533: Interviewing Individuals with Aspergers Syndrome

1. When interviewing candidates-for-hire on the autistic spectrum, either remotely or face-to-face, individuals 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 a person with Aspergers/autism 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.’ This is a result of a strong intrinsic desire to meet others’ expectations in order to fit in and avoid ridicule or miscommunication.
3. Without a rulebook or list of how to act in a specific role, in this case as interviewee, the candidate can present as anxious, tense, aloof, frightened and/or extremely nervous.
4. Partaking in an interview can cause extreme stress for days before the interview. The interview process will more than likely 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 potential employer or company can be devastatingly emotionally (and sometimes physically) crushing to a person with Aspergers. He or she will commonly obsess over the reasons he or she ‘failed’ and quite possibly 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 participant with Aspergers might be set at ease with 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 Aspergers is primarily centered around social challenges, taking such measures to decrease social anxiety caused by socializing and communication barriers ought to be considered an essential priority in recruitment.
7. Knowing exact timelines and being exposed to consistent communication 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 Aspergers, and this consumption will directly affect their relations with others and behavior/actions 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 occurs, individuals with Aspergers, particularly females on the spectrum, will create scenarios in their mind of failure, miscommunication, and the 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. Much time is spent wanting to be the best she can be. As of such, females on the spectrum, and some males, will be their own worse judge, critic and enemy, dissecting behaviors and speech, and even analyzing the purity and honesty of their thoughts based on self enforced rules of conduct.
9. Oftentimes the individual with Aspergers will want to be seen, heard and understood. As of such, it is commonplace for both genders on the spectrum to over share and give information that the interviewer many not deem appropriate, necessary or beneficial. Most individuals on the spectrum will in fact share thoughts and insights to their own detriment, unable to stop the need to be transparent and forthcoming. While the observer might find this refreshing and/or curious, the candidate will often feel baffled and embarrassed by his or her own actions, feeling once again he or she has revealed too much and not followed the ‘correct’ rules.
10. The candidate with Aspergers will wish to have a chance to process with the interviewer as soon as possible to know exactly and specifically ways to improve presentation and more so self. For this reason, in some cases if opportunity allows, the candidate with Aspergers will benefit from careful explanation regarding the reasons why he or she wasn’t hired or considered for further recruitment.
11. As individuals on the spectrum do indeed have special needs and comorbid 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 companies hiring people on the spectrum to be sensitive to the possible emotional and behavioral effect the interview process has on candidates on the spectrum. They simply are not going to respond like most neurotypical candidates. What might take a neurotypical person a week to overcome, might take the person with Aspergers years. Often events, particularly 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. While some individuals on the spectrum prefer phone calls without face-to-face correspondence others will feel more comfortable with a face-to-face video conference. As social interaction is the main challenge for people with Aspergers, ideally a company will be sensitive to how communication needs vary from each individual. There is no one way that is best as each on the spectrum is unique in his or her challenges and level of social comfort. Some 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 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. He will simultaneously be experiencing two conversations—one that is shared aloud between the interviewer and interviewee and one that is internal dialogue. Often the internal voice will overshadow the external conversation and gaps of time in the interview will be lost. What might appear as behavior on the interviewee’s part that denotes not being present or distracted is typically the individual attempting to balance the internal voice with the external interview.
14. 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.
15. Candidates on the spectrum will sometimes panic with open-ended questions, as most are very quick thinkers able to connect dots 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 is the better.
16. 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 over-sharing or being short will also be present in written documents, such as resumes. It is often difficult for a person on the spectrum to judge when written word and spoken word is deemed ‘enough’ by the observer.
17. Efforts to clarify, probe and retrieve more ‘substantial’ information might cause further panic.
18. In most cases people on the spectrum communicate better in written form with time to process, rethink and edit thoughts and ideas. When possible, some type of written form ought to be utilized during recruitment screening, such as an essay or instant messaging service.
19. People with Aspergers 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.

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10 thoughts on “533: Interviewing Individuals with Aspergers Syndrome

  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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