As many Autistics are aware, job interviews are a minefield. So how can we show up as our authentic Autistic selves, and still get the job offer?
Here are some of my personal “Life Hacks” for job interviews, “Autistic Interview Hacks”.
Start with Finding the Right Job For You
• Start with your passions (often referred to as “special interests”). You likely have extensive knowledge and expertise in these areas. If you’ve been lucky enough to work in a field that falls in one of these topics, you also have proven skills and experience in your favor. Even if you haven’t had the opportunity to work in your field of interest, you should look into jobs that utilize your interests and deep knowledge. One of the benefits of working in a field that you are most passionate about, is that you may already have more qualifications than those who have worked in your field for decades, due to your passionate pursuit for knowledge and understanding of that topic. Additionally, your passion will drive you to learn quickly on the job and develop a deeper expertise and skill that most employees will not accomplish in their career.
• Connect online with Autistic people who have worked in recruiting, those who have large professional networks, and who want to see more Autistics in the workplace. They likely have connections that you never imagined existed and can connect you with people who are in the field you are interested in going into, who can give you an understanding of what it is like to work in that field, and what success looks like in that field.
• If your passions are not an option, for one reason or another, look at what your unique skills are. What have you been known to be the best at in your previous jobs, or skills you thrive at even outside of work? These may lead you to jobs that value these skills highly and are looking for someone who excels in these areas.
Reach Out to Your Network for Ideal Opportunities
• Resist the urge to apply to every opening that you find. Not every job is the right fit for you.
• Indiscriminately job hunting can be a long and arduous journey, and often doesn’t lead you to the best opportunities for you.
• Autistic people who have worked in recruiting, or have extensive networks, can help you find opportunities and connect you with the right people in your chosen field, opening up your prospects.
• Apply to a few ideal opportunities and put a lot of effort into your application and your pre-interview preparation. Research organizations before applying to ensure it is somewhere you think you can thrive.
• It is important to make sure you have an equitable chance in the interview process. Ask for things that specifically make it more equitable to you in the interview process. This can be for your sensory needs or a variety of other things you personally need. You don’t have to disclose your specific disability to request accommodations.
• One common reasonable request for Autistic applicants (even if you haven’t disclosed you are Autistic) is to request the interview questions in advance. I usually ask to receive them a minimum of 24 hours before the interview. This helps in a couple of different ways. It helps me to know what’s coming and not have too many surprises. It also allows me to thoughtfully prepare my responses so that I don’t end up spending all my time trying to think of examples or going on tangents. It also benefits the hiring team as you will save them time by having your responses prepared and streamlined for them, and they will get a clear view of your capabilities, which includes your aptitude for well-prepared projects.
• If you have sensory sensitivities that inhibit your performance in an interview, ask for accommodations that will mitigate those issues. If you have issues with artificial lighting, especially florescent lights, ask if you can move the interview outside (weather permitting) or to a conference room with lots of externally facing windows, taking advantage of natural light sources.
• One common accommodation that works for most people, not just Autistic applicants, is to request a virtual interview over Zoom or other video conferencing platforms. This is beneficial for people who currently have a job, eliminating the travel time for the interview. It is beneficial for Autistic people who need to have more control over their sensory environment. This also allows you to mitigate the eye contact issue. Eye contact is less noticeable and more manageable in virtual interviews. If you are concerned eye contact will still be a struggle for you, tape a picture of something you like to look at next to your camera. It will encourage you to look at the camera more often than you normally would. An added benefit to this request is that it eliminates the need to request additional sensory or environmental accommodations, which may in turn give you more comfort and confidence as a result of limiting the requests you have to make.
• If you have sound sensitivity and virtual interview is not an option, request to interview in a quiet space with limited external noise, to limit distractions. Interviewing teams will also benefit from limiting distractions so that they can focus on listening to your responses, and they will get your full attention as well.
• If you rely on AAC or other forms of technology to communicate you can request to utilize that for your communication needs. If you rely on a support worker for your communication, be sure to make that a non-negotiable for your interview accommodations as well. You have a right to equitable access to communication.
• Requesting accommodations, whether you disclose you are Autistic or not, may feel daunting to tackle, invasive to share, or feel as if you are asking too much. Allowing your concerns to make you mask in one area or multiple areas in lieu of requesting accommodations can disadvantage you, and requesting accommodations will make the interview more equitably accessible to you. Legally, hiring organizations are required to provide reasonable accommodations. Realistically, most of these accommodations present little to no inconvenience to the hiring team and can even benefit them as well.
Knowledge is Key
• Leverage the knowledge and expertise of people who have worked in recruiting or hiring managers. They know all the things that hiring managers look for in a candidate and what matters most in interviews. If they are open to it, see if they will offer you a mock interview to practice in advance, or if they just have some insider tips on key words or topics to include in your responses.
• Do your research. We all know an Autistic deep dive research into an area of interest is extensive and enlightening. Research the organization you are interviewing with, find out everything you can about their values and goals, and look up the people you need to know (hiring managers, their CEO, etc.) and see what you can learn about their accomplishments, their values and goals, and passion projects (if any of that information is readily available). If you already have connections within the organization, seek their insights. Even if it doesn’t come up in the interview, find ways to tailor your responses to align with the organization’s values, goals, and passion projects. Whether any of this comes up in the interview or not, you will feel more confident and prepared with more knowledge.