The Mentra Publication
Interview Tips for Neurodivergent Job Seekers
The interview process varies greatly between companies and can be stressful for both neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals.
To prepare for interviews, research the company's mission and values, and gather information from employee reviews.
Plan ahead by writing out concise answers to common interview questions and prepare a brief introduction highlighting your background and skills.
When answering questions, use examples and consider the STAR method for open-ended questions.
Understand your neuro-exceptional strengths and struggles, and be prepared to discuss them in a positive light. Additionally, consider requesting accommodations when necessary.
The interview process is notoriously nuanced and ambiguous. You could leave wondering if you’ve said something wrong, but you might still land the job. On the other hand, you might walk out of a final round feeling confident but never hear from the recruiter again. The interview style, questions, and communication vary from company to company and are a reflection of their culture. This uncertainty rattles even neurotypical job seekers, but the stress of interviewing can feel overwhelming for neurodivergent individuals.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for an interview that will help you power through some of the anxiety.
Take the time to read through these tips and incorporate whatever resonates with you:
Research the Company.
“Why do you want to work here?” is a question that commonly comes up in interviews. The truth may be that you just need a job, but what the interviewer is really looking for is a confirmation that you’ve done your research and will fit in with their culture.
Before your interview, take a look at the company’s website and social media to get a feel for their mission. What service do they provide? Who are their customers or clients? What do those people have to say in their reviews of the company? Does your potential employer have any missions that resonate with you, such as volunteer work or celebrating diversity with Employee Resource Groups?
Try to find their values and write them down so you can reference them later. Look for employee reviews on sites like Indeed, GlassDoor, or Fishbowl - and while you’re there, make note of interview questions that hopeful employees reported being asked.
Once you have compiled a list of interview questions that are likely to come up, it will be advantageous to write out your answers so that you can ensure your responses are concise and impactful during the interview. You’ll want to keep most of your answers around a minute or less. If you tend to ramble, it might be advantageous to record yourself practicing interview answers so you can cut out parts that are unnecessary.
Prepare a Quick Introduction.
While it's difficult to control the direction of an interview, you can control the impression you leave through your introduction.
For example, in the beginning of an interview you might be asked by a recruiter or hiring manager to “introduce yourself” or “tell [them] about yourself.” When someone asks this outside an interview, it is appropriate to talk about your interests or family; during an interview, however, the answer should relate to what background and skills you have that could be advantageous to the company.
At a minimum, prepare an overview of your background (namely your work experience but also education if you’re a new grad or if it’s relevant to
the role) and your skills and interests that would be useful in the position or that tie into their mission. A formula and example of this are below:
I graduated with my [degree] and have been working in [industry] since [year]. Most recently, I’ve been working as [job title] where I’ve been responsible for [a few key points, ideally ones that match the job description]. I’m passionate about [list a couple of values that align with the company’s mission or work]. I’m looking for [a tie-in to the company or role, potentially with an optional self-disclosure statement here].
I graduated with my Bachelor’s in English and have been working in copywriting since 2018. Most recently, I’ve been working as a Community Manager where I’ve been responsible for driving engagement and creating content for our website. I’m passionate about celebrating diversity and using innovation to create meaningful change, and I’m looking for a mission that allows me to contribute to a more affirming world for neurodivergents like myself.
Expand on Answers in a Meaningful Way.
Questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” will benefit from clear examples. Try to answer the question in a few words, then
Other open-ended questions (often ones that start with “tell me about a time” or “describe a situation”) are better answered using the STAR method. Your first sentence should describe the situation. What was the background of this story or the problem to be solved? The second sentence should describe the task at hand. What would fix the problem? The third should describe your action. What did you yourself - not your leader, not your team, not the entire company - do to remedy the problem? You should end strong with the result. What was the solution? What did you learn? How did it help you and/or the company moving forward?
When you learn the name of your interviewer, it’s helpful to look them up online (i.e. LinkedIn) so you can understand their role and background. This is a great way to find common ground. Did you go to the same college? Do you both volunteer with animals? Go through their recent activity to get a feel for what they’re passionate about. Interviewers are likely researching you as part of the screening process, so do your research as well.
If possible, search for current employees on LinkedIn and ask them for their candid opinions on the company. You can send a message like this:
I recently applied for a role at [company] and was wondering if you’d be able to share what your experience there has been like. Before I move forward with interviewing, I want to make sure this is the right fit. Thanks in advance for any opinions you’d feel comfortable sharing that can help me make my decision to continue with the process.
Know Your Neuro-exceptional Strengths and Struggles.
Everyone has weaknesses that can spill into interviewing or work performance, but everyone also has strengths that can be a competitive advantage. In fact, a common interview question involves listing a few of each. Knowing yours ahead of time will not just help you answer this question – it will help you prepare for a stellar interview.
Strengths seem simple enough. What can you contribute to a company’s mission? Are you especially great at building rapport with people or at organization?
List out a few strengths that you can reference and provide examples of later.
I’m incredibly organized and able to plan and execute projects seamlessly by prioritizing, color-coding, and process planning.
I have a knack for building rapport with anyone by employing active listening and creating strong relationships with my sense of empathy.
My attention to detail allows me to focus on nuances that others might miss, such as typos or color mismatches.
If you’re having trouble coming up with strengths, take a look at this list of strengths that are common among neuroexceptional individuals. Keep in mind that not all of these are applicable to all neurodivergent job seekers, but rather use it as a starting point to identify your own competitive advantages:
Identifying your struggles means being more self-aware, but this is often tricky in the interview process. When a potential employer asks you for weaknesses, they are actually asking for you to spin your weaknesses as strengths.
For example, you might struggle with auditory processing and taking verbal directions. While that’s a valid weakness, it on its own isn’t a great answer for this question. You would want to find a way to use it to your advantage, like in the examples below.
I sometimes struggle with understanding spoken instructions. To combat that, I take notes for myself so that I can remain organized and ensure I’m following through. In the rare event that I have follow up questions, I’ve had to become proactive in asking for further clarification so nothing gets missed.
Because I’m autistic, I sometimes have trouble stopping something I’ve started. I have a sense of hyper-focus, and I like to finish what I’ve started. I’ve started building myself a schedule so I can switch projects by priority without burning out.
All neurodivergent individuals have different struggles in the job search, but some of the more prevalent ones that impact the interview process include time blindness and understanding of social cues.
Time blindness can be a result of extreme focus. It may make it difficult to be on time because you’re caught up in an activity. To combat that, it helps to set yourself alarms ahead of time so you can come to a stopping point with your work or other projects to ensure you have a buffer before interviews. Try setting an alarm for about an hour before your interview time as a reminder that you’re getting close, and then set another 30 or 15 minutes before so you know you’ll have to get ready for your interview.
Be Aware of Time.
Another result of time blindness is rambling. Neurodivergent people can be passionate about their interests and tend to over-explain to ensure that they are understood. If you feel yourself starting to go over a minute or so in your interview answers (or notice your interviewer is losing interest) you can use the phrase “I’ll pause there”. Or, you could say, “to be respectful of your time, the short answer is…” and give a few more words or ask if the interviewer has a hard stop.
Ask for Accommodations.
Self-disclosure is very much a personal decision, and there’s no way to know whether your potential employer will be affirming of your neurodivergent identity until you ask. Luckily, any interview you get through Mentra will be with a company that values neuroexceptional talent.
If you’re interviewing with a company that you found outside the Mentraverse, you’ll have to decide whether you want to let them know about your neurotype or not. This decision can be made easier by researching the company to see if they are on the Disability Equality Index report or if they have Employee Resource Groups or hiring initiatives for Autistic, ADD, ADHD, or otherwise neurodivergent job seekers.
If you choose to self-disclose, you might find that it is easier to ask for accommodations in the interview process. For example, if you have auditory processing issues, you might be able to answer questions better by reading them during the interview. If your interviewer is made aware of this fact ahead of time, they could type the questions out for you during a video call or write them out for you before the meeting.
Interviewers may also be more empathetic if they know about your neurodivergence. While it isn’t
ideal for neurodivergent individuals who may struggle with high-pressure meetings, the interview is an opportunity to make a first impression. Your potential employer is gauging your ability to think on your feet, take direction, and engage in meaningful conversation during the interview. You can remain authentic and avoid having to mask if you’re forthcoming about challenges you experience or the way you process situations and information ahead of time.
The goal of interviewing isn’t to deceive anyone or to be inauthentic. Many pieces of interviewing advice will tell you to make eye contact, smile, and shake your interviewer’s hand. Unfortunately, these suggestions are rooted in ableist social norms and can make neurodivergent job seekers uncomfortable. Rather than forcing yourself to mask or pretending you’re comfortable engaging in this behavior, show your interest and engagement in other ways if it feels better.
Feel free to ask questions throughout the interview, but you’ll especially want to ask some at the end. These can be questions about the interviewer’s experience, the role, or the company.
Remember that you’re interviewing the company as well, so don’t be afraid to ask about the process or their expectations if you got the job.
It’s important to remember that asking for accommodations is not cheating or trying to take advantage of the interviewer. You deserve the same opportunities that neurotypicals have, and advocating for those opportunities creates equity for all of us and will help reform the historically neurotypical expectations of interviews.
About the Author
I’m Kalen (pronounced kay-lin) and I use they/them pronouns. I’m an autistic self-advocate who didn’t realize I was neurodivergent until I was in my late 20s. Now that I know myself better, I’m committed to showing up authentically and advocating for the neurodivergent community. I’m passionate about all things DEIAB but especially neurodiversity, mental health, and disability activism.
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