A sketch of a person running away from many eyes of various sizes.
This image was taken from an article on planetneurodivergent.com by Sophie Zadeh. Please read for more perspective on this and related topics.

The interview . . . the chance for face-to-face engagement . . . to assess and share knowledge, skills, excitement, “fit.” We use it for so many reasons including acceptance into a program, a school, a job—to award a scholarship, grant, fellowship—to acquire an internship, a research experience, a leadership position, campus employment. These are often the way into, through, and to opportunities in academia. We collectively “know” different people excel in this format no matter if you are the interviewing committee or the person preparing for the interview. Students prepare to do well in this format, often seeking out advice from mentors, advisors, and career centers. We attempt to be graceful in this format, acknowledging varying interview comfort level and strengths.

I have been part of the interview process for various opportunities including awarding academic scholarships and prestigious research awards, hiring faculty and administrators new to campus or in new roles on campus, and admitting students into clinical health programs, to name a few. Some of these interviews are in the style of getting to know the person and their work and others are more scenario- or ethics-based to see how a person responds to a prompt. There are ways to prepare or study for interviews—in fact there are 56+ pages of books on this topic available on a quick Amazon search, so that is overwhelming. However, people who can think quickly on their feet, read the room, and articulate ideas clearly are going to typically have a leg up in any interview format. There is evidence both anecdotal and in research that the interview isn’t a very great way to determine the best candidate (Laskow 2013; Farnam Street, n.d.). I am sure all of us can name many situations when the interview went well, and then after the performance didn’t match the promise. Do we have examples of when the interview was terrible, the person was chosen anyway, and the after was phenomenal? Likely few if any examples because a bad interview often serves as a gatekeeper.

Interview committees are poised and committed to give the benefit of the doubt and not intentionally bias poor performers. I hear in all these interview scenarios—we need to look beyond personality, maybe they are introverted, maybe they are nervous, maybe xyz. This is usually followed by some form of, sure BUT they have to get along in the real world, they have to be able to articulate their knowledge and interact with people. I am part of these conversations. I have contributed to these conversations. I am a fortunate one that often can think on my feet quickly, read the room, and articulate ideas to small groups. I have fared well in interview scenarios—I am thinking many of my colleagues in these rooms have also fared well in these scenarios.

As recently as I have sat in these rooms, I am sure we are missing really exceptional people who will excel at whatever they are interviewing for. I am hearing conversations that are potentially weeding out neurodivergent and disabled people under the guise of grace and then followed by justifying buts. But they have to adapt and work in the real world.

THEY ARE THE REAL WORLD! We need these candidates, scholars, students, faculty, administrators in our spaces so it expands our definition of the real world. Sure, we get neurodivergent and disabled people into our spaces, but is it because they interview well?

So how do we do this differently . . . better?

We don’t need to answer this, we need to chew on it. I need to chew on it. I have been chewing on it. I keep coming back to how do we do this differently. I really don’t have a perfect solution, but I do have some thoughts on starting . . . trying differently.

I don’t think it is the questions we ask—good interviewees will excel in this context no matter the questions. I am not sure just dropping an interview or interaction is the best solution necessarily either. Trial periods and recruitment programs (Tallo 2020) have worked well in some industries. At Elon we do have a 90 day “introductory period” for staff positions; I would be interested to know if supervisors would be willing to use it as part of recruiting process for neurodivergent candidates. This trial period doesn’t quite fit many scenarios in academia such as student awards, or faculty and administration positions—try this scholarship on for the first 6 months and then reevaluate—or here we will hire you as dean for 3 months and then decide if you get to stay? Yes, there may be expectations set that if you don’t meet a standard, you lose it (e.g., GPA requirements). So how do we effectively evaluate applicants and candidates?

While I know we need to consider the whole recruitment process with an inclusion lens (Robert Walters Group, n.d.), I am going to propose a potentially “radical idea” to at least get us started in regards to interviews (note, high sarcasm). Let’s train the interview committees to expand expectations and be aware of what we might see in neurodivergent applicants. Can we give questions ahead so they can prepare answers? We cannot use terms labeling candidates as “scripted,” “overprepared,” “robotic answers,” “did not make eye-contact” (Stewart, n.d.). These are ableist and stereotypical labels of neurodivergent populations. Is it a bad thing to be prepared and practiced? Can we identify when the content not the delivery IS the most important consideration? Can we include neurodivergent people on our interview committees as part of our definition of diversity? Can we, at minimum, mark each other when these stereotypes start creeping into our conversations and increase awareness and change it. In fact, let’s do that for all biases that begin to take over in these rooms, maybe unintentionally, yet still driving ultimate decisions.

While this might be a good step in providing more inclusive interviews, let’s not forget it is one piece of evidence and these processes always include multiple pieces to evaluate and assess. We need to not unintentionally weight interviews above all else or make the process unmanageable (Dali 2019). Additionally, we need to really be thoughtful of other ways we can engage with candidates and applicants to assess. For example, simulation interviews (Moore 2019) or interviews where they solve problems (Yarwood, n.d.) so you can see process might be examples that expand the format. We also really need to think about the characteristics that are important without biases. For example, “bedside manner” is not one size fits all. The clinicians that connect closest with my autistic son speak directly to him (instead of me) and often communicate and interact in similar ways to him, not in similar ways to me. Our hiring and selection committees too would benefit from having members with diverse identities and communication styles to assess and interact with candidates throughout the process.

As we prioritize diversity and inclusion in our spaces and practices, defaulting to the way it has always been done sends the wrong message—that we really still prioritize comfort and “fit.” If we don’t, then we have an obligation to do it differently. Marielle Leon (2021) gets us started in this article, “How to Conduct Interviews with Neurodiverse Candidates.” Anyone have additional resources, ideas, and examples to share?


Dali, Keren. 2019 “Avoiding a Senseless Endurance Test: Hidden Disabilities and Interviewing in LIS.” The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion 3 (1): 1–12. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48644496.

Farnam Street. n.d. “Job Interviews Don’t Work.” Accessed May 31, 2022. https://fs.blog/job-interviews/.

Laskow, Sarah. 2013. “Want the Best Person for the Job? Don’t Interview.” Boston Globe, November 24, 2013. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/11/24/want-best-person-for-job-don-interview/3LB4rwjf6i88GfaDoRubLN/story.html.

Leon, Marielle. 2021. “How to Conduct Interviews with Neurodiverse Candidates.” Glassdoor for Employers, April 2, 20221. https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/how-to-conduct-interviews-with-neurodiverse-candidates/.

Moore, Emily. 2019. “What Is a Job Simulation and How Can You Prepare for One?” Glassdoor, January 23, 2019. https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/job-simulation-preparation/.

Robert Walters Group. n.d. “Neurodiversity: Four Ways to Debias Your Recruitment Process.” Accessed May 31, 2022. https://www.robertwaltersgroup.com/news/expert-insight/careers-blog/neurodiversity-four-ways-to-debias-your-recruitment-process.html.

Stewart, Rozella. n.d. “Should We Insist on Eye Contact with People Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana University Bloomington. Accessed May 31, 2022. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/should-we-insist-on-eye-contact-with-people-who-have-autism-spectrum-disorders.html.

Tallo (blog). 2020. “Six Companies with Neurodiversity Recruitment Programs.” July 2, 2020. https://tallo.com/adult-learners/neurodiversity-recruitment/.

Yarwood, Debbie. n.d. “How to Hire the Best Candidate (Not Just the Best Interviewer).” https://hire.trakstar.com/blog/how-to-hire-the-best-candidate-not-just-the-best-interviewer.

How to Cite this Post

Ketcham, Caroline J. 2022. “Ableism in Academia: The Interview.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. June 1, 2022. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/ableism-in-academia-the-interview.