Handling Job Interviews

One of the most common questions I have seen come up with autistic folks is how to handle job interviews. It’s pretty obvious that it’s one that we’d struggle with, we know that first impressions aren’t always things that we excel at. And sometimes we aren’t the best at answering the questions that people are actually asking instead of the question that they asked.

Yeah, I’ve totally bombed some interviews myself. I’ve stimmed so hard in spinning chairs that I’m pretty sure that the interviewer thought I was on drugs. Or showed up massively under dressed because I didn’t realize that the slacks and a polo shirt was absurdly casual for a mall department store women’s clothing section. Despite the fact that my mother used to work in one, I’d somehow never really picked up on the fact that those ladies are usually dressed up pretty damned nice?

Once I found “my” field, I’ve typically done much better. I fit in pretty well in the tech world and I definitely answer questions about my knowledge well enough to make up for the fact that I am always fidgety and questionable in a lot of the skills that everyone is told not to do in interviews because it makes you look awkward and everything else. I also gave up on a lot of the advice giving to neurotypical individuals for job interviews because I can never fake it well enough to make it work for me. I can mask pretty damned well, but I can’t do it super well in a highly anxiety inducing environment, and I’m willing to bet many other autistic individuals also struggle with this as well.

General advice:

  • Make jokes when you can
  • Be honest
  • Ask questions to be sure you understand their questions

To expand that a little bit further and clarify. I deal with stress by trying to make myself laugh, which translates to I usually crack some kind of joke during an interview, which will usually make my interviewer laugh. Everybody likes to laugh, so it kinda warms them up to me. If this isn’t your nature, don’t try to force it, but if it is, this can definitely work in your favor. Don’t try to stifle it just because you think it might not work for you. I’ve definitely made some jokes that your traditional career help office probably wouldn’t recommend in interviews that I’ve landed jobs from (self-deprecating jokes, Big Brother jokes, etc) but it generally works for me. General standard caveats of nothing off color.

Honesty definitely needs a clarification. During a job search, pretty much everyone and their mother’s dog will tell you that you need to embellish your resume and skills in order to land a job. I don’t and I won’t. Embellishment is a waste of mine and everyone else’s time. I do list skills on my resume that I am working on, usually in a section clearly stating that I am learning/in classes for and during interviews, when asked about these skills or what I have done with these skills, I always answer with “I have limited experience in a working environment, however, in my personal lab/in this project at school/etc I did XYZ”.

The worst thing about misunderstanding a question is that you may not even realize that you answered a totally different question and didn’t even answer what was asked and have a grey cloud hovering around you now. I can’t even tell you how many times I have had an HR/initial phone screen wherein I was asked a yes or no question which I answered in the affirmative and had nothing else said and they moved on to the next question and I’d then be black holed and I’d never hear anything again.

I was entirely confused until I saw an internal documentation at a company for a posting that we had with a similar question for the recruiters to ask potential candidates and what to look for and it was looking for examples. A yes or no question. And they were supposed to provide examples. Why ask a yes or no question and then expect a full answer with examples?

It seems obvious in retrospect, but it still kind of blows my mind because a yes or no question has a short answer of yes or no, not “Yes, examples a, b, c” especially in a short screening. So never worry about asking for clarification to be sure that you are actually answering the question that the interviewer is expecting you to answer. No need to sell yourself short because you answered the wrong question.

Should I Get Diagnosed?

This is a super personal question, there is honestly no right or wrong answer to it. If you’re here, then you probably have been through a lot of reading and basically come to the conclusion that you feel like Autism is probably the right answer for you.

You’ve likely seen the statistics on how girls who aren’t don’t need more support go under diagnosed by the system. The research was done primarily with boys, and all of the data was biased toward boys and how they present. It’s not exactly hard to make it to teens or adulthood as a lady without a diagnosis.

For many, the self diagnosis is really enough, it answers the questions they always had about themselves. They read the stories, they feel like they finally found their soul sisters and they suddenly had this massive weight they didn’t even know they were carrying pulled off of their shoulders. The relief is enough because they finally know that they aren’t alone and that other people feel the way they feel and see the world the way that they see the world.

There’s also likely some anxiety that they will be dismissed, experts will see them make some eye contact and just go “well, eye contact happened, not autistic, have a nice day” (and honestly, that might happen). It doesn’t mean that your journey is over. Get a second opinion, or a third. Research for better specialists, ask your general practitioner for better specialists.

For others, the official paper that says “yes, I do have this thing” is important. For me, it is important. It was important for me to get it for my daughter. I wanted to have the “yes, it’s true, I really can’t handle this unless I have X to help me out” or “no, my daughter can’t do this situation the same way as the rest of her class, but if you let her take breaks in a quiet room she’ll be able to handle it”. For my daughter, I really wanted her to know throughout her life that she isn’t broken, she is just different.

When I approached my daughter’s pediatrician about getting my daughter assessed for autism, we had the general conversation about why I believed she is autistic and then I told him that I know that girls have a very hard time getting an accurate diagnosis and I wanted him to recommend to me not just any specialist but I wanted him to recommend to me specialists that he knows have previously worked with girls who were on the “higher end” of the spectrum. Specialists who had worked with girls who present similarly to my daughter. I specifically told him that I was not interested in approaching this through the school district because I wanted to reduce the likelihood of getting the older school of thought of autism only presents this way because of research in boys.

Her pediatrician printed out the normal list and he went through each of the referrals that the office can make and he circled three or four, but when he got to a specific name on that list, he said “this one, she recently did a fantastic write up for another one of my patients who is very similar in behavior to your daughter”. And she was fantastic. Utilize your resources as much as you can and be clear that you know there is a struggle in diagnosis for girls and women and that you want to try and limit the search for specialists that understand that there is a struggle for girls and women. Leverage your doctors and psychologists if they are on your side to help you in this search as much as you can.

In my opinion, there is no harm that can come from a diagnosis, only benefits that can come. But there is no need to disclose your diagnosis to anyone unless you want to after you get it.

Of course, all of this is assuming that you have ready access to decent healthcare and professionals who are caught up with the times and won’t need to hop through multiple professionals and/or travel extremely far in order to find an adult autism specialist.