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Celebrating strengths, not managing differences: Xceptional

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By Kiera Eardley

Presenting the unique skills of candidates to employers in a meaningful way

Given over 80% of the world’s autistic adults are underemployed or unemployed, new avenues for neurodiversity in the workplace are increasingly important. Xceptional is facilitating this through its renowned online assessment tool, which profiles the unique skills of candidates and presents these to employers in a meaningful way. Aron Mercer, Xceptional’s Chief Growth Officer, speaks with Inclusive Australia to explain the importance of disrupting the traditional hiring process when it comes to neurodivergent candidates.

“Job interviews are often based on social chemistry and an ability to articulate a skillset, which makes it incredibly difficult for autistic people with low confidence to effectively showcase their skills,” says Mercer.

Xceptional’s assessment tool bypasses this ineffective interview process, while also replacing the need for a CV by quantifying the skills of neurodivergent workers and ranking them within the industry they are applying for. This is a powerful and logical process, as Mercer says that while candidates may lack the expected social skills in interviews, they will often perform better than most in the job itself.

Founded in 2017, Xceptional began as a software testing company employing autistic software testers and has evolved into the employment assessment, placement and support service it is today. Its own tech team is entirely comprised of “incredibly talented” autistic employees, who developed the online jobseeker tool. Xceptional largely operates within the tech and finance industries, and only works with businesses who are committed to creating a deliberately and proudly neurodiverse workplace. On top of this, the company provides inclusion training and ongoing support to individuals and businesses after the placement of individuals into new roles.

“It’s about so much more than just ticking a box,” says Mercer, adding that the company does not work with organisations who do not strive to maintain the best possible environment for a neurodiverse staff.

In 2018, Xceptional was featured on the ABC’s ‘Employable Me’ program. With the “unreal reach” of 4 million viewers, the episode featured autistic jobseeker Tim Walton finding work with Xceptional, where he is still employed as a software tester today. Mercer says exposure from the program was a “game-changer” for them, with large corporations like Apple, Microsoft and Westpac getting in touch and expressing their desire to include highly analytical people who think differently in their organisations.

The last decade has seen “enormous progress” in neurodiversity, with many organisations inspired by the likes of IBM, Microsoft, and JPMorgan Chase with their deliberate efforts to hire autistic people. Significant employers in Australia, such as the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian governments, have also established tangible diversity targets. As Mercer explains, hiring people of different abilities is not only inclusive but undeniably smart.

“Neurodiverse people quite literally think differently—can you imagine the competitive edge this can provide in tech?”

From those organisations who have hired people through Xceptional, the feedback has been fantastic. Employing people who think differently creates a different workplace dynamic, and employers consistently report that working with neurodivergent people has made them better managers holistically.

As for the impact of Covid-19, Mercer says that working from home has been “amazing” for autistic people, who can experience sensory overload in busy office environments. Firms have become more flexible to remote working and its benefits, a phenomenon which is likely to continue into the future. However, a negative impact of the pandemic on the tech industry has been the loss of skilled migrant employees entering Australia.

“Companies are experiencing acute labour shortages, which is significant considering migrants account for 74% of growth in the IT industry.”

Mercer believes that with these labour shortages, more organisations should be looking to employ neurodiverse people, because “it’s the largest pool of untapped talent—they just need to be seen through the right lens”. And Xceptional does just this: showcase the skills of autistic people in a way that highlights and celebrates their strengths.

Presenting the unique skills of candidates to employers in a meaningful way
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