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Microsoft Hiring Program Opens Doors for People on the Autism Spectrum

“There are unique minds being underused and overlooked”

Microsoft introduced a new program that aims specifically to hire people on the autism spectrum for this awesome reason: groups of diverse minds produce new solutions and more interesting ideas.

Microsoft’s program empowers the unique personalities and abilities of those on the spectrum by providing these individuals with special interviews that challenge the age-old you-have-one-shot-to-prove-yourself interview model. Due to challenges with social skills, these types of traditional interviews are more challenging for individuals on the spectrum, and as a result, this traditional interview model eliminates bright minds in the process.

“It pains me to think of individuals who have those kind of coding skills but who aren’t using those skills because they don’t fit a standard interview process or because maybe a phone call was awkward.” – Zach Johnson, hiring manager & principal software engineering lead for Xbox.

The new interview process Microsoft uses during this program is more like a short course or class. This unique process takes place over the course of four weeks and involves “a combination workshop and interview to help put job candidates at ease (and therefore let them more fully demonstrate their skills).” Microsoft offers these interviews as the first step to full-time jobs with competitive salaries—an offer much appreciated by candidates on the spectrum who may have been previously kept out of work due to difficulties that arise from their disability.

“We have individuals with talent who have been hidden, who have not been able to find their voices or show what they can do. These individuals are breaking down the stereotypes of what it means to be autistic. This is showing that one of the most influential companies in the world is taking this seriously – is saying that this is something our society should be aware of.” – Microsoft employment coach Blake Konrady

While Microsoft is doing great things to accommodate the needs of perspective employees on the spectrum, the candidates themselves have to step out of their comfort zone. Microsoft’s blog details one candidate with Asperger’s syndrome, Kyle Schwaneke. Schwaneke graduated from a world-renowned university for computer interactive technologies, and he was in the market for a job. After over a year of unemployment, Schwaneke and his parents were getting worried that he would never find an opportunity.

After hearing about Microsoft’s new program, he took a chance and jumped in. He grew as a leader during the interview process, even though some of the group work was more difficult for him.

“By adjusting our hiring practices, we are able to recruit from a new talent pool – a talent pool that is rich with mad skills. We’re hiring these folks because they’re amazingly talented individuals who are going to help us do amazing things at Microsoft.” – Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft and head of the company’s disAbility employee group.

Microsoft has more job openings, and is actively recruiting candidates with autism to join the 11 new employees hired during the pilot program’s first eight months. To learn more about Microsoft’s program and Kyle Schwaneke’s hiring experience, read their blog on news.microsoft.com.

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