11 Tips for Job Seekers on the Autism Spectrum
by Samantha Craft, M.Ed.
At the 2016 Autistics Present Conference in the state of Washington, USA, hosted by Bellevue College, a member of the Microsoft Autism Inclusive Hiring Panel stated that he was “afraid to take the next step of finding a job” because of “lots of fears and anxieties.” As a result he “took lots of low paying jobs.” As an autistic job recruiter and community manager, working for a technology company that provides work opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum, and as an educator and advocate active in the autism community in America, I’ve come in contact with hundreds of working-age autistics who have faced similar employment challenges. A large percentage of job seekers on the autism spectrum (some sources estimate upwards of 85%) are either underemployed (earning below their education and skill level), in need of more than part-time work, unemployed, or resistant to looking for work (based on lack of work experience, past job loss, or on-the-job bullying). To address the employment needs of a marginalized minority with vast skillsets and potential, I have put together fourteen unique considerations for job seekers on the autism spectrum.
1. Job Search Plan
Unless you are experienced in finding gainful employment, it is advisable not to jump headfirst into applying for a job, without first considering the steps involved in landing a job. An individualized job search plan, a step-by-step guide to securing work, is a good place to start. In example, the plan might begin with personal considerations, such as realistic job seeking benchmarks and personal motivation-levels, follow with tips and strategies to finding work, and end with job openings to approach. A job search plan can be made in a variety of ways, such as in the form of a list, outline, posterboard, spreadsheet, or notebook.
2. Learning Style
A job search plan is most user-friendly when it is tailored to match the job seeker’s learning style. For example, Lisa, a visual-thinker, organizes and retains information more effectively using charts and visual aids, instead of auditory recording aids. She likes information broken into small chunks, bulleted, or on a spreadsheet, and then highlighted in different colors. Others might find Lisa’s learning strategy unappealing or difficult to put into practice, and want to incorporate their own unique learning style. Consider online learning style inventories, such as The Paragon Learning Style Inventory at https://web.calstatela.edu/faculty/jshindl/plsi/taketest.htm when creating your own unique job plan.
3. Realistic Benchmarks
Actor Beau, at the 2016 World Autism Festival, in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, stated, when seeking out a vocation, we often “overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can do in the long term.” Part of vocational planning is implementing a timeline and setting realistic benchmarks. For those on the autism spectrum, all-or-nothing thinking can come into play, as well as the act of hyper-focus. Before you know it, you might burn out from over dedication and the act of attempting to accomplish too much too fast. Slowing down and setting manageable goals can assist in preventing the dreaded burnout. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, agitated, or anxious, take breaks to gain rest and perspective. And don’t forget to reward yourself when you’ve reached certain goals. If you are having trouble getting motivated or staying motivated, figure out why.
4. Support Network
Before you begin to look for employment, establish a support system. In the long run a support system can get you through those setbacks and doubts, and can provide that much-needed incentive to keep you on track. Online autism support groups, such as Facebook groups, have proved a beneficial resource for thousands of autistics who are turning to peer-mentors for support. Enter “autism” or “Aspergers” in the Facebook search engine to find groups. Other sought out sites include Reddit and Wrong Planet.
5. Work Experience
To build up a resume, cover letter, and interview dialogue: gain work experience. Work experience doesn’t have to be paid work. Many applications I review list community service, volunteer work, independent study, internship, teacher’s assistant, self-employment, and training courses. Other ideas for gaining job skills include: writing a blog or an online article, tutoring, and being a leader in a local support group or online group. Practice skills, take classes, read books, watch online tutorials related to your area of work interest. What’s important is to keep moving toward your goal of finding work.
6. Potential Employer Research
One of the qualities I look for in a job candidate is someone who has done their homework. Someone who not only knows about the position they are applying for, but also knows about the company or agency itself. Knowing some facts about a potential place of work, and sharing those facts during an interview, can boost an average candidate to above average status. When a candidate researches about a job, that act alone demonstrates the attributes of initiative and attention to detail. Facts to research might include: The company founders, board members, clients, competitors, employees, history, mission statement. Consider reading company articles or watching YouTubes. Perhaps check out LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Take the time to look.
7. The Job Description
Read the job description! And then reread it over and over. Formulate your resume to match the job description. Don’t send out a generic resume. If you are applying to be a software tester, that fact should be stated in your resume. Recruiters pay attention to detail. When reviewing job descriptions, don’t immediately rule yourself out from the application process. Particularly if some descriptors sound ambiguous, e.g., “great” team player. Job qualifications can be open to interpretation. Your skills and background do not have to exactly match. Ask for a second opinion from a trusted professional or family member. Perhaps attend an online class related to the skills listed in a job description or gain experience through volunteer work. I appreciate when a candidate displays initiative by signing up for a course, after applying for a job. And you have nothing to lose by querying a company to ask if they are considering internships or know of any other similar companies hiring.
8. List Skills, Aptitudes, and Attributes
Practice listing out your positive traits, even if doing so is uncomfortable. Many individuals on the autism spectrum shy away from selling themselves. But recruiters and employers expect you to express some positive attributes on your resume and during the interview. Even if it feels like bragging, talk about yourself. Imagine yourself in the workforce and pick five unique words that describe your work ethic and job performance, such as: determined, consistent, reliable, trustworthy, and quick learner. Visualize exact times you have demonstrated these attributes and write them down. Other attributes might include: strong logic skills, fast thinker, strong recall for details, master facts quickly, capacity for sustained concentration, accurate and precise, will stay with a job until it is finished, honest, genuine, and fair.
9. Practice the Interview
Practice and prepare for your interview. Narrow down what work experiences you will discuss and make sure to tailor them to the job description. Be honest but don’t mention everything. Omitting some information respects the interviewer’s time, and shows you can prioritize what is of least and most importance. You don’t need to mention the one time you were late to a course, if overall you are always on time or early. Prior to the interview, practice what is appropriate to share and not to share with a vocational counselor, job coach, or mentor. Or practice speaking aloud into a recording device and play back your responses. If you are prone to ramble or go off topic in conversation, or freeze up and answer in short sentences, like, “Yes, I do,” then it is essential to practice with mock interview questions. Ask for feedback from a support person and time your responses. Ask the recruiter or employer ahead of time how much time you should set aside for the interview.
10. Know Best Interview Practices
Review best interview practices. During the interview, ask the interviewer to repeat a question and or/ask for an example, particularly if it is an abstract query or a long string of questions. Recognize and prepare for anticipatory anxiety before the interview and lack of energy after the interview. It’s to be expected for those of us on the autism spectrum. Unless you have chosen to disclose your autism and/or the employer is an autism-friendly company, then you may want to pay particular attention to how you present yourself, such as your tone of voice (monotone, over-enthusiastic) and expressions that reflect a lack of interest. Keep in mind a job seeker wants to avoid coming across as over-confident or self-critical. Ask questions during the interview. A safe number is one to three questions. Best questions to ask involve information about the company and reflect you’ve done your homework. Questions generally best to avoid are related to human resources, such as pay rate, pay raises, and health benefits. Avoid questions that make you sound like you are desperate for a job or questions that may be interpreted as suggestions to improve the company. After the interview, express appreciation for the interviewer’s time and email the company thanking them for their time. Kind gestures do make a difference. If you are not moved on in the recruitment process or don’t obtain the job, still send a note of thanks. Consider asking for feedback on how the interview went and how you could improve.
11. Accommodations During the Recruitment Process
Whether or not you choose to disclose you autism to a potential employer is a very personal choice. One computer programmer reported: “I was trying to hide my disability. Even when I was filling out the form, I left the disability questions blank because I didn’t want people to discriminate against me.” She later disclosed her autism, when she understood the culture of the company. If you do disclose your disability, and you have an official diagnosis, you may ask for reasonable accommodations during the recruitment process. A reasonable accommodation might include requesting extra time for the completion of written tests, application materials, and email correspondence, and/or extending the the interview time. Take into consideration the pros and cons of asking for assistance from the get-go. Some employers might interpret this as self-care, planning ahead, and a display of confidence. Others might interpret the need for assistance as a reflection of neediness and inefficiency. Unfortunately, we cannot control how others interpret us or respond to reasonable requests. Unless you have firsthand knowledge of the work culture and employer’s openness to accommodations, it is best to talk over with a support person whether or not it’s a good idea to ask a potential employer for accommodations.
Samantha Craft, M.Ed. is the founder of Spectrum Suite LLC, the lead job recruiter for ULTRA Testing, an autism educator, and the author of the well-received blog and book Everyday Aspergers. She served as chair of the selection committee at the ANCA World Autism Festival and is active in autism groups locally and globally. She can be reached on Twitter at aspergersgirls and everydayaspergers@ gmail.com.
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