The Mentra Publication
How To Write Neuro-Inclusive Job Descriptions (Part 1)
Attract Top Diverse Talent To Your Open Roles
In the race to find the best candidate for the job, one of the most overlooked ways employers can attract diverse and quality talent is through a well-written job description
Hiring neurodivergent talent is a central part of an inclusive hiring strategy.
Precise, inclusive language and transparency of expectations and work environments/accommodations are pivotal in attracting top, diverse talent
Allow the flexibility of a human-centered hiring approach instead of relying on automated software to filter out candidates to ensure you're not missing key marginalized groups
As a by-product of universal design, by choosing to be inclusive of all talent, neurodivergent or otherwise, you will be creating a better experience for all candidates, allowing you to filter and attract the best possible talent for your roles.
In the race to find the best candidate for the job, one of the most overlooked ways employers can attract quality talent is through a well written job description. Even when there’s a desperate need on the team for a new hire to come in and fill a gap, we all know that writing job descriptions that job seekers understand, let alone, want to apply to is hard. Yet, it’s something that’s getting increasingly important in a tightening job market with a worker shortage. The pressure is on for companies to secure highly sought-after talent, felt in both the public and private sector.
If you recruit talent, you know, “diverse teams are more innovative, arrive at less biased decisions, and problem-solve more efficiently than teams who aren’t diverse” (Pittaway, 2022).– A new wave that’s taking shape is the ‘Neurodiversity’ movement, which is rising on the priority list for HR leaders - this encompasses the cognitive diversity of humanity.
Neurodiversity does not discriminate, it is equally prevalent among every diversity group: Black populations, the LGBTQ community, People of Color, Gender, and different socio-economic backgrounds.
Forward-thinking companies are all coming to the same conclusion… “The Future of work is indeed neurodiverse” - accounting for the differences in how all our brains work, and the need to provide accommodations that will allow employees to bring their most productive and authentic selves to work. Hiring neurodivergent talent is a central part to an inclusive hiring strategy.
However, one system that has been failing candidates repeatedly is: the job description. It remains a chaotic, unstructured mystery that keeps brilliant job seekers from understanding the true meaning of the job: “What will the day-to-day look like? What type of team environment will I be in? What type of management style will I report to? Which of my skills will be most utilized in this job? How will this company accommodate my unique needs? What types of support will I have in place? What opportunities will I have to get more involved in my areas of passion?” - These are all questions that flow through the heads of candidates as they stare at a block of text labeled with “Responsibilities” and “Qualifications”.
That’s because job postings are not inclusive of neurodiverse needs and in most cases, turn off or exclude neurodivergent talent, some of the world’s most diverse thinkers, from even applying.
In this article, we outline how to write neuro-inclusive job descriptions to help you attract good quality, diverse talent.
Write Clear, Skill-Based Job Descriptions
Firstly, it’s time to shorten job descriptions. If your job descriptions take several minutes to read and are multiple, scrolling pages long, now is the time to revisit what you are presenting to prospective candidates and why. While you might think it’s still necessary to copy and paste multiple pages of content from your website onto your job descriptions, remember, modern job seekers are technically savvy and are comfortable clicking on links to read more or doing their own research on your organization. Keep job descriptions and postings relevant and strategic and above all else, short.
Furthermore, if you might be describing your workplace as a family environment, awesome place to work or cool culture, these carry full ambiguity and might elicit tense reactions from readers of your job description. Here, it is better to be specific such as “ we value work-life balance in our culture” “we like to to test out new ideas in our company culture” or “we enjoy a positive workplace as a cultural necessity.” These rules might be helpful for these as a starting point to allow job seekers to see just what is clearly written, skills based job descriptions with transparent expectations, and defined understanding of what success looks like in the role and at the organization.
As you begin to assess your job descriptions for skill-based clarity, consider the following recommendations and tips
1 Write clearly and literally
If the position requires a degree, clearly and literally list the requirement and alternative pathways beyond higher education (such as coding boot camps or military service) accepted to fulfill this requirement. This helps attract candidates with applicable experience but not necessarily a college degree.
2 Question what skills you list as “must haves”
Often, folks can be trained, coached, taught, or upskilled in professional settings if they are teachable and coachable. For example, maybe you have an applicant who is an expert in Python but not in lesser-known programming languages your organization uses. Clearly, they are capable of learning programming languages, they simply don’t have the “must-have” skill you seek. Consider if the skill is something candidates can learn on the job. If so, move it from “must have” to “nice to have”.
3 The “nice to have” skills
Don’t go overboard here. As a career coach, I’ve read some ridiculous job descriptions where the “nice to have” skills can top lists of 25 or more. Too many must-have skills or nice-to-have skills turn job seekers off. Keep your lists tight, simple, clear, and relevant to the role.
4 Ax abbreviations and industry jargon
If your job description isn’t understandable and accessible to job seekers, they certainly aren’t going to apply. Having job descriptions with heavy abbreviations and jargon uniquely disadvantages people unfamiliar or inexperienced in the industry even if they have excellent transferable skills and abilities.
5 Be honest and transparent with expectations
If the role requires excessive teamwork and collaboration in synchronous work sessions at designated times, be honest and upfront with the expectations of the role and employees in those roles. This may lessen your overall quantity in your candidate pool, but will definitely strengthen the quality of the pool.
Are you an Employer interested in hiring neurodivergent talent?
6 Be Explicit About Work/Space Environments
Many neurodivergent professionals have specific environmental needs or accommodations in place to put themselves in the best possible place for success. I have ADHD, so working in a cubicle land-style office with open ceilings and lots of commotion and conversation is challenging, nearly impossible for me to work in. I found a role I can do mostly from home and when I go to work, I have a small private office where I can shut the door and control noise and light levels. I even have a set of blinds where I can close off my eyesight to the hallway outside my office so as to not get distracted by folks walking up and down the halls.
When writing neuro-inclusive job descriptions, it’s important to be explicit about working environments. If you allow folks to work from home, what expectations do you have about their visual background? Or dress code? Or what hours of the day they must be available online? There are best practices for hiring a remote workforce, and being transparent about virtual work environment expectations best helps candidates decide if the experience you are offering or expecting is right for them.
There are a lot of terms and definitions being thrown about in the job market right now as we figure out what exactly "work from home" or "work anywhere" means, so being direct and honest is a great way to set expectations from the start. If you require folks to come into an office, be sure to accurately describe the office setup. Fluorescent lighting, open spaces, and chilly offices can all be potential triggers for many neurodivergent workers. If your organization offers accommodations in your office space, say that in the job description so candidates feel empowered to dialogue around their needs and accommodations at work.
7 Indicate If the Role is Project-Based or Time-Based
Many of my first jobs were time-based roles. I was expected to show up and leave at certain times of the day and if I was physically present in the office, that was enough. In my recent role, I am project-based, so if my work gets done, my employer doesn’t mind if I work at 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning. As someone with ADHD, where my productivity drastically fluctuates throughout the day and night, having a time-based job doesn’t work well for me. I am much more effective when I allow myself to work when my mind is open to working and rest when I need to rest (or be physically active vs. sitting at a computer). Communicating how success is defined in the role and the expectations around time management are key for neurodiverse people in deciding if an opportunity is right for them.
8 Change Your Resume Review Process to People First
Applicant Tracking Systems are computer programs that scan, read, and sort application materials and assess the fit of each candidate typically via a score. For organizations filling roles with historically high applicant interest, leveraging ATS makes sense when your goal is hiring talent quantity over quality.
The challenge with ATS is that job seekers must be very savvy in tailoring their resumes to match the language in the job description to earn a high ATS score. Additionally, the keywords you score highly or lowly may not be evident to job seekers when reading job descriptions. If you plan on using ATS, make sure you value the “must haves” more importantly than “nice to haves” so job seekers have a fighting chance of being scored fairly based on what the job description says is important.
If you can change your resume review process to a more holistic and human centered review of your candidate pool, you will often find a few folks in the applicant pool ATS would have missed and for whatever reason, spark your interest. Building in a bit of flexibility to your review process is often where neurodiverse candidates come into focus and get the most traction, so be creative and offer some elasticity in what you are seeking in job descriptions and how you value fit in applicant pool reviews.
9 Consider Universal Design
Universal design is the practice of designing environments to be accessed and understood by everyone. Many of the best practices to create neuro-inclusive job postings we covered in this article would help attract neurodiverse candidates and would also be massively beneficial to attracting neurotypical candidates as well. Particularly, if you are wanting to attract Gen Z candidates or Millennial candidates to your open roles.
For example, adding ramps to sidewalks was intended specifically to help people in wheelchairs but as a side benefit, also helps folks pushing baby carriages or runners not having to jump up and down off curbs or tourists pulling or pushing heavy suitcases. This is universal design. Typically, when we design products, services, spaces, and opportunities with one population in mind, many other populations benefit from the design.
As you self-assess your job descriptions for neuro-inclusion, also consider what other populations could benefit from a more inclusive and robust job description. For example, it might be very important to the working parent to have flexibility in their time management, and understanding if the role allows for remote work, might be the number one need in their job search. If they see your job description clearly outlines and is transparent in allowing or not allowing for this work set-up, this will help them in making more informed decisions when deciding to apply.
If they see your job description clearly outlines and is transparent in allowing or not allowing for this work set-up, this will help them in making more informed decisions when deciding to apply. This could also be true for the student population who has a busy class schedule or the part-time worker who has multiple part-time roles already or even the retired worker who is looking for a role to do here and there.
Engaging in job description reviews with a neuro-inclusive lens will not only attract the right candidates to your open roles but will also increase the strength of your applicant pool, ultimately leading to better hires and more diversity in your workforce. A win-win!
About the Author
Nadia Ibrahim-Taney is an Assistant Professor of Career Education, teaching and coaching students majoring in STEM fields at the University of Cincinnati. She is also the Founder of Beyond Discovery Coaching where she helps clients build happy and fufilling careers. She identifies as an LGBTQ+ woman with a neurodivergence (ADHD), which influences her research and interest in how personal and professional identities intertwine in the workplace. She is best reachable on LinkedIn.
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