Rethinking Recruitment

Photograph of Alex Creece, a white woman with short hair, large colourful glasses, a knitted jumper with a fruit pattern, and a big toothy smile. Behind her is the ocean, a peer, and part of the shore.

By Alex Creece

In theory, perhaps it seems fair that the person who says the right things, the person who fits, should win the job. But therein lies an implication that you are as valuable as your charisma. Not your skills, knowledge, or potential to grow, writes Alex Creece.

The statistics are grim.

Unemployment. Underemployment. The “untapped” neurodiversity market.

But it’s no mistake that this pool of candidates remains largely untapped. Exclusion occurs by design.

While it’s illegal to blatantly discriminate against candidates based on disability, there is little to safeguard from bias seeping into traditional recruitment processes. Often, unconscious discrimination can be easily justified – like telling someone they’re “just not a good fit”.

That is, it’s not your autism… it’s your “weird energy”. It’s not your ADHD… it’s your fidgety body language. It’s not your mental health condition… it’s the gaps in your resume.

It’s not your disability… but also, it is.

In the appropriate role, I consider myself to be a solid employee. Not to turn this into an interview spiel, but I’m reliable, detail-oriented, kind, and hard-working. Given my passion for all things wordy, I’m adept at writing applications too.

But when I show up for an interview, none of that matters.

The process renders me effectively unemployable. And I’m someone with university qualifications, a reasonable amount of work and extracurricular experience, and the ability to speak verbally (albeit chaotically). What does this mean for non-speaking or partially speaking autistic people? Or neurodivergent people without previous experience or education? Or those who face other pernicious prejudices in recruitment, such as racism or ageism?

There is constant pressure on neurodivergent people to simply accept the status quo, and little widescale effort to make these pathways more accessible. Interviewees bend over backwards to prove their worth (just figuratively, I hope!), but what are employers doing to prove themselves as disability confident?

During interviews, I have been asked intrusive questions, expected to seamlessly gloss over any signs of imperfection, and smiled and played along while knowing that I didn’t have a fighting chance. Because I’m not a “good fit”.

In theory, perhaps it seems fair that the person who says the right things, the person who fits, should win the job. But therein lies an implication that you are as valuable as your charisma. Not your skills, knowledge, or potential to grow.

In The Sims franchise, you can simply talk to yourself in a mirror to develop as much charisma as needed. But out here, it doesn’t work that way. Trust me, I’ve tried.

I spend an immense amount of energy compensating for my flaws, and trying not to burden others. Meanwhile, the average person rarely thinks to meet me halfway. They wouldn’t fathom that perhaps they are just as much a problem as my “weird energy”.

How can we foster inclusive workplaces when employment itself is essentially gatekept by a popularity contest? And this doesn’t even touch on other challenges in the job market, such as cronyism and the increased emphasis on networking.

Of course, not all interview practices are the same. Some organisations strive to ensure that reasonable adjustments are truly reasonable, and to work with a candidate’s strengths, rather than penalise them for missed cues or ambiguities.

But many do not. And the fact is that we’re still using a social interaction as the ultimate measure of merit, even when it’s not particularly relevant to the role.

While programs that support autistic candidates into employment can be great options, these are limited by the location and variety of their partner organisations. Most cater to STEM specialities like cybersecurity and finance, leaving few options for artsy weirdos who count on their fingers (that’s me!).

Similarly, employment agencies tend to be oversaturated with more clients than suitable jobs. From my experience, they also take an approach of “fixing” people by assimilation, rather than making the opportunities more equitable.

At present, I’m employed in a couple of areas, with enough flexibility and support to care for myself too. This is a huge privilege. But these opportunities came to me through paid internships and work trials – not my ability to schmooze and self-aggrandise. 

Everyone could benefit from rethinking typical recruitment processes. The concept of neurodiversity encompasses all brains. We accept that there are many forms of intelligence, and that we each have unique strengths and weaknesses. And yet, we continue to rely on vague job descriptions, culturally biased ideals of “professionalism”, and unreliable interviewing strategies to determine who deserves employment.

Wouldn’t it be better if recruitment exercises allowed for growth and lateral thinking, and were more closely aligned with the job itself? Otherwise, whose “undesirable” traits are being persistently filtered out?

With this in mind, it’s no wonder workplaces themselves are often harshly lit, overwhelming, and disability-unfriendly – we’re not expected to exist there.

We’re barely allowed through the door, if at all.

Alex Creece is a writer, poet, student and average kook living on Wadawurrung land (Geelong, Victoria). She also tinkers with other people’s poems as the Production Editor for Cordite Poetry Review. Alex was awarded a Write-ability Fellowship in 2019 and a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship in 2020.