Job seeking can be an intimidating and confusing time for anyone, but for Autistic job seekers, these feelings are often compounded. However, with a few tweaks to your approach, you can not only lessen the stress and confusion of trying to find work but also increase your chances of being successful!
1. Job Seeking - an underrated team sport?
As is often the case in life, job searching can be more enjoyable and effective when done in a team.
Think about the people you have around you - your family & friends. Who will most likely give you honest advice, help boost your confidence and encourage you? Ask them to support you in your job search!
There are also a number of online communities for autistic and neurodiverse people, many of whom are in the same position as you, looking for work. Others will be working, but have been through the process of seeking a job. These communities can be a great place to find like-minded people who really understand your situation and can provide useful advice, support and encouragement.
2. Experience - a portfolio approach
For artists and those in more creative pursuits (graphic design and architecture etc) the idea of creating a portfolio of works that you can show prospective employers (or clients) is pretty normal.
Think about how you might be able to similarly showcase previous experiences you’ve had. Consider any work experience, volunteer, school or university project, internships, self-employment or even hobbies you’ve had. All of these provide opportunities for you to learn skills and give you exposure to different environments, people and problems to solve.
Want to add to your ‘portfolio’ of experiences? Take up opportunities such as tutoring, writing a blog, joining a local community support group, sports team or online community. University clubs and associations also provide fantastic opportunities to build work-relevant skills.
Spend some time thinking about the key lessons you may have learned from these sorts of experience and write these down - you’ll find the information helpful in writing your resume, cover letters and preparing for interviews. Check in with your job search teammates and validate your thinking with them. They may have some other thoughts to add to your list.
3. Job Descriptions and reading between the lines
One of the major challenges you may face is understanding just what an employer is searching for based on reading the job description. It’s quite common for most job descriptions to outline what the perfect candidate would look like rather than what the employer would reasonably expect to recruit.
Just because the job description says things like “great team player” or “must have advanced skills in xxx”, doesn’t mean that this is absolutely mandatory. Your skills or experiences don’t have to perfectly match the listed requirements. If you’re not sure, check in with your job search team or someone else whose opinion you trust.
When preparing your resume, as much as you can, aim to tailor it to fit the job description. It’s not about lying, but highlighting the skills and experiences you have with those outlined in the job description. Your cover letter should also reference the key skills and experiences that you have that match the job description.
Never send the same cover letter and resume to every job you apply for. Taking a little bit of time to tailor each to the job your applying for will improve the likelihood of getting to the next stage.
4. Research, Interview Preparation & the Hard Sell
Awesome, you’ve been asked to come in for an interview! Way to go, the effort you put into preparing your resume and cover letter was worth it.
But, before you head off to your interview you need to do a little preparation!
Spend some time online and do some research on the company you’ll be meeting. What industry are they in? What are some of the key issues facing that industry right now? Are there changes occurring in the markets the organisation operates in? What sort of customers do they serve and what are their flagship products?
Having some knowledge of the organisation will help you to ask better questions in your interview and to reference topical issues related to their business in your interview. Demonstrating this level of interest shows the interviewer that you’re engaged and have taken the time and effort to learn about them in a meaningful way - great stuff when it comes to making a hiring decision!
Also, spend some time listing out and practicing; saying out loud your positive traits or strengths. Selling yourself may be hard, but an interview is an opportunity for you tell the interviewer what you can bring to their organisation.
Think about the experiences you’ve had before and any positive feedback you may have received (formally or informally) and choose 3-5 unique words that describe your work ethic and performance (ie consistent, reliable, determined, innovative, creative, dedicated etc). For each of these, think about times you might have demonstrated these traits and note them down - this will be super helpful in your interview.
5. Successful Interviews
One tip that I was given from a prolific and successful autistic interviewee is - when you are answering an interview question, don’t speak for more than 2 minutes without checking in with the interviewer. You could simply pause and ask “does that answer your question, or would you like to hear more?”
Remember the notes you made about your experiences and their connection to the job description. Also the notes you made about your positive traits and the references to when you recall having displayed them. This is going to be your opportunity to use that material and the time you spent practicing saying them out loud should help you overcome any uncomfortable feelings about selling yourself.
Never forget that an interview is as much about you finding out about the organisation as it is about them getting to know you. Take the opportunity to ask about the role, the team and the organisation. You could ask what the team and organisational culture is like, what opportunities for training and development may be available to you and the smaller things like dress code expectations and regular team events.
Aim to ask between one and three questions and leverage the research you did before the interview - remember this is your to chance to demonstrate your interest in the organisation. Avoid questions that could be interpreted as suggestions for improvements.
Don’t forget to thank the interviewer and sending a short ‘thank you’ note afterwards will always set you apart from other candidates (in a good way!). If you’re not successful, ask for feedback on things you could improve on for the next interview you might have.
6. To Disclose or Not To Disclose, That is the Question
So far the one topic we’ve not covered at all is disclosure. This is an area that is very personal and ultimately the only person who can make the decision to disclose is you.
There will be a number of points in the recruitment process, from the time you submit an application through to the day you start work where you will be presented with an opportunity to disclose. That opportunity may be explicit, such as via a specific question on an application form or implicit in so far as you can elect to tell your hiring manager about your specific circumstances or diagnosis.
You can disclose to the recruiter or Human Resources representative, your manager, your immediate colleagues or to everyone you’ll likely work with.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong approach and it is something that is deeply personal. Something to consider however is that if you would be more comfortable at work or be able to perform more effectively through the provision of specific adjustments, then at least a minimum level of disclosure will be required.
You could choose to disclose the need for additional time for testing (with support from any adjustments received at university or school) for example. Or you could choose to disclose more fully and then outline the specific adjustments you’re seeking.
One of the challenges with not disclosing is that it becomes challenging to contest a recruitment decision (ie not to hire) in the instance where the interviewer did not know of any specific circumstances that may have warranted adjustments or allowances in assessment.
Notwithstanding that in most legal jurisdictions, organisations are required to provide reasonable adjustments to autistic people along with other neurodiverse individuals, and many organisations are either empathetic and understanding of the needs of others, or are actively seeking out a more diverse workforce and appreciate the value neurodiverse candidates can bring.
I hope you find these tips helpful in your job search. When looking to find people to help you with finding work there are a number of agencies that can assist you, with staff who have experience of supporting autistic people to find work.
Alternatively, if you’d like to connect with the only neurodiversity recruitment agency in Australia, then please reach out and let’s start a conversation!
Chris Turner: Supporting autistic and neurodiverse job seekers and their potential employers to form meaningful, long-term relationships.
Looking for some advice and guidance? Got questions and looking for answers? Drop me a line and I'll be in touch.