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  • Microsoft’s Autism Inclusive Hiring Program Addresses Candidate Needs

    September 28, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A hiring manager smiles at the camera.

    TAGS: best practices, diversity and inclusion, students with disabilities

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Microsoft’s Autism Inclusive Hiring Program aims not only to increase the diversity of the company’s work force, but also it specifically recognizes the untapped potential and technical skills among people with autism and their value as employees and innovators.

    “We wanted to have a more inclusive recruiting and onboarding approach that supports candidates with autism,” says Devan Vaughn, Microsoft’s disability program manager of the Autism Inclusive Hiring Program, which Microsoft introduced at the United Nations during Autism Awareness Day in 2015.

    There are many positions for which these candidates are well-suited. Vaughn and Jen Guadagno, inclusive hiring program manager, point to technical positions in Microsoft’s engineering groups, such as software engineers, service/lab engineers, and data scientists because their required skills include strong attention to detail, pattern recognition, and out-of-the-box thinking.

    Besides matching candidates with positions that highlight their skills, the hiring process contributes to the success of the program by eschewing the substantial importance assigned to one traditional interview, and allowing candidates with autism to ease into the assessment.

    The Microsoft Autism Inclusive Hiring Program conducts hiring “academies,” multiple-day candidate assessments that are a combination of workshops and interviews. The academies feature a team project, interview preparation, formal and informal activities, interviews with hiring managers, and more.

    After the completion of the team project, Microsoft provides interview prep, which includes a presentation and workshop from a recruiter and a mock interview with feedback for the candidate. The actual interviews are then spaced out over one and one-half days to allow for breaks, and there is a quiet room for candidates between interviews.

    “The additional time allows candidates to get comfortable with each other and with the facilitators,” Vaughn explains. “This helps support everyone during the group project when we can learn about skills and qualifications for the open roles in a more relaxed atmosphere. Candidates also have an opportunity to meet and get to know hiring managers in an informal setting.”

    All interviewers and hiring managers go through training in advance of the interviews. For example, interviewers are taught to ask questions that focus on the core skills of the position rather than on communication style. The training also focuses on autism as a culture and in the workplace, and then teaches participants how to apply that information to their final round interviews.

    “This is essential so that candidates understand that they will be supported in an inclusive way and will receive support if they are offered a role at Microsoft,” Guadagno says.

    Adds Vaughn: “This process allows for a less-stressful interview experience, during which candidates can showcase their skill sets and be set up for success in the recruiting process.”

    Mentoring is another key component that contributes to the success of the Autism Inclusive Hiring Program. Candidates hired for full-time, permanent roles are assigned both a job coach and a community mentor.

    “The external job coach and the Microsoft Community Mentor are additional resources for those hired through the program,” Guadagno explains. “The job coach helps with bridging between work and personal life. The Community Mentor helps onboard the new hire to Microsoft from a cultural perspective—how to take the Connector [Microsoft’s transportation service] to work or how to sign up for a hackathon project.”

    Since its launch, Microsoft’s Autism Inclusive Hiring Program has extended its reach to include various partnerships. On campuses, the company works with college disability resource centers, career centers, and student organizations throughout the United States. Microsoft also partners with organizations like Lime Connect, the U.S. Business Leadership Network, and Career Opportunities for Students With Disabilities.

    “By engaging with more teams and hiring managers at Microsoft, it is providing more opportunities to hire candidates with autism,” Vaughn says. “This helps contribute to our overall goal to increase our number of employees with disabilities.”