Navigating Applicant Tracking Systems for the Neurodivergent Job SeekerMaking sure your resume makes it to a hiring manager

Man holding a pen sits in front of a laptop.

There is a lot of great news for neurodivergent candidates looking for work. First, the Labor Department released the February 2022 employment numbers showing there are 11.3 million job openings in the U.S. If you are looking for one of those jobs, know that your resume creates that first impression for potential employers.  

Resume writing is both an art and a science — it has to represent your unique skills and experiences. Still, it must be designed to flow through applicant tracking systems that now use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do the initial screening. Your resume must meet the job criteria and navigate these virtual verifications to find its way through these systems.  

So, what can a neurodivergent individual do to help ensure their resume reflects their many strengths and find its way through the virtual world of these employment tracking systems? 

First things first, you need to decide what type of resume you need — functional, chronological or hybrid.  

  • Functional resume: A functional resume emphasizes skill over experience and focuses on transferable expertise. This can be helpful if you are looking to demonstrate how the skills you acquired can be applied in a new setting. 
  • Chronological resume: A chronological resume focuses on work history, starting with the most recent job at the top. This type of resume is best at showing accomplishments and professional growth over time. 
  • Hybrid resume: A hybrid resume combines both the functional and chronological resume. This is best suited for people changing careers, seasoned professionals with extensive experience or those with gaps in employment. 

Once you decide which type of resume will work best for you, it’s time to focus on selling your skills, experiences and accomplishments. But what do you do if you find yourself struggling to match the realities of your employment history with the requirements for the job? First of all, don’t stress. Instead, follow these tips to make the most of your resume. 

  • Align your experience to the job description: It’s easy to see a job description and begin to stack up all the ways you may not qualify, but in reality, no candidate is ever a 100% match to the job description. As you review the job posting, start organizing the requirements and match your experience/skills. Most job descriptions have the most essential requirements at the top of the list and the less crucial ones toward the bottom. 
  • Strategize to match recruiting automated tracking systems: Creating a specific resume for each job type and emphasizing similar keywords between the resume and job description is essential for the application process. If your keywords are similar, use the keywords from the job description. This provides a better match for the automated online systems. For example, your resume may list skills in Microsoft products in general, while the job description identifies PowerPoint and Excel. It would benefit you to change your resume to specifically mention PowerPoint and Excel. 
  • Bridge any employment gaps: We all know career paths are never linear. Often, there are starts, stops and pauses as we navigate life. But an employment tracking system may see gaps as a red flag — keeping your resume from hitting the inbox of hiring managers. To help bridge gaps, add in additional volunteer and educational experiences. They help fill in some employment gaps and demonstrate your specific areas of interest.  
  • Let the systems do the hard work: Utilize online recruiting platforms like Indeed and  Zip Recruiter. Set up your profile and get automatic notices when there is a match.  
  • Research the neurodivergent-friendly employment services companies: These companies specialize in helping match neurodivergent candidates to inclusive employment opportunities. 
  • Focus on developing relationships in your industry and the companies that interest you: Networking can be challenging, especially for individuals who may identify as neurodivergent However, even a few connections can help open up opportunities. If you know someone in the organization, don’t be shy to ask for a reference from the hiring manager. This can often help with bypassing the virtual application process altogether!  

Create connections with people like you who are looking for jobs. 

Creating new relationships may be difficult for neurodivergent people, but LinkedIn makes it easy to connect via email and messaging systems. First, take the time to ensure your LinkedIn profile and resume are up-to-date. LinkedIn and YouTube offer great tutorials to help you put your best foot forward. Be sure to utilize tools like “Open to Work” badges and settings to help recruiters find you.  

Once your profile is complete, you are ready to start making connections. I do not recommend using the LinkedIn mass email notification to capture all your email contacts and send a generic invite. Instead, you want to have a reason for making a connection and each one requires a special personal request. After all, these individuals will help you find your way around their companies, so a personal invite is best. 

Another great way to connect is to join a job club dedicated to working with neurodivergent people. These social networks bring together people with shared experiences to help each other overcome barriers and provide motivation and support during the job-hunting process. When these job clubs are facilitated by well-rounded coaches and facilitators, success becomes infectious. Sam Stone had been with his AASCEND job club for 4 years, has this to say about his experience: “I got my current job through networking, and it’s an absolute must in today’s economy. A colleague of the hiring manager actually reached out to me on LinkedIn, and that’s how I got my foot in the door for my new role. I also got a recommendation from a club member to do a workshop at the Jewish Vocation Services. That allowed me to learn what I needed at the time for job search.”  

Engage neurodivergent-friendly employment service companies to help with matching to companies who are committed to helping you succeed.  

Many neurodivergent-friendly employment service companies have been making headway in improving the hiring process of neurodivergent candidates. There are a couple of employment companies to consider; some focus on hiring primarily for technical and data analysis work, while others offer a full range of services, including help with resumes, executive functioning skill development and practice for the interview process. Some companies like, Neuro Talent Works, Zavikon, Integrate Advisors and Mentra even have specific programs in which candidates with developmental disabilities can enroll and be matched to employers committed to hiring and training candidates with autism and other developmental disabilities. In addition, some of these companies allow parents or advocates access to the system to help guide the candidate through the application process.  

These companies are experienced in connecting autistic candidates to appropriate clients and projects and can also provide training and coaching to support both the candidate and the company. In other words, you are basically putting your career in the hands of well-intentioned professionals whose mission is to help you find employment. Oftentimes, working directly with these companies who hire and provide a matching system is a better way to help adults on the spectrum find lifetime employment. 

The challenge isn’t finding a job — it’s ensuring you are perceived as the best candidate. 

In January 2022, the Bureau of Labor of Statistics identified the following top five segments for job openings. Leisure and hospitality (151K), professional and business services (86K), retail trade (61.4K), transportation and warehousing (54.2 K) and government (23K). One of these jobs could be for you.  

January jobs one-month net change

Whether you are a job-seeking candidate or a parent or advocate helping, follow these tips to give yourself leg up. Once you hit the submit resume button, you compete with hundreds and sometimes thousands of other candidates for one of those 11.3 million available jobs. Using these tips and ideas may help increase your chances of finding your next job opportunity. 


About the author: 

Dan Middleton drives programs to help neurodivergent adults find employment at Catalight. He is also a BetterUp Fellow Coach providing career and leadership coaching services, as well as a volunteer Career Coach at AASCEND

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Check out the latest article, Navigating Applicant Tracking Systems for the Neurodivergent Job Seeker from Catalight’s contributing editor and certified career coach Dan Middleton.