How Employers Can Adapt Interview Questions for Autistic Jobseekers

Adapting the question structure and providing a printout of job interview questions can help autistic jobseekers answer questions better in a job interview, according to a UK study.

Researchers recruited fifty adults (25 autistic, 25 non-autistic) and asked them to participate in two mock interviews for a job. The adults were first provided standard interview questions. Six months later, they took part in a second interview with adapted interview questions. 

Managers then provided ratings on the performance of the groups’ performance based on interview transcripts. Managers were not informed about the diagnoses of autistic people in the study. 

Interview questions were adapted to provide explicit and structured requests for specific details, examples and certain types of information. 

The interviewer asked each part of the question in turn, requiring a response from the interviewee before moving on to the next part of the question. 

Interviewees were also provided a printout of the questions, which reduced the need to hold multiple questions in mind or to infer what they will be asked next. 

Here are examples of how the adapted and unadapted interview process compared to each other: 

Typical Job Interview Instructions: This is a job interview.

Adapted Job Interview Instructions: This is a job interview. In this interview I am going to ask you about 7 work-related topics. For each topic I will first let you know what I am going to ask about (you don’t need to provide a response to this bit). Then I will ask you between 1-3 specific questions in relation to that. Here is a print-out of the questions. I’ll let you know which question we are on each time so you can easily follow it on the print-out as well. The print out is there as just a reminder – I will ask each question before you should respond. Please take your time to think of responses to the questions. 

Example One

Q1 (unadapted): Tell me a little bit about yourself. 

Q1 (adapted): First, I’m going to ask you to give me a short introduction to yourself:  What are your best personal characteristics?  

  • What are your educational qualifications?  
  • What work experience do you have?

 Q2 (unadapted): What were your responsibilities in your last job [volunteering experience]?

 Q2 (adapted): I’m going to ask you about your responsibilities in your most recent job [volunteering role]:  

  • What was your job title?  
  • What were your most important tasks? 
  • What did you enjoy about the role? 

Q3 (unadapted): Do you work well as part of a team? 

Q3 (adapted): I’m going to ask you to give me an example of a time you’ve worked in a team:

  •  What was your role in the team? 
  •  How did you work with the other team members to solve problems?

Q4 (unadapted): Tell me about a time where you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with – how did/would you handle it? 

Q4 (adapted): Think about a time you’ve worked with someone who was difficult to get along with. Please tell me: 

  •  What was the situation?  
  • What did you do to try to resolve the situation? 

Q5 (unadapted): What is your biggest work or educational achievement? 

Q5 (adapted): I’m going to ask you to tell me about your biggest work or educational achievement:  

  • What work or educational achievement are you most proud of?  
  • Why is that? 

Q6 (unadapted): What have you learned from your mistakes? 

Q6 (adapted): I’m going to ask you about what you’ve learned from your mistakes:

  • Please give me an example of when you’ve made a mistake in a professional situation.  
  • How did you rectify the mistake?  
  • What did you learn from it? 

Q7 (unadapted): Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?

Q7 (adapted): Finally, I want you to think about the next 5 years in terms of your career. Please tell me:  

  • What kind of role would you like to be in in 5 years’ time?  
  • What department, company, or institution would you like to be working in? 

Example Two

Q1 (unadapted): Tell me about any work or volunteer [or academic] experience that you have had 

Q1 (adapted): First, I’m going to ask you about your work [volunteer] experience:  

  • What roles have you held previously?  
  • What responsibilities have you held previously? 

Q2  (unadapted): What are some of your strengths? 

Q2 (adapted): I’m going to ask about your strengths:  

  • What do you consider to be your main strengths (things that you are good at)?  
  • How have you used these strengths at work [in education]? 

Q3 (unadapted): What are some of your weaknesses? 

Q3 (adapted): Now I am going to ask about your weaknesses:  

  • What things do you find difficult or challenging in the context of your work [education/ volunteering]?  
  • How do you try to manage these weaknesses at work [education]? 

Q4 (unadapted): Are you good at problem solving? 

 Q4 (adapted): Think of an example of a time you’ve solved a problem at work [education]. Please tell me: 

  • First of all, what the problem was  
  • What did you do to resolve that problem? 
  • What was the final result? 

Q5 (unadapted): What experience do you have of managing high workloads? 

Q5 (adapted): Think of an example of when you’ve had lots of tasks to complete in a limited amount of time. Please tell me: 

  •  What the situation was  
  • What management strategies did you use?  
  • Were these strategies effective? 

Q6 (unadapted): Tell me about a time you’ve disagreed with a colleague – how did/would you handle it? 

Q6 (adapted): Think about a time you’ve disagreed with a colleague. Please tell me:  

  • What the disagreement was about 
  • What you did to resolve it? 

Q7 (unadapted): What [would] makes you happy in a job? 

Q7 (adapted): Finally, please think about what you consider to be the most important factors that make you happy in a job. Please tell me:  

  • What type of role would you like to be in?  
  • Why?

What was the Result?

Both autistic and non-autistic groups said the printout helped to increase focus, reduce distraction and provide reassurance about the progression of the interview.

In the first unadapted job interview, managers were more likely to provide lower ratings for the quality of autistic interviewees’ answers and their overall impressions of them. 

In the adapted interview, managers said autistic people provided better answers than non-autistic people in their job interview.

Adaptations to interview questions also improved both groups’ overall impressions of their conscientiousness, communication skills, likeability and ease to work with. 

“Importantly, the adaptations were also effective at improving the interview performance of non-autistic participants, embodying the principles of universal design,” the researchers wrote in the journal Autism. 

However, autistic people were still rated less favourably than non-autistic people on overall confidence, communication skills, likeability and perceived ease to work with. 

The researchers suggest that autistic people are more likely to face lower levels of employment and reduced experience of interviews, which contributed to the finding. 

Besides interview questions, employers can adapt the interview process in other ways, such as environmental modifications. For example, a quiet room without fluorescent strip lighting and a 90 degree seating angle to reduce pressure for eye contact. They could also offer a working interview (where the jobseeker performs the duties of the job) and introducing competency-based exercises instead. 

Read the study here

This article was originally published on Neurodiversity Media. It has been re-published with permission.