There’d be a description, except it turns out that no one could figure out how to describe the club.
Humor aside, alexithymia is a fun little condition wherein an individual has difficulty identifying their own emotional state. There’s no diagnostic criteria within the DSM V as there are honestly quite limited studies done on it. It was coined in the 70s by a psychiatrist to try and explain why some patients basically have no story to tell for why they do things like self harm or who have severe struggles putting their feelings into words.
Despite there being no diagnostic criteria within the DSM-V, there are, some screeners that you can do to see if you might potentially have alexithymia. Feel free to hit it up here.
Autistic individuals may find this particularly interesting as while alexithymia may only be present in up to 8% of males and 2% of females, it looks like the percentages go way up with ASD. Various studies have found different numbers, but it looks like it about half of us have alexithymia.
It does kind of make some sense, no? Difficulty recognizing our own emotions at any given point in time might just make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others which can definitely impact social skills and so on, just kind of piling on to the lovely pile of things that comes with the whole package.
For me, on pretty much any given day, at any particular moment. If you ask me how I’m feeling, even if I’m really, really thinking about it and trying. I’m just going to be feeling “meh”. It’s just flat. There’s nothing really going on.
I get heart palpitations that I presume are anxiety related because they only come on during times that are logically high stress, but when the palpitations occur, I am not even aware that I feel any different than any other time.
I usually won’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m way passed the point of no return, so to speak. Easily irritated and wanting to rip my hair out and hide and cry? Yep, obviously I’m stressed. If only I had realized this earlier and could have taken a break.
As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at identifying some emotions. Mostly negative emotions. Have you ever noticed that there are only really focal classes and seminars and such on negative emotions? How to identify negative emotions and manage negative emotions? It’s recently been bugging me that there aren’t really similar things for telling the difference between joy and happiness and elation. What is the difference between these things?
Just like frustration and anger and rage are not all the same negative emotion, even though they are all on the “anger” spectrum, but I honestly have no idea what the difference between the scale of “happy” spectrum is.
There are a few ways to help improve the recognition of your own emotions, even for those of us who struggle: regular journaling, reading, therapy, etc.
Journaling out your thoughts and emotions each day is a great way, albeit it will feel really silly and actually be challenging when you start. Once you start trying to name out what you feel, it’ll help you learn to start identifying them more and more frequently.
Reading, well, of course. I’ve always been an avid reader. Doesn’t even need to be novels or anything, just other people’s stories, manga, or whatever else you can find. You will find that in pretty much all versions of a story out there, emotions are well documented and explained. The more versions you read and explanations behind them, the easier it will get to identify it within yourself.
Therapy is pretty much always a good one, a trained specialist working with you is an unbiased source who has all of the expertise and experience to make sure you don’t get led astray while working on it. They can also help you work through other problems at the same time. I’m super pro-therapy, provided that you can find a therapist that you mesh well with.
For me, personally, it’s been a mixture of a lot of self-reflection and reading to get a better idea of what makes me tick. Reading other people’s experiences. Reading fiction. Reading non-fiction. Reading a ton of stuff on reddit. Reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on pretty much anywhere. Thinking about how I reacted in various situations. Near-constant self-reflection (which is what journaling also touches on).
I’m still not fantastic at it, by any means. But, I will say that I am getting better.
Cultural fit questions are so much tougher for autistic individuals than the knowledge based questions, am I right? So much more anxiety-inducing and if you’re anything like me, you probably lose way more sleep over wondering if you messed these up than you ever did on your actual field-relevant questions.
I definitely know that I nailed my cybersecurity related questions on my recent interviews, but the vagueness of culture fit and behavior related questions can be so thoroughly nerve-wracking. The worst part about it, at least for me, is that I leave the interview feeling fantastic about how I did. And then everything starts to sink in and by about an hour, maybe two hours later, I’m convinced that I didn’t even resemble a human.
So, let’s get to it and tackle some of the questions that stress us out the most, shall we?
Do you prefer to work alone, or with a team?
Now, I always will tell you to answer questions honestly. And, if you love teamwork, good for you, definitely go ahead and answer that honestly. If you’re like me and definitely prefer working solo, this can be a harder question to answer, as it can come across negatively.
My personal favorite wording that I’ve come up with that sounds better is “While I do prefer to do my actual work independently, I like to have a team available to lean on and ask questions and bounce ideas off of”. Basically “I do like to work alone, but play well with others”.
What we’re trying to avoid is trying to sound like you’re too arrogant to like working with others or that you can’t handle any criticism or just generally can’t play well with others. This one can definitely be a struggle for autistic individuals, since we typically aren’t the greatest at first impressions, so we might seem a bit standoffish or short. If you prefer individualized working styles, come up with a phrasing that highlights that you still value your team in some fashion.
What about this role do you think will challenge you?
This is typically looking into how much you really investigated the position, make sure you still have the posting available and have assessed it compared to your skills and have a good idea of where your weaknesses are compared to your strengths. Don’t be too afraid to be honest about it, just don’t simultaneously undersell yourself at the same time!
I don’t honestly come across this question too often, but it stumped me really badly when I was asked it the first time because it was super unexpected for me, so I wanted to throw it in here. My personal opinion on this question aside, it’s a great opportunity to showcase how you want to continue to grow your skills in the position that you want. If it’s a chance to increase your coding skills? Highlight that. Chance to increase your public speaking skills? Perfect opportunity to mention that. Leadership? You get the gist of it now. This shouldn’t be anything that is at the core responsibilities of the position as you don’t want the interviewer to start to wonder if you’re really capable of doing the job after all.
Questions about the company’s core values/How you identify with the core values.
A big part of this is going to be about proving that you researched the company a bit and are interested in the company itself. For instance, some of Amazon’s leadership principles include frugality and always learning and remaining curious, so you’d want to point out that you have a thirst for knowledge and prove it through the fact that you are always looking for new courses on Udemy to pick up new skills while they are sale.
How do you handle when you have multiple situations come in at the same time that all need to be handled?
I am in mostly ticket-related type situations due to the types of positions I have had, however this can relate to a variety of positions as well. It’s typically somewhat related to basically determining how you’ll prioritize in a moment of stress. My typical answer for this is to basically always get an idea of what each situation needs and then do a quick triage assessment and go from there: anything of total urgency comes up first, or anything that can be resolved in a few seconds might take the lead just because we can get it out of the “queue” immediately before moving on. Perhaps there is a customer that is of more importance with a super important issue that we can delegate, etc. Basically the concept of get a triage assessment going so that we can properly assess a proper order to handle all of these situations.
Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer/client/coworker.
The main purpose of this question is to get an understanding of how you de-escalate an angry customer or situation. The best method is to say that you’ll hear the person out and attempt to resolve the problem and mitigate any issues that you can. It is important for the other person to feel listened to and reassured that they are heard, otherwise you will never be able to make any progress toward resolving whatever the issue is.
It’s pretty easy to shoot yourself in the foot with this issue, if you say that you’ve never dealt with any difficult people ever it’ll sound like you’re lying. If you pick a situation where there was absolutely no fault on your end and communicate it poorly, it could sound like you place all blame on the other party and accept no potential fault and you may not take criticism very well.
As an example, very early on my career, I had a very bad secret shop done on me while I was working in a coffee shop in an airport, way before I even knew I was autistic. The secret shopper walked in, high energy, practically yelling hello and waving. This behavior was entirely out of line for normal behavior in an airport so my assumption was that he either knew someone in the shop or he knew my coworker and was addressing them. And then.. Nobody responded to him. My coworker and I looked back and forth between him and each other clearly confused. The secret shopper, perturbed at not being replied to, quite excitedly addressed us again. I basically lost the draw between myself and my coworker, so I went and took his order (and was the lucky one to get the score from this secret shop).
Needless to say, this secret shop was poorly scored because of this first impression. A couple years later, I used this situation in an interview for another coffee shop as a time I had messed up and what I had learned from it. I also did not stop talking when I saw the interviewers eyes go wide as soon as I told her the score I got. I did not stop talking as I continued to watch all of the negative body language as she watched me continue on to explain how he had completely caught me off guard because I didn’t know how to react to this situation that was so entirely unexpected.
At that point, she had basically entirely stopped listening to me and already decided not to hire me. Yet, I was thinking if I just got to the actual apex of this story, the entire point here that I could actually save myself. I had learned from this situation and never scored lower than a 95 on a secret shop again. No luck. I did not get hired at the coffee shop. I don’t think I even got a actual rejection from said coffee shop, just the application black hole. Don’t be me. Don’t pick literally your worst example with a redemption story arc.
Tell me about a time that you made a mistake at work and how you resolved it.
This is a big one, for quite a few reasons. They are looking for you to obviously tell how you handle making a mistake and how you go about fixing it. This is a very straightforward question for me, because I have no issue whatsoever with admitting that I make a mistake and owning it. My general process is to immediately admit that I make a mistake and let’s get this fixed.
My advice for this particular question is to start keeping a situation in mind for it, should it come up. It’s started becoming common especially in tech companies, I don’t know about how common it is outside of tech companies, but just keep a couple of good situations ready to fire away. Nothing over the top bad, but nothing too minor. A typing error does not count as a mistake at work. Be willing to admit that you, too, are in the category of human and, unlike many others, you are willing to admit that you make mistakes, even semi-big ones.
How could a manager best support you?
This is one of those questions where I’d like to remind you that an interview is going both ways. This is a very good question to answer honestly. For me, personally, I am highly intrinsically motivated. I work best when I’m allowed the opportunity to set my own goals and know what my expectations are for my role. I will perform pretty dang well when I’m left to my own devices and allowed the freedom to figure out how to meet all of the requirements of the in and outs of my role. Feel free to give me nudges back to those if I start to veer off to one side, but generally let me have the freedom and I’ll be a happy worker. I personally don’t thrive very well under a manager who wants to manage the nuance of all of my individual goals as well as the fine-tuning of my daily schedule and effectively micro managing my day.
So, again, you are also interviewing the company and team at the same time as you are being interviewed. If the manager that you would thrive under is not the type of manager that is interviewing you and not the type of team that is interviewing you based on your answer, so this opportunity doesn’t work out. That’s perfectly okay! It wouldn’t have been a situation you would have wanted to stay in long.
How do you deal with a disagreement with your boss?
This is similar to the earlier question about the difficult customer/coworker situation, where it’s basically about making sure that you can handle it in a reasonable method. Pretty much everyone has had some kind of disagreement with their boss in some fashion. For me, my example for this question and the next are effectively the same, so I’ll give it with the next and just a general answer here.
Basically you’ll want to provide an example of what the situation was, and how you handled it. Ideally with a conversation with your boss where you spoke it out and how you compromised and reached the agreement.
Have you ever disagreed with a company policy? What did you do?
Again, basically to see what kind of behavior you’ll do and how you’ll approach the policy and what kind of action you’ll take. My example that hits both of these questions was when I was working at a chat center, we had a new head honcho who came in and wanted us to change our process for starting up and closing chats and every single agent using the exact same entrance and closing script so that no matter who the customer was talking to, it looked exactly the same.
So, y’know, the policy was now that the customer should expect a robotic response and closing rather than a personalized greeting and closing from individual agents. My boss expected me to fully back this horse to our team since I was the team lead. Problem? I whole-heartedly disagreed with the entire policy. I thoroughly believed that utilizing the robotic scripts would harm our agents stats because they had personalized opening and closing scripts (the last things that the customers saw before they received surveys) that added some additional flair that seemed (in the past) to have dramatically increased the positive survey totals.
Boss-man wanted me to be positive about it and jazz it up a bit to the team because he knew the team would follow my lead. If I wasn’t so hot on it, then the team would be even less likely to want to follow this new policy. Turns out that was just the right amount of fluffing up my ego, so I agreed to test it out when I would take chats to help out and would jazz it up to our team in spite of my personal feelings.
It turned out that using the required scripts had no real impact on my personal stats and didn’t seem to alter the frequency of my surveys. As a result of my willingness to work with the boss-man through my disagreement with the policy, our team were the earliest adopters of this new policy when compared to other teams on the floor. And it turns out that it did not negatively impact our team’s overall stats, which was my main concern with this policy.
Other good examples for this question would be where you approached a policy and found that the policy was lacking so you found evidence the policy was lacking and got the policy changed or revoked. Basically anything other than “I pretended the policy didn’t exist and repeatedly broke it”.