Step 1 – Getting a Job when your Autistic: Improving your Skills and Qualities in everything you do

Why skills and qualities are needed

The most important aspect of getting a paid job, by far, is the combination of qualifications and experience that you have attained at the time of applying.  This will certainly be the main deciding factor of whether you get an interview or not.  What many people don’t tell you is that your skills and qualities (also known as your soft skills and soft qualities) are also incredibly important when it comes to getting past the interview stage and into a job.  If you’re autistic it’s probably the hardest part of the whole job application and interview process.  If you have got the right qualifications and experience, not having the right skills and qualities will be the biggest reason for not getting a job.

Difference Between Skills and Qualities

Skills are the things that are learnt and improved, over the cause of your education and work life such as written and verbal communication.  Whereas qualities tend to be your personality (many people say what you are born with and develop as you get older naturally) such as patience and trustworthiness.  Qualities tend to be who you are rather than what you have learnt.

Barriers for Autistic People with Skills and Qualities

It is easy to see where people with high functioning autism/asperger’s syndrome have difficulties when looking at what skills and qualities employers require the most.  When looking at Monster.com (a leading global employment website) it lists the top soft skills that employers look for as being:

  1. Communication (written and verbal)
  2. Teamwork
  3. Adaptability
  4. Problem solving
  5. Critical observation
  6. Conflict resolution
  7. Leadership

In my opinion, the top three items of this list are the biggest difficulties in the work place for a person like me with high functioning autism/asperger’s because:

  • Effective face to face verbal communication with the correct eye contact, gestures and body language is incredibly difficult for an autistic person.
  • Teamwork is also incredibly difficult as many (if not most) of us prefer to work alone most of the time. We also find it very difficult to make positive and meaningful relationships (or even friendships) with colleagues.
  • Adaptability is also challenging for us, as it means being able to deal with change immediately and without much warning. We are notorious for not being able to handle any form of change (I have certainly struggled with this my whole life).
  • In addition to the top three, conflict resolution is also an area that an autistic person struggles with, as it is basically being able to resolve arguments and disagreements between yourself and others.

How your Skills and Qualities Will be Assessed when Applying for a Job

The difficulties you have with your skills and qualities will certainly be apparent, to some degree, in the stages of writing an application form, CV and cover letter.  As this involves a high level of written communication skills.  But the area where autistic people will fail the most is at the interview stage as one (or usually more interviewers) will talk to you face to face.  It is in this situation where they will pick out your weaknesses almost immediately.  In many job interview you will also be asked to complete additional tasks where your soft skills are really put to the test.

Additional activities I have done which were part of the interview stage include:

  • Having dinner with the interviewers and other interviewees (I am not very good at eating with people at the best of times).
  • Being taken around a school by two children (the interview panel certainly asked for their feedback).
  • Being asked to teach a lesson to young adults I haven’t met before.
  • Being taken to the staffroom to wait for an interview where other people that work their ask questions about you.

On almost every interview I’ve had for a job (apart from the very low skilled or short term jobs) I have had to do some sort of additional task to test these soft skills and to see how well I build up a relationship and rapport with other people.  More often than not, I am judged on how well I get along with the other interviewees who are applying for the same job as me.

How to Improve your Skills and Qualities In Everything you do

Qualities are difficult to change as it is who you are as a person.  Luckily, autistic people often have the right qualities without trying such as being reliable, trustworthy, hard-working, loyal, punctual, calm and are good listeners.

It is the skills that tend to require the most work.  I am a strong believer (which in many ways is the reason I created this website) that we can learn succeed with autism and vastly improve in some of the areas where our autism affects us the most.  But the only way to improve is to want to change from within yourself and being truly determined to try your best in order to get to where you want to go.  This is not an easy road but one worth taking.

Think about the skills you need to improve on to fit into the work place.  Then set yourself one challenge at a time that will help you towards getting better at this skill.  Make sure it is not too difficult, as you have got plenty of time to improve each skill, and it should take anywhere between several months to a few years to get to a level that your happy with.  It needs to be something that you would not normally do and is not in your comfort zone.  Once you’re happy you’ve achieved the challenge your working on (or you realise you’ve set yourself a challenge too difficult and the right thing is to give up on it for the time being) you can set yourself another challenge.  Keep doing this as regularly as you feel comfortable to. It doesn’t matter how much or little you do as long as your making steady progress you’re happy with.

Challenges (also known as setting goals and targets) will be very individual to you.  If you do it right, it will be at the perfect level for you so you gradually increase your confidence instead of losing confidence by failing too often.  Challenges I have set myself in the past, related to improving my skills include:

  • When I was in my early 20s reading as many fictional books as possible to improve my communication skills, spellings and understanding of written English.
  • Forcing myself to have breaks in the staffroom and talk to other people instead of finding somewhere private to go.
  • Eating lunch with colleagues at lunch time instead of eating lunch in my car alone.
  • Making a massive effort to learn how to spell as many words as possible correctly as this was a big area of weakness even throughout my degree and teacher training. Learning how to enjoy how words are formed and their meanings.
  • Always looking up the origins of words to truly understand their meaning and not just their dictionary definition. It’s really interesting when you get into it.  The main area of finding out the origins of words is called etymology.  One of the best websites for finding the etymology of individual words is  com
  • Aiming to make friendships when I did my last part time course and make an effort to communicate with people there even though I didn’t necessarily need to at times.

Often, just be wanting to improve and having the right mind-set, is enough for change to happen.  These soft skills will develop naturally over time as you will find yourself in more and more situations (either by choice or necessity) where you will practise and improve on these skills.  This in turn will improve your chances of getting paid employment which in turn will improve your skills and qualities even more so you can progress through your career.  Often these skills take years to build for autistic people like us but it’s still worth fighting to get there.

References

https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/soft-skills-you-need

http://www.etymonline.com

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