533: Interviewing Autistic Individuals

 

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1. When being interviewed for a potential job, adults on the autistic spectrum may appear as one of two extremes: 1) overly confident with an almost false persona or 2) extremely nervous and apologetic.
2. Rarely, during an interview, is an autistic jobseeker feeling at ease and content, and able to present a comfortable version of self. This is not an attempt to fool or falsify self, but instead an effort to try to blend in and be part of the ‘norm.’
3. Without a clear guidelines of how to act in a specific role, in this case as interviewee, the an autistic can present as anxious, tense, aloof, frightened or extremely nervous.
4. Partaking in an interview can cause extreme stress for days before the interview. The interview process will more likely than not be over-thought and imagined repeatedly, with multiple outcomes and scenarios. The candidate on the spectrum will typically relive the actual interview itself, repeatedly after the event.
5. What might appear as a simple ‘not a fit’ or ‘no thank you,’ to the hiring agent, can be devastatingly crushing to a person with autism. It’s common to obsess over the reasons for failure and to catastrophize the outcome, incorporating all-or-nothing thinking, and self-torture, in the form of repetitive, obsessive thoughts regarding the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs.’
6. During the hiring process the autistic job candidate might be set at ease with (kind) frankness, direct instructions, consistent reassurance, and clear expectations and goals. While such measures might seem as special treatment or deemed as ‘making exceptions,’ when given the fact that autism is primarily centered on social and communication challenges, taking such measures to decrease social anxiety ought to be considered an essential priority in recruitment.
7. Knowing exact timelines and being exposed to consistent correspondence can alleviate all candidates’ stress levels, but this is particularly true for people on the spectrum. The sense of unpredictability and not-knowing can overcome and consume a person with autism; and this consumption will directly affect their relations with others and behavior, until resolved. In addition, sudden time changes, tardiness, and rescheduling, on the company’s part, can lead to candidates experiencing increased stress levels, panic, and nervousness.
8. Before an interview, some candidates on the spectrum will create scenarios in their mind of failure and miscommunication, and have fear of not being able to express their true intentions and true self. They often have a fear of not appearing genuine and honest enough.
9. Oftentimes, the autistic job candidate will want to be seen, heard and understood; as is such, it is commonplace for an jobseeker to provide information that the interviewer many not deem appropriate, necessary, or beneficial. Most autistics will in fact share thoughts and insights to their own detriment, unable to stop the need to be transparent and forthcoming. While the hiring agent might find this transparency refreshing or curious, the candidate will often feel baffled and embarrassed by their own actions, thinking, once again, they have revealed too much and not followed the ‘correct’ rules.
10. The autistic job candidate will likely wish to have a chance to process with the interviewer as soon as possible to know exactly and specifically ways to improve presentation. For this reason, in some cases, if opportunity allows, the candidate will benefit from careful explanation regarding the reasons why they weren’t hired or considered for further recruitment.
11. As individuals on the spectrum have coexisting conditions such as OCD, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress, and aforementioned patterns of thinking that create a type of self-badgering, it is vital for the recruitment team members to be sensitive to the possible detrimental consequences of the interview process. They simply are not going to respond like typical candidates. What might take a typical person a week to overcome, might take the autistic person years. Often events, particularly those that create a sense of failure, become ingrained in the psyche of a person on the spectrum for a lifetime. While it is impossible for companies to take measures to consistently provide potential candidates reassuring feedback after an interview, it is plausible that interviewers be trained in measures to take to prevent further trauma.
12. Some autistics will have little to no trouble expressing self in various communication venues. But the large majority will have specific triggers to communication that can bring on various outcomes, including panic attacks, insomnia, inconsolable anxiety, and nonstop, rapid thinking.
13. While the autistic individual is interviewing, they will often be acutely self-aware and preoccupied by their own nervousness and internal coaching, and be simultaneously experiencing two conversations at once—one that is shared aloud between the interviewer and interviewee, and one that is an ongoing internal dialogue. Often the internal voice will overshadow the external conversation and, as a result, gaps of time in the interview will be lost. What might appear as being not being present or distracted, is typically the individual attempting to balance the internal voice with the external conversation. It is suitable and advisable for the interviewer to provide ample time for restating questions, reassuring statements, and redirecting the candidate with ideas and positive input.
14. Candidates on the spectrum will sometimes panic with open-ended questions, as most are very quick thinkers, able to connect information at rapid speed and reach multiple conclusions in a matter of seconds. While deliberating over a question, the candidate is also contemplating about what the interviewer expects, wants, and is hinting at. The more specific and direct a question, the better.
15. Some candidates will give quick, short, abrupt answers and be mistaken for non-personable and not forthcoming; while others will overstate, be long-winded and go ‘on and on.’ This tendency for oversharing, or being short in response, will also be present in written documents, such as resumes. It is difficult for a person on the spectrum to judge when written word and spoken word is deemed ‘enough.’ Efforts to clarify, probe, and retrieve more ‘substantial’ information might cause further panic.
16. In most cases, people on the spectrum communicate better in written form with time to process, rethink, and edit thoughts and ideas, than spoken form. When possible, some type of written assessment ought to be utilized during recruitment screening, such as an essay or instant messaging service.
17. Autistics are used to being judged, ridiculed, and told how to fix their behavior. People on the spectrum are often subjected to unsolicited advice, tips,and direction their whole lives. It is best not to offer assistance or help, or a point of view, unless asked.

sam

This post was revised in the summer of 2017. 

Sam’s new book Autism in a Briefcase: A leading edge tool for putting diversity into action is coming soon!

Written by founder of myspectrumsuite.com  Samantha Craft (aka Marcelle Ciampi), M.Ed. is the mother of three boys, one adult son who is on the autism spectrum. She is the lead job recruiter for ULTRA Testing, an autism educator, the author of the blog and book Everyday Aspergers, Selection Committee Chair at the ANCA World Autism Festival and is active in autism groups locally and globally. Samantha serves as a guest speaker, workshop presenter, curriculum developer, neurodiversity recruitment specialist, and more. She is working on her second book Autism in a Briefcase, written to provide insight to employers and agencies about the neurodiverse talent pool. A former schoolteacher and advocate for children with special needs, she appreciates the skills and talents of autistics. Diagnosed with Aspergers in 2012, she enjoys the arts, writing, movies, travel, and connecting with others. (More people know Sam by Sam because it’s her community pen name.)

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11 thoughts on “533: Interviewing Autistic Individuals

  1. Perhaps the best avenue to success is to educate ourselves not others using this information because we will never and can never educate others to the extent necessary to make it unnecessary. That is not, at all, to say that we should stop trying to educate others. This is just looking at from the opposite perspective of using this information to help learn how to live better with those things about ourselves that, at times, can make life more difficult for us.

    As I was reading through it I related to a great deal of it – not everything but some very closely. At the same time I was thinking ‘yes, that is me exactly … and that was being followed with … so if I know that about myself then I can put my efforts into choosing not to be like that / believe that / to not letting it affect me quite so adversely.

    eg “Rarely, during an interview, is a person with Aspergers/autism feeling at ease and content and able to present a comfortable version of self.” If we know this about ourselves and accept ourselves as we are and that part of us then what will be will be. We can only give it our best shot – whatever / however that comes out – we can do no more than that. Accept that and find more acceptance of the potential less desired outcome.

    eg “5. What might appear as a simple ‘not a fit’ or ‘no thank you’ to the potential employer or company can be devastatingly emotionally (and sometimes physically) crushing to a person with Aspergers.” If we know this about ourselves doesn’t it stand to reason that we can then look at it objectively and realise what we are doing and what we are doing to ourselves and work at defusing from it? Perhaps by thinking through what happened as if they happened to someone else and seeing if we come to the same conclusions.

    eg “13. While the individual is undergoing an interview, he or she will often be acutely self-aware and preoccupied by his or her own nervousness and internal coaching.” Again if we know this about ourselves would it be possible to learn how to and decide to no do that for a period (the time length of the interview) but at the same time accept that about ourselves so that when we find ourselves falling into that behaviour, to recognise it and cut it off before it takes hold and disrupts our act of not being like that. ie realise it and go back to not being that. I realise that takes a lot of energy and effort but would it not be possible if it’s for a set period of time knowing that we have a safe place to go to and time where we can rest from being that which we are aren’t.

    These are just random thoughts and examples to give a sense of what I am trying to convey.

    I am sorry if I have said something wrong that upsets or offends. I haven’t meant to. I don’t know what’s it’s like for others. I guess I am just processing thoughts of what I think might work for me to see if they have any validity .. or not.

    1. self-awareness can be very beneficial, indeed, it also can cause further stress and a sense of ‘not good enough’ — as if I know this, why can’t I change it. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts. No offense taken at all!

  2. Your timing is awesome Sam, I have been searching for a new job for many months now and the continuous knock-backs or worse, radio silence, that I’m getting, is really getting me down. I am beginning to wonder if I should talk openly about autism in my interview so that the perception of me being, quote, ‘a shy little mouse’ can be put into perspective, but of course that opens up another can of worms.

    1. I would! It’s part of who you are. But that’s me 🙂 Follow your heart and inner wisdom. I am glad it was good timing. I will be writing a post on my company website on interviewing tips at some point, too. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Reblogged this on Lost and Found and commented:
    Sam over at Everyday Aspergers has put together an excellent guide for anyone in a position to interview and hire people on the autism spectrum. It would also be useful for autists to review to help keep things in perspective and process the experience. I think it would be an excellent resource for autistic students just trying to enter the workforce, entering college, or interviewing for other positions.

  4. Oh Sam, I am terrible at interviews. I’m a different person each time, so far it’s mostly misses with some hits. I acted the closest to myself at the interview for the job I have now. Of course they have no idea I am on the Spectrum.

  5. I loved this…it desperately needed to be written by someone and I am so glad that someone was you!!! (BTW I am also glad to see your painting and creativity again!) Anyway, I pinned it on pinterest and I would like to quote your last point on a home made pin if that is ok…with your name on it because it hit hard…I would put it on this board:

    thanks for all your writings…I always feel less alone…!

  6. I’ve always been the nervous one in an interview. My most recent one, I was the overconfident since I’ve had the job for more than 20 years. Confidence seems to be worse in an interview than nervousness. My guess is that nervous means they think they can mold you to fit their ideas. (lol. Little do they realize….)

  7. Hey Sam…
    I am STILL looking for a new Full-Time role. I know I fit nearly all of the characteristics that you mentioned here in your post. And, I do not interview well.
    The problem comes with disclosure. Sure, someone might find this helpful when interviewing someone who is ‘on the spectrum’, but, what about when they don’t know? Disclosure regarding being autistic, prior to the interview, would be very ‘risky’, wouldn’t it?
    How can an interviewer take these “tips” into consideration, if he/she isn’t even aware of me being autistic?

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