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April 2024

Decoding job postings: Improving accessibility for neurodivergent job seekers

Improving the quality and accessibility of job postings is one way to reduce employment barriers for neurodivergent people.

Illustration by Dorothy Leung for LMIC.

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Key Findings

Neurodivergent adults in Canada face a triple challenge of significantly lower employment rates, pervasive underemployment, and shorter job tenures, reflecting a concerning pattern of exclusion and instability in the workforce. There is also a notable lack of data about neurodivergence in Canada and in Canada’s labour market.

Job postings play a pivotal role in shaping the employment landscape for neurodivergent individuals. Job advertisements language, structure and content significantly affect recruitment outcomes by influencing organizational attractiveness, perceptions and intentions to apply.

We identify four types of barriers in job postings: social-emotional skill requirements, complex application processes, ambiguity (or its opposite, over-specificity), and job and workplace descriptions. Recognizing and addressing these barriers is essential to fostering a more inclusive employment environment for neurodivergent individuals.

The Labour Market Information Council (LMIC), in partnership with auticon Canada, has developed four recommendations for employers to make job postings more inclusive of neurodivergent job seekers: 

  • Be purposeful in your selection of social-emotional skill requirements. 
  • Simplify your application process and offer accommodations. 
  • Use simple and clear language in job postings.  
  • Write job postings that reflect your organizational culture.


The words we choose matter. This report explores how subtle biases in the language used in job postings can deter neurodivergent candidates from applying—and how employers can write more inclusive postings. 

In the dynamic landscape of today’s workforce, the call for diversity, equity and inclusion resonates louder than ever. Great strides have been made in recognizing and celebrating differences. Yet neurodivergence receives far less attention than other diversities in the diversity, equity and inclusion agendas of many companies and corporations (Ott et al., 2022).  

Compared to the Canadian average, neurodivergent adults have lower employment rates, are more likely to be underemployed, and hold jobs for a shorter amount of time. However, we don’t have further, detailed neurodivergence metrics in Canada. In fact, we have only three official sources of data regarding neurodivergence.

There is a significant information gap in our understanding of the experiences and needs of neurodivergent people in Canada’s labour market.

LMIC is committed to developing intersectional approaches to labour market information (LMI), increasing the understanding of labour market outcomes of under-represented groups, and ensuring that the Canadian LMI ecosystem responds to the needs of all people in Canada. 

As a part of these commitments, LMIC is embarking on a research initiative that explores neurodivergence at every stage of job recruitment and work, beginning with what is often an individual’s first introduction to both a job and a company: a job posting.  

Because organizations have control over the content of job advertisements, they must understand how these information sources influence job seekers’ attitudes toward particular roles and organizations. 

Through this research and in future projects, we aim to bridge the gap between intent and impact, advocating for a future where neurodivergence is not just acknowledged but embraced as an integral and valued aspect of the employment landscape.

LMIC’s research into neurodivergence, job postings and the world of work.

In Canada, the gaps between employment rates for neurodivergent individuals and those who are neurotypical differ significantly. The accessibility of job postings is a pivotal factor contributing to this challenge.  

When designed without inclusivity in mind, job postings can inadvertently act as barriers to employment for neurodivergent individuals. With this report, we aim to shed light on how making job postings more accessible can be a catalyst for positive change.

Our goals are to

address the immediate challenges faced by neurodivergent job seekers in securing employment

contribute valuable insights to improve the broader LMI landscape, fostering a more inclusive and equitable employment environment for all

Making job postings accessible goes beyond enhancing neurodivergence in the workplace—it significantly contributes to the improvement of LMI.

If job postings are made more accessible, they can be used more accurately as a source of data about the labour market. The embedded LMI would become a more reliable tool for employers and policy-makers.

How do neurodivergent individuals interpret the language and content of job postings?

How do these interpretations influence their decisions when considering applying for a job?

Recommendations for employers to make job postings more accessible to neurodivergent candidates

A future where neurodivergence is embraced as an integral and valued aspect of Canada’s employment landscape

In this report, we explore how neurodivergent individuals interpret the language and content of job postings, particularly in relation to social-emotional skills and other job requirements. We also examine how these interpretations influence their decisions about whether to apply for positions. We conclude with a set of recommendations to help employers make job postings more accessible to neurodivergent candidates.

A note on language choices

The terms neurodivergent, neurodifferent and neurodiverse are often used interchangeably, both academically and when individuals self-identify.  

While there is no consensus on which term is most appropriate, LMIC has used neurodivergent and neurodivergence throughout this report to refer to those with conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia/developmental coordination disorder, Tourette syndrome, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and other neurological or developmental conditions or learning disabilities (Doyle & McDowall, 2021).  

We made a choice to use neurodivergent through consultation with auticon Canada and an extensive literature review. Neurodivergence encompasses a specific set of recognized conditions; as the intent of this report is to shed light on the significant data gaps that exist related to neurodivergent individuals in Canada’s labour market and to highlight how job postings can influence the labour market participation of job seekers in this group, we felt that it was the most appropriate and specific term for the purpose.  

Individuals falling within a statistical norm based on cognitive tests or behavioural assessmentssometimes referred to as not neurodivergentare referred to as "neurotypical" throughout this report. 

We interviewed 19 individuals who provided insight into the barriers and opportunities posed by online job postings for neurodivergent job seekers. During these interviews, we asked each individual how they preferred to self-identify and used their specific preferences when attributing their comments—even when the terminology they preferred didn’t align with common academic or research practices.

Neurodivergence and employment in Canada

While we don’t have precise metrics about neurodivergence in Canada, an estimated 15% to 20% of the world’s population has some form of neurodivergence (Mueller & Pearlman, 2023).

According to the Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada, as many as 6% of all adults have the condition. The Canadian Medical Association Journal estimates that roughly 1% to 2% of the Canadian population, across all ages, is on the autism spectrum.

Neurodivergent adults have lower employment rates than the Canadian average.

Neurodivergent people have much to offer potential employers,1 yet neurodivergent adults experience notably lower employment rates compared to the Canadian average. According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, only one in three Canadian adults (aged 20 to 64 years) who identified2 as neurodivergent (specifically, those with autism) reported being employed.

This pattern is not unique to Canada. Neurodivergent individuals face challenges securing employment worldwide (Deloitte Canada, 2022). For instance, as of January 2021, the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealed that only 22% of neurodivergent adults were employed. Similarly, in the United States, statistics indicate that just one-third of neurodivergent adults hold paid positions requiring more than 15 working hours per week.

Even among neurodivergent individuals who have low support needs, the unemployment rate stands disproportionately high compared to Canadian and global averages (Patton, 2019, p. 915).

Neurodivergent adults are more likely to be underemployed.

It is noteworthy that even when employed, neurodivergent adults often find themselves underemployed compared to their non-neurodivergent peers.  

Recent research by Deloitte Canada and auticon Canada (Deloitte Canada, 2022) showed that nearly half (41.7%) of autistic adults who participated in their survey were working part-time, on a contract basis, or in temporary positions. In contrast, in 2021, 81.6% of all employed Canadians held full-time positions, with only 18.4% working part-time. This trend of underemployment extends beyond Canada, as American researchers have observed a similar pattern, emphasizing that neurodivergent adults often work part-time, averaging fewer than 30 hours per week. A United Kingdom study also revealed that 40% of neurodivergent part-time employees desired more working hours than they currently had.

Neurodivergent adults hold their jobs for a shorter amount of time.

In Canada, the job tenure landscape also differs significantly for neurodivergent workers.  

In 2021, full- and part-time workers across the country had an average job tenure of 8.6 years. However, among those who identified as autistic, only 2% of employed survey respondents had been in their current positions for more than five years. Forty-seven per cent reported one or two years spent in their current role and a further 29% reported a job tenure of three to five years (Deloitte Canada, 2022). 

The pattern of shorter job tenures among neurodivergent adults extends beyond Canada. In the United States, neurodivergent adults typically stay in a role for an average of two years, while the average job tenure for the overall American workforce is 4.2 years. Similarly, in Australia, studies show that neurodivergent workers experience briefer job tenures than the broader set of their working-age peers. As a result, their employment histories are more likely to be disjointed (ibid).

Why do neurodivergent Canadians have different employment outcomes?

According to recent research by The Conference Board of Canada and the Future Skills Centre, the unemployment and underemployment of neurodivergent Canadians might be partially due to an undervaluing of their strengths (Hutchison, 2023). Biases against the way neurodivergent individuals may present themselves and/or communicate during the interview process (or within the work environment) may also play a role. Inaccessible hiring processes may also contribute to the problem (Davies et al., 2023).

Employment outcomes affect mental health, well-being and quality of life.

Employment is essential to economic and social citizenship—it is about far more than getting a paycheque.  

At its best, the workplace can be a site for making contributions, having a routine, connecting with others, and experiencing a sense of belonging and a positive sense of self. Neurodivergent people are no different, with research showing that employment can positively affect their mental health, well-being and quality of life (Davies et al., 2023).

Where’s the data about neurodivergent individuals in Canada?

When exploring neurodivergence in the Canadian workforce, we must acknowledge and address the existing data gaps and limitations that affect our understanding of this diverse population.

We don’t have detailed metrics about neurodivergence in Canada, with three official sources of data available.

There are only three official data sources related to neurodivergence in Canada.

The first, the Canadian Survey on Disability, is a nationally representative survey distributed once every five years, following the census. This survey collects information about Canadians (aged 15 years and older) whose daily activities may be affected by a health-related matter. 

Although the Canadian Survey on Disability is a valuable source of information, it has many limitations. For example, it does not ask questions aimed at gleaning a better understanding of the nature or prevalence of neurodivergence. Instead, it concentrates on the type and severity of disabilities. Specifically, the survey collects data about ten different disability types. It focuses on how individuals’ activities are affected by disabilities related to hearing, vision, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain, learning, mental health, memory and development. The lack of questions specifically dedicated to understanding neurodivergence makes the Canadian Survey on Disability ineffective for gaining comprehensive insights into the prevalence of, or experiences of, neurodivergent individuals in Canada. 

Moreover, as noted in our article about the labour market data gaps for people with disabilities in Canada, there are issues with the representativeness of the Canadian Survey on Disability. The survey excludes those living in institutions and other collective dwellings, including people living on First Nations reserves and Canadian Armed Forces bases.  

There are also regular changes made to the Canadian Survey on Disability, including adjustments to the questions (content and/or wording) and formatting. This makes it impossible to identify trends over time or compare the results of different survey versions. Additionally, the survey is not frequent or timely. As noted earlier, it is only collected once every five years, following the census.  

This infrequency means that available data are often out of date and cannot capture emergent needs and trends. There is also a substantial time lag between the completion of a given survey and the release of its data. For example, while the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability captured data between March 1 and August 31, 2017, the data were not available until November 8, 2019. By the time survey results are released, they may already be out of date. 

The second source of data available in Canada is the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System, which collects anonymized case-level data to examine and report on autism prevalence, characteristics and related outcomes. However, the system collects information only on individuals formally diagnosed with autism, excluding other neurodivergent individuals and those who may have autism but lack a formal diagnosis.

The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) is a third, albeit imperfect, source of data concerning neurodiversity. While the CCHS primarily focuses on collecting information related to health status, healthcare use, and health determinants, it does not explicitly inquire about neurodivergence. However, indirect insights can be gleaned from its questions related to “chronic conditions,” such as attention deficit disorder. 

Neurodivergence is not a disability.

The three Canadian surveys that collect data related to neurodivergence are designed primarily for gathering disability data. This creates a significant barrier to accurately collecting data on neurodivergence because it is not a disability.

Neurodivergence is a distinct concept that encompasses a range of neurological differences that are not synonymous with a disability or a mental illness. While neurodivergent individuals may require accommodations in various settings, including work or school, it’s crucial to recognize that neurodivergence itself is not a disability. When the mechanisms for data collection focus on disability, the result is an under-representation of those who identify as neurodivergent but do not perceive their neurodivergence as a disability.

To address this gap, there is a need for more inclusive data collection methods that recognize and respect the varied perspectives within the neurodivergent population, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse experiences and needs of individuals along the neurocognitive spectrum.3

Neurodivergence is not well-represented in research and policy agendas.

In addition to gaps in existing surveys and labour market studies, neurodivergence has received less attention in research and policy agendas compared to other diversity- and inclusion-related topics. The limited resources dedicated to neurodivergence research contribute to a scarcity of comprehensive, up-to-date data. 

Moreover, there is variability in the diagnostic practices employed in Canada to assess neurodivergence. This would make it difficult to draw conclusions about the neurodivergent population even if dedicated survey instruments were in place. Without standards in place, we lack the critical data needed to better understand the complex context of the Canadian employment landscape.  

The availability and quality of data related to neurodivergence in Canada pose significant challenges, hindering comprehensive research and policy development. Given the absence of frequent, timely and longitudinal studies, and the inconsistent treatment of data, it’s a struggle to appropriately inform policy priorities, create employment opportunities, build capacity and enhance accessibility. We recommend the design and implementation of an ongoing, consistent and representative survey that asks questions specifically geared toward understanding neurodivergence in Canada.

Job postings can affect the employment outcomes of neurodivergent job seekers by influencing their decision to apply

Reading a job posting often launches the recruitment process. However, the language used in the posting can deter worthy candidates from applying—for example, by conveying subtle biases (Sella et al., 2023). Job postings and how they’re perceived also contribute to our collection of LMI.4

Job postings typically contain several key elements:

  • job title  
  • detailed job description (outlining responsibilities and required qualifications)  
  • company overview (including an equal opportunity statement) 
  • application process instructions 
  • logistical details (work location, schedule, salary and benefits) 
  • contact information for inquiries 

Job postings can capture the attention of qualified potential employees and serve as a means for individuals to familiarize themselves with an organization.  

The information contained in a job posting enables job seekers to assess their compatibility with the role and the company. They can encourage potential employees to apply for the job or dissuade them from doing so. At the start of the recruitment process, job postings are the primary source of information that people use to make organizational and opportunity assessments (Brown et al., 2006).

Job postings are an important source of labour market information in Canada.

Job posting data are vital to LMI, contributing to our understanding of trends, opportunities and challenges in the employment landscape. As part of the broader spectrum of LMI, job postings offer valuable insights into the current demands and requirements of various industries and sectors. 

For job seekers, this information is a valuable resource for understanding the skills and qualifications sought by employers. It offers guidance to individuals seeking to make informed decisions about their educations and career paths. Job postings contain important details about immediate opportunities and provide a glimpse into the evolving needs of the labour market. 

On the other hand, employers leverage job posting data to shape their recruitment strategies, tailoring them to the dynamic demands of the workforce. The data help businesses make informed decisions about talent acquisition, ensuring alignment with prevailing labour market trends. 

In essence, job posting data serve as a dynamic and real-time component of LMI, offering actionable insights for those navigating the employment landscape—whether they are seeking opportunities, planning educational and/or career paths, or recruiting for their businesses. 

How job postings are worded impacts who applies for a position.

Job postings have consistently been shown to influence important recruitment outcomes, such as organizational attractiveness, organizational image perceptions, and intentions to apply. Prior research demonstrates that the corporate images, values and personalities projected in postings influence job seekers’ application intentions and overall perceptions of an organization (Walker & Hinojosa, 2013).  

While applicant attraction is an “inexact science” (Backhaus, 2004), a growing body of literature suggests that organizations can design job postings to generate applications from desired job seekers. The structure of recruitment materials may act to filter certain individuals out of an organization’s applicant pool (Brown et al., 2006).  

In 1987, Schneider described a seminal attraction-selection-attrition framework: a person-oriented model of organizational behaviour based on the proposition that the collective characteristics of the employed people define an organization. Based on this concept, job seekers ‘‘select themselves into and out of settings’’ (Schneider, 1987, p. 439) because they are most attracted to the organizations they perceive as possessing interests and values similar to their own (Farooqui & Nagendra, 2014).  

Indeed, studies examining the attraction phase of Schneider’s model have shown that individuals are most attracted to jobs with organizations whose values are consistent with their own. Further empirical evidence also supports this notion, revealing that the perception of belonging (or not belonging) often matters more to a potential employee than their assessment of whether or not they possess the relevant and required skills for the job (see Fox et al., 2022).  

As a result, job postings and the language they contain can substantially affect the makeup of the applicant pool (Böhm et al. 2020).

Job postings are often biased and may lead to discrimination.

A growing body of evidence shows that job postings are often biased and worded in ways that pose discrimination risks. This can lead to the exclusion of certain applicant groups who “select themselves out of” (Schneider, 1987, p. 439) applying for roles.   

In 2011, research conducted by Gaucher et al. highlighted that the wording of job postings represents an unacknowledged, institutional-level way to subtly maintain systemic inequality.  

More recently, a 2018 German study revealed that approximately one in five job postings contains the potential for exclusion, signifying that the language and visual content in numerous job postings do not appropriately address under-represented groups (Mihaljević et al., 2022).

Job postings can create employment barriers for neurodivergent individuals.

While most studies dedicated to understanding the language of job postings and their potential bias have focused on gendered (see Oldford & Fiset, 2021; Österlund, 2020), racial or heteronormative biases, job postings can also create barriers for neurodivergent individuals due to the language used and the requirements listed. 

In the next section, we seek to fill gaps in the literature about the employment barriers neurodivergent individuals face due to how they perceive job postings.

Neurodivergent individuals reflect on the barriers and opportunities in job postings

Many individuals who participated in this study told us that specific aspects of job postings lead to their reluctance to apply to certain jobs. 

Consistent with previous studies that examined barriers to neurodivergent individuals entering the labour market (see Lorenz et al., 2016), our qualitative work reveals that, to differing extents, neurodivergent individuals understand and perceive four primary categories of job posting barriers that impact their employment search:

language used to describe social-emotional skills (sometimes referred to as “soft” skills)

complex application processes

ambiguity or over-specificity

job and workplace descriptions

Social-emotional and soft skills language

Over 90% of job postings in 2022 required at least one social-emotional skill.

Social-emotional skills5 are those abilities that enable employees to fit in at a workplace. They include skills related to personality, traits, flexibility, motivation, goals, and preferences (Lyu & Liu, 2021).

Previous research by Yoder et al. (2020) found that employers frequently identify communication, interpersonal, self-management, collaboration, and problem-solving skills as the most sought-after skills in the workplace. The study found that integrity and ethical decision-making are valued similarly. Further, it’s anticipated that future workplaces will value social and emotional skills over technical skills.

"… it is never the hard skills. I have the hard skills: I know my field inside and out. It is always the soft skills they list that are my stumbling blocks.”

-Gregory, 35-year-old man with ASD

Our analysis of job postings found that employers are seeking a variety of similar social-emotional skills in job candidates. In addition, more than 90% of 2022 job postings listed at least one required social-emotional skill.

Figure 1: Top 10 skills identified in online job postings

According to many participants in this study, jobs’ social-emotional requirements, as presented in postings, can be overwhelming and discouraging for some neurodivergent individuals. Some neurodivergent individuals may interpret and use language in a non-nuanced and literal way, consequently not applying for a role with a long list of requirements. 

Many of the individuals who participated in this study were careful to note that they do expect to see “some” social-emotional requirements presented in job postings, and others even noted that it is very reasonable for employers and recruiters to expect to be able to hire people with good communication and teamwork skills. Despite this, the wording of some social-emotional skills, or the listing of numerous skills in a single posting, was concerning for many participants.  

For example, one individual who identified as having antisocial personality disorder remarked:

"I have seen plenty of postings that are worded in a way where I could tell it was like a major component to the job. If they constantly say you must be socially or emotionally available for this type of job, stuff like that would probably turn me off to it.

Another participant noted that:

"Autism is a spectrum for a reason. It is definitely possible for an autistic person to be good at socializing, so I am not worried when I see basic things in a job posting—things like works well in a team and stuff like thatbut when I see stuff like team building, or outgoing, or even something like thrives in a fast-paced settingor the worst thing to see ever, like a family’—I know it is too much for me.  

Additionally, a few study participants pointed to the intersections of neurodivergence, gender and race. For example, Naomi, a Black woman in her 30s, shared that she had seen job postings indicating that applicants would have to participate in a networking event or an informal meet-and-greet as part of the recruitment process. From her perspective:

"This type of formality can be so challenging for a neurodiverse woman, and then even more so for neurodiverse women of colour, who have to navigate all these intersecting social expectations, gender norms and potential biases all at the same time. 

Job postings often include problem-solving, decision making and time management as required skills. According to some study participants who identify as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), job postings that emphasize these qualities contain implicit bias against the neurodivergent and favour those who are not.  

Marco, a 34-year-old graphic designer, spoke of job postings that emphasize structure and routine and how, as a person with ADHD, this can be really discouraging. He said:

"I always believed my strengths lie in the ways I can adapt, think and approach challenges [My focus was] not necessarily that I can’t conventionally solve problems. Job ads that demand strict attention to detail and a linear thought process, for me, are like fitting a square peg into a round hole.  

Overall, exploring the social-emotional skill requirements outlined in many job postings shed light on a significant challenge faced by neurodivergent individuals.  

Gregory’s poignant words resonate as a common frustration of study participants. While possessing the hard skills necessary for their fields, it’s the emphasis on soft skills that often becomes a stumbling block for neurodivergent individuals on their path to finding employment.

Complexity of application processes

42% of the job postings we analyzed included complex application processes that create barriers.6

For several study participants, the application process outlined in many job postings was perceived as a significant obstacle.  

In fact, most participants reported having difficulty understanding the details of the job application process (as described in the job posting) and/or facing a barrier to completing one or more of the steps within that process 

Some participants spoke of the complex digital applications described in online job postings. For example, job postings that describe a process of inputting information, creating an online profile, uploading documents, and following specific formatting requirements were described by some as “overwhelming.” 

One participant, a young man who identifies as having adult ADHD, noted:

"Sometimes, its like wading through a maze. I try to look for jobs that can offer a balance of variety and structure, butwhen I see job ads that need a number of steps that all need attention and focus, it just makes everything more daunting than it should be.  

Another participant echoed much of the same frustration about the complex application processes described in many job postings:

It can be like a puzzle that I struggle to put together. Sometimes, it feels overwhelming. I wish companies could make it simpler, so I [could] focus on showing what Im good at without getting lost in all the details.

Some neurodivergent individuals who struggle with organizing and presenting information in accordance with strict requirements have similar, challenging experiences with overly formal application processes described in job postings. Demands for extensive documentation, numerous references, or specific types of portfolios can make these individuals feel overwhelmed, frustrated or discouraged. One participant, a woman in her early thirties who identifies as autistic, shared:

I am a photographer, so I understand having to share my portfolio. But I have seen job postings that want to see your personal website, an album on Imgur, an Insta, a 500px, a zip file, and a hardcopy folder, and several references. I don’t even bother applying; its too overwhelming.

Likewise, a 38-year-old woman who identifies as neurodivergent said:

Im neurodivergent. I have a PhD, I love research, and I’m good at it. But you know, the world of academia wasnt my perfect fit. The job application process was a major roadblock. You look at these postings and its like they throw everything at you at once: CV, research interests, teaching philosophy, writing sample, and not forgetting the five letters of recommendation, and maybe a few grant applications—all in the next 12 days!

Additionally, some participants indicated that they often require accommodations during the application process, such as alternative communication methods. They noted that job postings that do not explicitly mention a commitment to providing accommodations may deter neurodivergent candidates from applying.  

A recent Canadian study noted significant barriers for neurodivergent individuals in the workplace. Many neurodivergent interview participants highlighted a lack of support and a daunting and/or rigid accommodation process as problematic. That study also found that “only 22 percent of neurodivergent employees reported that their organization provides tools, training, or supports to assist them in their day-to-day work activities and/or communications with managers and co-workers.” (Hutchison, 2023). 

Some participants in our research felt that job postings often offered the first clues about how “neurodivergent-friendly” a potential employer might be. 

As one participant noted:

The problem, in reality, is thatwhile it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an autistic employeeemployers very often discriminate against autistic employees without even realizing it by discriminating against autistic traits or behaviours... If you don’t make clear that you are going to provide accommodations at the recruitment phase, and how I can access them if I need them, I know all I need to know about your organization.

Likewise, a senior network technician in her early 40s who described herself as an autistic autism advocate who has worked tirelessly to stop her own “masking”7 behaviours, said:

The lack of awareness of what ASD is, what autism is, what neurodiversity is, and what it can mean at work is not cute. Get a clue. Either you clearly communicate your understanding and support [for neurodivergent individuals in your initial job advertisements] or don’t. But saying nothing is saying something.

The absence of specific commitments to diversity, inclusion and accommodations reflects a significant obstacle for many of the neurodivergent individuals who participated in this study.  

Ultimately, formality in the recruitment process—whether it’s a lack of accommodation, a demand for extensive documentation, or a complex set of application steps—can create a maze of hurdles for the neurodivergent.

Ambiguous, confusing or overly-specific language

More than half of all Canadian job postings contain confusing jargon.

When reading requirements on job postings, I understand, max, five out of ten.”

—Malik, a 19-year-old man who identifies as having Asperger’s syndrome8 and an anxiety disorder

While ambiguous job postings and overly specific job postings are at opposite ends of the content spectrum, both can pose hurdles for neurodivergent individuals, influencing their understanding of and engagement with the application process. 

Several studies have demonstrated that jargon-heavy text is off-putting to many readers. Jargon often includes industry-specific language aimed at and best understood by those already on the inside. As a result, it can confuse others and make them feel excluded and less intelligent (Shulman et al., 2020). Jargon in job postings may discourage highly creative, collaborative candidates with great communication skills from applying. 

There is no clear benefit to using ambiguous language or jargon in job postings. Yet 53% of Canadian job postings contained confusing jargon words and phrases. 

According to several study participants, ambiguities and the use of jargon may hinder candidates, including those with diverse communication styles and cognitive processing, from fully understanding the role’s expectations and determining their suitability for the position.  

For example, a recent university graduate and newcomer to Canada revealed that the combination of what she describes as her Level 1 ASD and the fact that English is not her first language causes her significant distress when she finds jargon-filled job postings in her field. She shared:

I feel so stupid for not understanding these job postings. I just want to cry whenever I look at them. Sometimes I feel like just saying forget it and working as a barista for the rest of my life.

In another example, Kyle, a young man who identified as having ADHD and a learning disability, said:

I don’t want to feel like an idiot every time I want to scroll around online and see what jobs are open. I don’t usually think it’s a good idea to impose laws on people, but one thing we should start legislating is plain-language job descriptions. It just kills my drive completely to see job titles that I should be a good match for, but then the requirements are like a full blackout bingo of business buzzwords.

Beyond the issue with confusing jargon, participants in this study also noted that companies often use overly specific job descriptions. These can also pose a significant barrier, or even eliminate opportunities, for some neurodivergent individuals interested in applying for a position.  

According to Markel and Elia (2016), those who are neurotypical may apply to positions when they only broadly meet the listed criteria, some neurodivergent individuals interpret the language in a job posting literally and may not apply if there’s even one criterion they don’t meet. Sometimes, this decision-making criterion could be listed only as desired, rather than required.

Job and workplace descriptions

Of the job postings we analyzed, only 9% mentioned flexibility, only 17% mentioned accommodations, and only 28% mentioned diversity, equity and inclusion.

Job postings are like windows into a companys work culture—the glimpses they offer can tell you a lot about the place and what they value.

Tash-Anne, a 25-year-old woman who identifies as neurodivergent

In addition to concerns about social-emotional skills, complex application processes, and ambiguous or overly-specific job requirements, study participants also highlighted that the way a job posting describes a workplace can significantly influence their interest in a role. According to some, job descriptions often include “hints about the workplace and corporate culture.”  

For example, one participant noted that if job descriptions are written in a conversational tone, have a lot of exclamation marks, and describe team-building events, “you can bet that they take morale seriously.”  

As noted by participants, using certain words in job descriptions (such as fun, exciting, fast-paced, busy and positive) can provide insight into how the company values morale. Some neurodivergent individuals may find it challenging to navigate environments that strongly emphasize social interactions and team building. Therefore, job postings that emphasize such activities may be off-putting to them. 

On the other hand, some neurodivergent participants, especially those with ADHD, reported specifically looking for posts that indicated a company’s commitment to team morale. For example, one participant noted:

For me, a workplace that values positivity and a dynamic atmosphere is really appealing. One of my biggest issues is getting bored. So, when I see a post that advertises a fun atmospherethink of places like Google or Facebook that have a good component of leisure and work kind of tied in togetherit actually attracts me to a more relaxed environment where I could balance my hyperfocus and boredom.

Participants also noted that, if a job posting includes a lot of information about an organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, then there was “a good chance they are genuinely invested in those issues.” 

In addition, numerous participants emphasized the significance of the language used to describe work location and flexibility around that—whether the posting mentioned options to work remotely, in a hybrid model, or via other arrangements. The way job postings articulate the flexibility of work arrangements was found to greatly influence the decisions and preferences of neurodivergent job seekers.  

One participant summarized the information that job postings could include to point to a neurodivergent-friendly work environment:

What I love to see in a job posting is concrete signals that the workplace is appropriate for me to be able to succeed. Stuff like a hybrid [working model] or flex schedules, work from home being on the table, offices with doors, headphones permitted…stuff like that.

Another participant similarly noted:

I really appreciate it when job postings explicitly mention the option to work from home. Its not even about convenience; its about creating an environment where I can flourishthrive, really. The flexibility to work remotely allows me to organize my workday in a way that suits my strengths but also helps me manage my challenges.

Flexibility in work arrangements emerged as a crucial factor for neurodivergent job seekers, reflecting the evolving landscape of work culture. Job postings that explicitly outline options like remote work or flexible schedules signal neurodivergent-friendly environments, fostering a sense of understanding and potential success.  

The flexibility provided by remote jobs addresses specific challenges, such as commuting issues and sensory sensitivities, making it a preferable option for many on the neurodivergent spectrum. Further, in addition to being a practical solution to geographic and family limitations, the option for remote work emerged as a key factor in facilitating participation in the workforce for many neurodivergent people.  

The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the feasibility of remote work arrangements, prompting companies to re-evaluate their structures. Industry leaders have observed that remote workers often exceed performance expectations, leading to a broader acceptance of permanent remote work options.  

While some employers may still express reservations, our study’s interview findings underscore the genuine preference among some neurodivergent individuals for remote jobs, marking a pivotal shift in the understanding of work structures that can cater to diverse needs. 

In summary, as Tash-Ann succinctly stated, job postings can serve as windows into a company’s soul, offering glimpses into its culture, values and commitments. Neurodivergent individuals, as highlighted by participants in this study, face unique challenges in deciphering what they see through these windows. The language used in job descriptions, from the tone of the posting to the specific keywords, can significantly influence their perceptions. While certain descriptors might discourage some, others actively seek positive morale and inclusivity indicators.

Recommendations: How to write job postings for neurodivergent candidates

Compared to the Canadian average, neurodivergent adults have lower employment rates, are more likely to be underemployed, and tend to hold jobs for a shorter amount of time. These employment outcomes affect mental health, well-being and quality of life. 

Improving the quality and accessibility of job postings is one way to reduce employment barriers for neurodivergent people. The wording of job postings influences who applies for a position. In today’s labour market, postings are often biased, leading to both intentional and unintentional discrimination. 

Our research revealed accessibility gaps in Canadian job postings that employers can address to make postings more inclusive of neurodivergent job seekers. Of the online job postings published in 2022 that we looked at: 

  • More than 90% required at least one social-emotional skill.  
  • 43% included complex application processes.  
  • 53% contained confusing jargon.  
  • Only 9% mentioned flexibility, while just 17% mentioned accommodations and 28% mentioned diversity, equity and inclusion 

There is clearly room for improvement. 

If employers commit to making job postings more accessible to neurodivergent candidates, there are two positive outcomes to consider. First, job postings would become a higher-quality source of LMI. Second, we could conceivably move toward a future where neurodivergence is embraced as an integral and valued aspect of Canada’s employment landscape. This would improve employment outcomes for Canada’s neurodivergent community.

In collaboration with auticon Canada, we’ve developed four recommendations for employers to improve job postings and make them more inclusive of neurodivergent job seekers. 


Be purposeful in your selection of social-emotional skill requirements.

Employers frequently identify communication, interpersonal, self-management, collaboration and problem-solving skills as the most sought-after skills in the workplace. Integrity and ethical decision-making are similarly valued. 

However, neurodivergent job seekers tell us that—while they expect to see some social-emotional requirements in job postings—too many can be overwhelming, and poor phrasing can be exclusionary. For literal communicators, a long list of general requirements can be interpreted as mandatory, leading individuals to self-exclude. 

Employers must be purposeful when selecting the social-emotional skills to include in a job posting. Be sure to list only those that are actually required for the position and consider how the language used to describe them can exclude neurodivergent job seekers. For example, be mindful of how you describe desired problem-solving, decision-making and time-management skills. Neurodivergent job seekers have these skills, but can be discouraged by an over-emphasis on conventional ways of displaying them. They may have alternative practices to set themselves up for success in a role, and these should not be dismissed.  


Simplify your application process and offer accommodations.

Application processes can be complex, and many neurodivergent job seekers report having difficulty understanding or completing one or more of the involved steps.  

For example, job postings that require applicants to input information, create an online profile, upload documents, and follow specific formatting requirements can be overwhelming. 

Employers should seek out applicant tracking systems and job posting portals that provide a simple, clear application process with a high-quality user experience for candidates.  

In addition, limit requests for documentation before interviewing candidates. Job postings that require documentation upfront (e.g., references, portfolios, writing samples, supplementary questionnaires, etc.) can be overwhelming, burdensome and time-consuming. This creates a significant barrier for neurodivergent candidates.  

Finally, employers can both signal and practice their commitment to diversity by highlighting available application accommodations and communicating about tools and supports throughout the recruitment process.


Use simple and clear language in job postings.

Jargon, ambiguous language and overly specific phrasing create barriers. They can keep individuals with diverse communication styles and cognitive processing differences from understanding an organization’s expectations and determining whether they are a fit for the position. Evaluate the language in your job postings carefully, checking for opportunities to use plain language.


Write job postings that reflect your organizational culture.

Job postings imply much about the workplace experience for neurodivergent individuals within an organization. When job postings are written in a tone that reflects the organizational culture and contain information about team dynamics, neurodivergent job seekers can accurately assess whether the environment is one in which they can succeed. Consider your brand identity and desired workplace culture to determine whether a casual, professional or formal tone is best.  

Similarly, articulating your organization’s specific, actionable commitments to diversity and inclusion is a critical way to showcase how you support neurodivergence in the workplace. 

Lastly, flexible work arrangements are important to many neurodivergent job seekers. Job postings that explicitly outline options (like remote work or flexible schedules) signal neurodivergent-friendly environments.


This study’s research objectives were:

to explore how neurodivergent individuals interpret the language and content of job postings, particularly in relation to social-emotional skills and other job requirements.

to examine how these interpretations influence neurodivergent individuals’ decisions about applying for positions. 

This study relied primarily on qualitative interviews with 19 individuals who self-identify as neurodivergent. Intentionally applying the snowball sampling method, we conducted semi-structured interviews that included some prepared questions and a somewhat flexible list of themes to focus the interview. We allowed for the exploration of new themes and ideas that emerged. By using open-ended questions and encouraging participant to expand on their own experiences (Patton, 2019), the interviews in this study yielded firsthand “knowledge and opinions... [and] important insights” (Hancock & Algozzine, 2017, p. 39). 

Building on insights from the preliminary and exploratory qualitative interviews, the research design evolved to incorporate a mixed-method approach. In general, mixed-methods research, a prevailing methodology in the social sciences today, allows for the mixing and inclusion of “issues and strategies surrounding methods of data collection (e.g., questionnaires, interviews, observations), methods of research (e.g., experiments, ethnography), and related philosophical issues (e.g., ontology, epistemology, axiology)” (Johnson et al., 2007, p. 119) in a single study. There are several reasons why a researcher might want to consider mixed methods, including triangulation, development, initiation, expansion and complementarity (see Greene et al., 1989).  

A mixed-methods approach was chosen here to allow researchers to garner a fuller understanding of the involved phenomena by measuring “overlapping, but also different facets” (Greene et al., 1989, p. 258). In this case, understandings about job choices (as compiled by qualitative methods) were integrated with a quantitative content analysis of Canadian job postings.  

Qualitative content analysis was conducted using online job postings data accessed through Vicinity Jobs, a Canadian data analytics firm with a focus on near real-time monitoring and analysis of job market trends. Vicinity Jobs extracts information, including work requirements, listed skills and other job posting attributes, from multiple Canadian websites and job boards. As part of its data processing for each posting, Vicinity Jobs categorizes each listed skill into one of four distinct groups: social-emotional, occupational, tools and equipment, and technologies. 

In the scope of this research, we analyzed the distribution of job postings that referenced skills categorized as social-emotional. This category comprises 51 distinct skills, covering areas such as cognition, interpersonal behaviour, languages, personal qualities and resource management. In our analysis, we focused on 2022 job postings and assessed the proportion of job postings that included each social-emotional skill, allowing us to identify those that are most sought after within the category. 

In addition, we conducted further qualitative analysis on a representative sample of Canadian job postings sourced from diverse regions across the country. This approach allowed us to thoroughly examine the language, requirements and inclusivity-related information embedded in these postings. By selecting a varied cross-section of positions, our research sought to unveil broader trends and potential areas for enhancement. This allowed us to relate a more nuanced comprehension of the presentation and perception of job opportunities within the Canadian job market.


This report was prepared by Dr. Suzanne Spiteri, research lead at LMIC. We would like to thank Sukriti Trehan, a data scientist at LMIC, who prepared the job posting data for analysis.  

Thank you to Tonie Minhas from auticon Canada for her support in refining this report’s recommendations and for conducting a sensitivity read of the final draft. Thank you also to Dominique Chabot from Autism Canada for her sensitivity read of the final French draft. 

Thank you to Vicinity Jobs for their ongoing support and partnership as we explore how online job postings can better serve the pan-Canadian LMI ecosystem.

How to cite this report

Spiteri, Suzanne. (2024) Decoding job postings: Improving accessibility for neurodivergent job seekers. Ottawa: Labour Market Information Council (LMIC).


1 It is worth noting that both the capabilities and challenges of neurodivergent individuals span a broad range, from those who require full-time support to highly skilled or gifted individuals. According to Ott et al. (2022), the spectrum is more accurately described as a constellation rather than a linear continuum. This implies two conclusions. First, neurodivergent individuals with different conditions will exhibit varying capabilities. Second, those with the same condition may also possess distinct strengths and challenges. Its crucial to recognize this intricate diversity within the neurodivergent community and avoid essentializing individuals based on preconceived notions. 

2 To be clear, these data refer only to people on the autism spectrum.  

3 Statistics Canada is committed to ongoing improvements in survey methodologies. In their pursuit of enhancing data quality and relevance, the agency has indicated to LMIC that it is exploring potential changes to the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) that could contribute to better capturing information related to neurodivergence. As part of continuous efforts to refine survey instruments, these modifications hold promise for providing more comprehensive and accurate insights into the neurodivergent experiences within the Canadian population. 

4 It is important to note that, while job postings can be an important data source, they are not without limitations in this respect. First, the people who write them are not always trained in how to advertise a job and often rely on templates. The language used in job postings is not standardized. Job titles might be misleading, responsibilities vague and requirements overstated. Despite these limitations, job postings are still a valuable source of data because the information communicated forms the basis of organizational perceptions.

5 Social-emotional skills are also called “soft skills.” On the other hand, hard skills are those that enable employees to complete tasks, including skills related to scientific knowledge, professional abilities and technical expertise (Lyu & Liu, 2021).

6 In our qualitative content analysis, we considered formality in job postings as encompassing the intricacies of the application process. We specifically examined multi-step and multi-site application procedures. 

7 Autistic masking is an emerging research area. Research conducted by The Conference Board of Canada in partnership with the Future Skills Centre provides this robust definition and explanation: “Masking occurs when a neurodivergent individual feels that they must suppress their natural behaviours and tendencies to fit in with what’s expected in the workplace. For example, while traits such as organization and productivity are highly valued in the workplace, without the right supports, some neurodivergent individuals, particularly those with ADHD, may struggle to stay on task and get the job done. These individuals may have to put in extra effort and hours behind the scenes to maintain the appearance that they’re keeping up. The time and emotional costs associated with masking can be incredibly damaging to an individual’s workplace productivity and well-being. Given the limited understanding and acceptance of neurodivergence in the workplace, neurodivergent individuals may choose to continue to mask, rather than being up front with their employer about their need for support, for fear of negative repercussions.(Hutchison, 2023). 

8 The study makes every effort to refer to and describe people as they refer to and describe themselves. Using self-descriptions aligns with the principles of respect and inclusivity, acknowledging autonomy and allowing trust to be built between researchers and participants. However, this study acknowledges that the term Asperger’s is considered offensive by some individuals. 


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