In my last article, I mentioned that for people with autism, getting a job isn’t very easy. I want to share my challenges with job hunting and what I learned from it because I am mildly autistic and hope that in the near future, getting a job is easier.
Interviews were never easy for me. I remember that in my first few interviews, I was too quiet and took a long time to answer their questions. I feel that my interviews have improved somewhat from practicing but there is still a long way to go.
Interview questions can be vague. An autistic person can misinterpret the questions. Some sample answers don’t seem to make sense. One example is “What is your weakness?” It’s easy to give an answer that disqualifies you. When someone says he likes to finish his work ahead of time, it sounds more like a person’s strength.
An autistic person can be too honest in answering questions. One example is “how fast are you at working?” How do we know the answer when we don’t have very much experience? If they find out that I don’t work very fast, wouldn’t I be disqualified?
At an interview, I was asked about my education before. I wasn’t sure how to sell myself because my studies seem unrelated to the job. At BCIT, I completed a program called Food Technology. When you first hear the name, it sounds like a cooking class. Much of the program was about producing safe food products, testing food for safety, and testing food for quality. In a few of the courses, we did have some cooking experience.
How we frame our answers is important. In interviews, we want positive framing. When they ask questions that seem to disqualify everyone, there is still a way to frame the answers positively and be honest at the same time.
One example of framing is:
- “10% chance of success”
- “90% chance of failure”
Both mean the same thing but the former is framed positively and the latter negatively. This example is easier to frame because there is only one word to change. In more difficult examples, you will have to add more information to frame positively. Sometimes the negative statement sounds like raw information. One example from Career Horizons is:
- Negative Statement: “Nobody’s hiring and the economy stinks.”
- Positive Statement: “While times are tough out there, for sure, things could definitely be a lot worse — we’re not in Haiti — and it seems like there’s been some increased movement and hiring activity taking place so far in 2010, based on what I’m seeing out there.”
Since I haven’t got a job yet, I realized that I needed help so I went to employment agencies. They help people write resumes and cover letters. They also help you answer interview questions. Some agencies have you answer questionnaires to discover your interests.
Unfortunately, not enough interviewers are trained to detect the skills in autistic people. They still need to go through the interview process. I think interviewers should test autistic people based on how well they will perform on the job. I’m not saying that questions irrelevant to the job description should not be asked because a good character is definitely important.
Friends can help find a job. Even though autistic people tend to have fewer friends, their relatives may have a lot of friends. They can recommend somebody to an employer or hire that person. In the past, I was hired by family friends for temporary work such as lawn mowing, irrigation, and other chores for a few summers.
Some companies hire autistic people who can be great with computers. Last summer, I worked as a Technical Assistant. In that job, I used Microsoft Excel documents to display results from a database. The program had to be user-friendly and free of errors.
In my previous studies, I discovered that two of my non-autistic classmates found job interviews easy which seemed too good to be true because I’ve never found them easy to pass and there are lots of applicants out there to compete with. It made sense because they were outgoing, friendly, and confident. It’s also possible that their friends worked with their interviewers. I have yet to discover how to portray that positive impression.
Interviewers hire based on first impression. They look at our posture, clothing, eye contact, and attitude. One article says that in an interview, a hiring decision is made in the first five minutes. Some studies even suggest that first impressions are formed within a fraction of a second so it’s important to be aware of our body language before, during, and after the interview. This means we should look confident even before we enter the building.
There’s a saying that you only get one chance at first impressions. I wonder if autistic people can get second chances by disclosing their disability during or after the interview.
I find it hard because I tend not to be very expressive. Perhaps at interviews, I answer things in a way that’s too robotic.
Since autism has affected my ability to get a job, I’ve been getting help online and paying more attention to how I act whether in public or during interviews. I’ve even attempted to smile the whole time in public areas just to look friendly. I learned to use a mirror to make sure that I’m using the correct facial muscles. It should look natural.
In my recent job hunts, I’ve been practicing smiling while handing out resumes to businesses such as retail stores and restaurants. Smiling seemed to make the staff friendlier and happier.
My goal is to be perceived as approachable enough that the interviewer becomes interested and accepting. This would make the interview easier and the autistic applicant less nervous.
In conclusion, I think people should not be hired based on first impressions. I think people should be hired based on good character and skills. After all, how accurate are first impressions?