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Broad and brilliant brains: how to attract neurodiverse talent


We’ve talked before about how two brains are better than one. It’s why we never leave a creative flying solo.

But even 20 great brains won’t make anything exceptional if they’re all wired the same way. What you need in your team is the perspectives and skills of all kinds of minds — a bubbling pool of neurodiverse talent.

‘Neurodiversity’ is the concept that all brain differences are normal

Some autistic people, and some people with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), identify as neurodivergent. Others don’t – we’re all different, after all.

Neurodivergent people often have sought-after attributes and skills — like remarkable pattern recognition or refreshing honesty. And hiring them can bring lots of business benefits. In their book The Neurodivergent Job Candidate, Joan Bogden and Marcia Scheiner explain that “companies that hire individuals with autism can experience increased retention, productivity, employee engagement, and brand recognition.”

So how can you make sure your job adverts attract a broad range of brains and don’t put off great candidates who identify as neurodivergent? Here’s what we suggest.

Research how people describe themselves, then copy it

Some people who identify as neurodivergent prefer person-first language — ‘John has dyslexia’ rather than ‘John’s a dyslexic’. But others feel that their neurodivergence is part of their identity, and want language that reflects that. So, ‘Sarah’s autistic’ rather than ‘Sarah has autism’. Do some research and if there’s no clear consensus, always go with the more inclusive option.

Describe what you want the person to achieve, not who you expect them to be

‘You’ll be laser-focused’ might sound off-putting for a person with ADHD. While someone who has to work from home because of sensory processing difficulties might not feel particularly ‘flexible’. Instead, try something like this (from one of our recent job adverts): ‘You can find your way around both a data-laden excel doc and a wordy creative brief’. It tells the candidate your expectations, but leaves the ‘how’ up to them.

Put the same thought into describing your company

‘We’re a sociable bunch’ might sound great to someone who thrives on being around people. But for an autistic person it could be a reason not to apply. And it’s easily fixed: ‘We’re a friendly bunch.’ It just takes a few extra moments thinking about your potential candidates.

Avoid figurative language, like metaphors and similes

They mess with words’ actual meanings — think ‘low-hanging fruit’ and the ever-bizarre ‘peeling the onion’ — so if you don’t know the phrase, you’re immediately alienated. But research also shows that some figurative language is difficult for autistic people to understand, as they tend to take things literally. So instead of, ‘you’ll move the needle on sinking projects’ (what needle? How can a project sink?) try, ‘you’ll noticeably improve failing projects.’ Watch out for irony and sarcasm, too — they also don’t mean what they say.

Write like you speak

This is an especially good rule of thumb when writing for people who find reading difficult. Imagine you’re explaining the job to a friend face-to-face, then write down what you’d say. You’ll probably use normal words instead of the formal ones that creep in when you write — ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’. And your writing will get more active, too: ‘We train people’ instead of ‘training is delivered by our organisation’. Use our free readability checker to see how you’re doing.

Make your ad skimmable

UX expert Jakob Nielsen described readers as selfish, lazy and ruthless because they don’t read any more; they skim. And if they can’t, they lose interest. This might be especially true for candidates who struggle with reading, visual processing or focusing. So break your ad into manageable chunks (3-4 sentences per paragraph), and use lots of white space, bullet points and subheadings — the best kind summarise what’s in each paragraph.

Don’t forget about design

The British Dyslexia Association has a brilliant style guide, with advice on things like readable fonts, line spacing, and the use of colours. And Microsoft has a guide for making PowerPoints more accessible, too.  

Get a second opinion

Ideally from someone who you had in mind when trying to write more accessibly. There are lots of self-advocacy groups out there to help you. So get googling.

These tips are just for starters

You could also check things like your tone of voice, your onboarding processes or your workplace culture — would they make all kinds of brains feel at home? And if you’d like to find out more about writing inclusively, we run a training session on that very topic.

In the meantime, we hope you find all the brilliant brains you’re after.


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on Mar 21, 2022

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