the significantly less structured professional world.

Pedigree: The Solution

With all of the various factors that enable or block people from attending certain schools, I recommend disregarding the name of the school entirely. Right now, there are people who graduated from Harvard working for people who went to a state school, just as often as there are people who went to Yale managing a team of people who went to a mid-tier college. It doesn’t matter that much because more often than not, your culture issues aren’t a matter of what someone knows but how they behave.

Architects of Problems

The final thing I will offer is that talent acquisition problems are often created and perpetuated by the companies experiencing it.

When companies have the problems stated above and wind up hiring the wrong candidates only to let them go, they degrade the culture further. People in the company lose faith and trust in an organization when co-workers are laid off or fired due to circumstances beyond their control. People form relationships at work, and when the company severs those ties, they fragment relationships that people may leave to preserve.

Failing to go through the process properly creates consequences, and each one reminds people that they have no control over their employment.

So, aside from the problems listed above, it’s important to fix how we post open positions so that we’re not wasting anyone’s time on interviews that aren’t a good fit.

How to Find the Right Candidate

Just like we need to assess interview candidates only on what is relevant to the job, so, too, do we need to ditch the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink job descriptions. List ONLY what the position REQUIRES.

Additionally, always post the job salary. If you must post a salary range, make it reasonable. $20,000-$280,000 is not a reasonable range.

Finally, if you’re going to move a candidate to the next phase, reach out to them in advance and try to understand what they need to succeed in that interview. You want to give everyone the opportunity to show up and be their best.

In short…

  1. embrace honesty
  2. be transparency
  3. engage your empathy

These are the ways to start out on the right track, and give you the opportunity to find the right candidate.

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