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Harnessing Neurodiverse Candidates Can Address Cybersecurity Skills Shortages

Although neurodiverse candidates don’t fit the traditional candidate mold, they can often excel at highly focused analytical work.

At a time when there are countless unfilled cybersecurity positions around the world, too many companies are overlooking neurodiverse candidates in their hiring processes. This is a huge mistake because people with autism, dyslexia, and other conditions often have skills well suited to cybersecurity work. These skills include the ability to concentrate, an ability to recognize anomalies, and strong determination.

People with ADHD, for example, are able to focus on certain tasks, while people with autism can process complex, detail-oriented tasks and have above-average recall skills.

However, neurodiverse people generally do not excel at earning certifications – requirements common to most cybersecurity jobs. Presenting a polished persona in an interview is another thing they may struggle with.

Additionally, interviewing neurodiverse candidates can be challenging as they tend to avoid eye contact, sometimes have difficulty communicating, and can be overwhelmed in unfamiliar circumstances. They may also find it difficult to communicate with groups of people in a panel-style interview. All of these are generally considered “poorly interviewed”.

If the cybersecurity industry is to fill much-needed jobs, hiring managers and recruiters must cast their nets beyond the sea of ​​candidates who characterize “fit the mold”. The industry must pay attention to the practical abilities and innate skills of all candidates, including neurodiverse candidates.

Learn from big business

Many leading companies – including EY, Google and Microsoft – have recruitment and training programs aimed at neurodiverse populations.

One of the first major organizations to take neurodiversity seriously was EY, which established its Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence in 2016.

In 2020, EY noted that “we have evolved our recruitment, onboarding and training processes to meet the needs of neurodiverse individuals. The deliberate changes allowed these talented professionals to demonstrate their technological acumen, skills and interest. »

EY added at the time that it had a 92% retention rate.

The Microsoft Neurodiversity Hiring Program was created on the belief that neurodiverse individuals strengthen a workforce with innovative thinking and creative solutions. The company believes that team diversity has a positive impact on the culture, work environment, and how Microsoft serves its customers.

Last year, Google launched the Google Cloud Autism Career Program, looking for ways to remove the barriers that candidates with autism most often face. In addition to biases, the company noted that there could be issues with how interviews are structured or conducted without the right tools. For these reasons, Google said it will offer neurodiverse applicants reasonable accommodations such as extended interview time, providing questions in advance, and conducting interviews in writing in a Google doc rather than verbally. .

Tips for recruiting and assessing neurodiverse candidates

Clearly, neurodiverse applicants don’t fit the traditional mold of applicants with college degrees and technology certifications. To level the playing field in recruiting for neurodiverse candidates while striving to find the best person for a job, hiring managers and recruiters need to change their mindsets and practices.

Some tips:

Abandon all prejudices – Do not dwell on the possible impairments of people with ADHD, dyslexia, etc. Focus on what candidates do best, not what they lack. Look for practical skills, not certificates, and look for candidates who are passionate about what they do.

Breaking down barriers to recruitment – Change the interview process. Make it friendlier to neurodiverse applicants, who likely lack sophisticated social skills and may not have a degree to their name. For example, group interviews are not a good tool for assessing neurodiverse job candidates.

Consider adopting Google’s approach (described in the previous section) which is not designed to give neurodiverse applicants an unfair advantage, but rather to remove unfair disadvantages so applicants can have a fair chance to compete for a job.

Make it welcoming to all – As a general rule, neurodiverse people like routine and structure, so make sure everyone is welcome from the start. Describe what their responsibilities will be and what they will need to do. If you’re remote, don’t force them into video calls, if you’re in the office, don’t have shared desks, just have an office for them and provide quiet areas. Have training and onboarding that they can do at their own pace, not in class, and communicate with them in a way that they are comfortable with.

Emphasis on assessment of practical skills – Shift the focus of recruitment from necessary qualifications to life skills. Too often, recruiters ignore candidates who don’t tick all the boxes, failing to consider the potential of those with excellent practical abilities and other skills. To address this shortcoming, recruiters must conduct tests that assess job function abilities.

There are two instant benefits to doing this. First, companies can quickly wean people who aren’t passionate about what they do. Second, companies can find out what candidates are really good at, hire and train them accordingly. This can help shift the mindset of the company from “yes or no” to “let’s give this person a chance” and “create a job” that matches their talents.

Cybersecurity teams need to be much more inclusive in their hiring processes if they want to hire the best people and have loyal staff. Often, the very people they overlook—those with some form of neurodiversity—may turn out to be the most likely to excel at highly focused analytical work. Clearly, more hiring managers and recruiters need to change their mindsets and practices.

Related: Harnessing Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity Teams

Related: Why Diversity of Thought in the Workplace Matters

Jeff Orloff is vice president of product and technical services at RangeForce, a cybersecurity training company. He has over ten years of experience in cybersecurity, computer and network security and system administration. Prior to RangeForce, he was Director of Product Management and User Experience at COFENSE, a company specializing in email security, phishing detection and response. He also served as the Technology Coordinator for the Palm Beach County School District in Florida.

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