NACE Logo NACE Center Logo
National Association of Colleges and Employers NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition®
mobile menu
  • Transparency a Key Element of Recruiting Students on the Autism Spectrum

    August 17, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A hand holds the Autism Awareness Ribbon.

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

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Among the most important things students on the autism spectrum request of employers and recruiters is greater transparency, according to Janine Rowe, assistant director of disability services in the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education.

    “Someone on the autism spectrum might not understand the social nuances of the job-search process unless instructions are explicit,” Rowe notes.

    Therefore, employers should make it clear who candidates can contact with any questions or include specific instructions for following up, Rowe says.

    What are autism spectrum disorders? Rowe explains that they are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders with widely varying degrees of challenges, such as persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, or restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

    But these candidates have definite strong points to offer, as well. Rowe explains that some common strengths and challenges associated with autism spectrum disorders are:


    • Tendency to be logical.
    • Encyclopedic knowledge.
    • Often highly skilled particular area.
    • Honest and direct.
    • Novel ways of thinking.
    • Superior memory.


    • Difficulty perceiving emotional states of others.
    • Grasping the “big” picture.
    • An uneven set of skills.
    • Difficulty expressing empathy.
    • Difficulty taking perspective of others.
    • Sensory sensitivities.

    Recruiting students with autism differs from recruiting students who are not on the spectrum, in part, because the approach should about giving students opportunities to shine rather than weeding them out of the process prematurely.

    “A job seeker on the autism spectrum might not give the best verbal report of his or her strengths, but might astound the recruiter when given a technical assessment as part of the interview,” Rowe says. “Requesting work samples or other demonstrations can often be a more realistic portrayal of the job seeker’s abilities.”

    Rowe recommends recruiting functions learn about students with autism, and how to effectively work with and recruit these students. Many employers have disability related employee resource groups, which can allow URR functions to connect with self-advocates and family members of individuals on the autism spectrum.

    “This can give feedback and support specific to the organization and its company culture,” Rowe notes. “That said, individuals on the autism spectrum are the greatest source of information. That can be as simple as asking the individual what works for best them.”

    But there are snags surrounding candidate disclosure.

    “Formal accommodations cannot be given without disclosure,” Rowe says. “But the employee might share some of his or her productivity tools, such as preferring to work with headphones on to block out excess noise. During recruiting and onboarding, I always suggest employers ask, ‘What would help you be your best?’ multiple times to give the candidate or new employee multiple opportunities to disclose.”

    Even then, information about a disability that is shared with an employer as part of an accommodation request is bound by strict confidentiality requirements. Rowe points out, however, that the increased popularity of the “neurodiversity” movement has led to many people on the autism spectrum to recognize their unique skills sets and abilities.

    “Some people on the autism spectrum might share this information so that colleagues can get to know them better,” she says. “In these cases, it is always best for the individual to be in control of what information is shared, to whom, and when.”

    Some common formal accommodations for the interview process are requesting the interview questions ahead of time, asking to use an alternate interview format (such as a phone), and requesting extended time or an alternate location if an assessment or project is given as part of the interview process.

    Employers and colleges can work together to help students on the spectrum with their career explorations and job searches. For example, Rowe says, employers may elect to present on a career development topic and work with career services to connect with the autism population on campus. And some employers have strengthened the bond by committing to hiring at least one student with a disability per year, or to hiring a student on the autism spectrum as part of their group of summer interns.

    Rowe offers several other tips for effectively recruiting and onboarding students on the autism spectrum:

    • Work closely with career services to help you recruit students on the spectrum—If the career services office does not have a close relationship with disability services, encourage them to partner more often.
    • Consider meeting students on the autism spectrum in “low-risk” settings—These might include at a networking event or during a meet and greet.
    • Compose job descriptions that are easy to understand—Make sure they are free of excessive industry jargon. Include information about day-to-day work and work environment, which can help students on the spectrum know if they will need to request an accommodation.
    • Seek a realistic portrayal of the job seeker’s abilitiesRequest that interviewees bring a work sample, complete a pre-interview assignment, or complete an assessment to show their skills rather than relying only on the in-person interview.
    • Provide support—Assign a mentor to new employees to help them understand corporate culture and let them know about employee resource groups that may align with their interests and needs.