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Masking and the Neurodivergent Candidate Experience

To say a candidate invests a lot of time and energy to receive a potential offer is an understatement of the truth of a candidate’s experience. Resumes, job descriptions, phone screens, interviews, time spent researching companies, and job compatibility matches, are just a few hoops candidates have to jump through. The amount of work involved compounds when there is the added burden of having to mask neuro-divergent symptoms to show potential employers you have the qualified skills for a position. 

“The essence is meticulous in nature.”

What is Masking?

Masking is one of the complex survival strategies of neurodivergent individuals. It is a common strategy adopted for acceptance that creates a meticulous essence for those in the neurodivergent community. It is specifically familiar to those with Autism or ADHD/ADD. Masking occurs when an individual recognizes that something important, like a current job opportunity, hinges on being perceived as neurotypical and adjusts their behavior to conform. Masking generally involves intentionally learning the appropriate neurotypical behavior and mimicking it to mask their neurodivergent symptoms in social situations. 

The need to mask neurodivergent symptoms creates an added stress resulting in more time and energy invested in attempting to come across as neurotypical and less in selling why they’re a good fit for a position. Certain things in a candidate’s experience that may be considered “small effort” for a neuro-typical brain can take a significant amount of added work for neurodivergent brains. This work usually involves preparing for social abilities that neurotypical brains don’t necessarily struggle with to the same degree. 

Evaluating Candidates’ Qualifications, Not Sociability

Socialilibilty needs that are common in a candidate’s experience but can be difficult for a neurodivergent candidate, resulting in masking, can consist of: 

  • Maintaining eye contact in an interview, even though it creates stress and limits the ability to communicate an answer effectively. 
  • Scripting conversations to create confidence in communicating an answer only not to have the opportunity to read the script. 
  • Only reading pieces of a job description because they are often too long and complex to keep the brain mentally stimulated.
  • Hyper focusing on details that may not be as important. 
  • Needing to fidget, pace, stim during an interview to release excess energy in the brain and process information. 
  • Disassociation with answering random calls.
  • Not speaking because they don’t know the right words. 
  • Talking around an answer because their brain got distracted and forgot the question while trying to answer it. 
  • Lack of emotional expression or misread expression. 

These sociability factors can result in neurodivergent candidates being perceived as uninterested, unprepared, or incapable when in reality, there is just a social disconnect. It is entirely natural for there to be a delay or disconnect in processing information with neurodivergent candidates. Because these symptoms are commonly misunderstood, the need to talk about and educate our recruiters and hiring managers on neurodiversity is central. It is essential to seek clarity in situations around a candidate’s social abilities and create a space where it is normal and acceptable for a brain to process information differently. A candidate’s social behaviors can’t be weighted so heavily that it completely determines their qualifications, interest levels, or capabilities for a job.  

An Inclusive Candidate Experience

Adopting a candidate experience that is moldable to how a candidate processes information can significantly change the talent in an organization. It is essential for recruiting in fields like IT, where people who think differently tend to gravitate. Companies that create programs similar to SAP’s Autism at Work program develop a culture of space for spectrum candidates to unmask. It is grounded in the strengths of those in the autistic community, focusing on what neurodiversity can bring to an organization and adjusting the hiring process to welcome it. Their candidate experience fosters inclusion by eliminating barriers autistic candidates may face in the employment process, like bias around social abilities.

Creating Space for Neurodiversity

Creating an inclusive candidate experience for those in the neurodivergent space includes fostering things like:

  • Writing job descriptions that include formatting, language, and content that stimulate brain engagement
  • Teaching and training those in contact with candidates about the unconscious bias in regards to someone’s social skills
  • Prepping candidates with the questions that will be asked in an interview prior to the interview, so they have time to process and script answers as necessary 
  • Allowing candidates to fidget, pace, and stim in interviews without perceiving these behaviors as inappropriate
  • Creating a relationship (mentorship) with a candidate where the candidate feels they are being fought to be understood. 

It isn’t uncommon that many people with neurodivergent disorders such as ADHD/ADD and Autism may go most of their life undiagnosed. Adopting an inclusive hiring process can create a substantial competitive advantage for this war on talent. Research has recently found that ADHD diagnoses among adults have grown four times faster than in children. Along with Autistic prevalence increasing 178% since 2000 . Neurodiversity is essential in understanding the future of the workplace, and creating an inclusive candidate experience is the start.