Step 2 – Getting a Job when your Autistic: Guide to Finding Work Experience

Qualifications and experience are the two things you need the most when you want to get into a paid job.  You will probably find it easy to get the right qualifications, as these come naturally from going to school and doing well there.  Then you’ll move on to sixth form or college after this and possibly university.  The path for getting qualifications is usually a straight forward one where you are on kind of a conveyor belt and going through the motions of moving up levels of courses.

Getting work experience isn’t so easy.  It often means trying harder than you need to, at this moment in your life.  Perhaps you are living with your parents or carers.  Or you are at college or university and you feel that you don’t need to work right now.  But whatever your circumstances are, if you want to get a job in an area you haven’t worked in before, or you want to get your first paid job, you need to be strong, brave and determined and go out into the world and get some experience.

Why is Experience so Important?

When you are going for a job the person who interviews you will only have a few things in mind when looking for someone to work for them.  The main thing is ‘can you do the job you are applying for, do it well and without much training?’  This is where you experience really gets you the job.  Because you have done this kind of job before you can prove you can do it.  One method of proof is job references from people you have worked for in the past.  Another, is the way you can give real life examples of how you have performed in your work experience.  You will find that many of the questions asked in the interview will be expecting you to answer with real life, on the job, examples.  Without this experience you will probably only be able to relate to how you can do the job based on your education and courses you have done.  This greatly reduces the chances of you getting a job.

When an interviewer is looking at two similar candidates, one with experience and one without, they will almost certainly choose the person who has got experience which will hopefully be you.  This is because as well as being able to do the job it shows that by going out and getting this experience you are motivated, hardworking and committed into doing the job you have applied for.  In other words, you have gone above and beyond of what other people are prepared to do in order to get the job you want.  In a way it also says that by trying extra hard in the past, by doing more than was expected, you are likely to try extra hard in the future when you get the job.

Getting some work experience such as part time work or volunteering can lead to a full time paid job sometimes.  This is because you get to know people who work in the area and they get to know you.  If they like you, and a good opportunity comes up, they are likely to let you know about it and have you in the front line for the job.  It doesn’t always work that way but I have certainly known several people who I have worked with in the past that have got their job in exactly this way.

You may decide to get a low paid, low skilled job whilst doing something like studying for a degree or until something better comes along.  Many of these jobs are often titled ‘dead end jobs’ and some certainly deserve the title.  But it is surprising how many people do these jobs, get a good name for themselves and a good reputation and quickly move up the ranks.  Again I have come across a few people that were at the bottom of a company when they started and worked their way up to high management positions.  I even know three people who became directors in the small companies they worked for.  So it is worth bearing in mind that opportunity comes from the least expected places at times.

It will improve your own confidence as you will know what the job is going to be like.  You will be able to decide if the job is right for you or not.  And if you like the job and have got experience in it you can use this experience in your CVs, application forms and when answering interview questions.  Having all this, along with getting a chance to get better soft skills, will make you an all-round better candidate and you will know this yourself which will show through to the people who interview you.

I know all of this is difficult, especially if you have high functioning autism/Asperger’s like I have, as the last thing you want is more social interaction, change and possible sensory overload from different working environments.  But if you do hope to get a paid job in the future, and all the positives in your life this can bring, it is the only real way in which to do so.

How you get Work Experience

Work experience can come from many different areas.  Some obvious and some less so.  But it is often the will of genuinely wanting to get this experience that will bring about the opportunity you will need.  By wanting to do it, you will be attuned to opportunities such as conversations that people have, notices in windows and how friends are getting jobs and the opportunity will probably present itself.  It will still require work and effort on your part to make this into something but if you are ready and willing, it will happen.

The most common ways to get work experience includes:

  • Writing speculative letters with a CV. This is where you send a large number of letters (at least 15) to potential employers that you are interested in, or places of work experience, stating that you want to get some work experience and your availability.  It probably sounds like throwing an arrow in the dark but I did this when I wanted a summer job at university and it lead to me getting one of my most important (and paid) jobs in terms of work experience.  It was my first educational job as an IT Trainer.
  • Letting friends and family know that you are looking for work. It is surprising at what opportunities are available that you did not expect.  Again I know many people, including my members in my own family, that are employed by a member of their own family.
  • Lowering your standards and accepting work experience in an area where you were previously unwilling to work. As a child I had a paper round for several years which gave me essential experience of what the world of work is like.  It meant I had to get up very early for seven days a week and only really have days off like Christmas day.  I had to work in uncomfortable conditions but not give up and carried on; such as delivering papers in the middle or winter, in the dark, in the rain and even in the snow.  It was very low pay but pay I became reliant upon.  This gave me a firm grounding for the work I have done for the rest of my life.
  • Volunteering is really a good way to get into a job. In one of my earlier blogs I wrote was all about volunteering.  It is a brilliant (if not the best) way of getting into a paid job and for most people it is a very positive experience.  But it is important not to be taken advantage of.  Remember that you are their because you want to be, and if you feel you are being taken advantage of, or you have been doing it too long and it is never go to lead to paid work it may be the right time to leave.  Usually a year is about the limit unless you really enjoy what you are doing and want to keep it on.  There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer.  Again opportunities can be found by asking relatives and friends, sending speculative letters or researching this on the internet.  A good website for volunteering opportunities in the UK is https://do-it.org.  I have volunteered along with many of my family members and it does, in some cases, lead to paid work.
  • Managing or volunteering in a University student’s union. This can be doing something like organising a sports club or computer club.  It will always look good when applying for a job if you have got this kind of positive experience.
  • Internships – which is very similar to volunteering but more formal and more like doing the real job but without the pay. If you do well it will have a high chance of leading into paid work.
  • Asking for help at your school, college or university. There are often careers officers that can point you in the right direction or even have opportunities available at the place where you study.  In addition to this you school or college will often provide you with some work experience as part of your studying.
  • If you are going onto a degree course, in the UK, there are special course called sandwich courses. These will usually include a year of paid work within the degree to give you real work experience that links into the degree that you are studying.

As you can see there is a vast number of places where you can find work experience.  People are often happy to have someone to work for them for free and in an uncommitted way.  If things don’t work out you can leave without notice and it never has to be mentioned to anyone in a CV or application form.  You really don’t have much to lose by trying but have a lot to gain.  It’s often the first small step that leads you in the right direction to getting to where you want to be, in paid employment.

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