Step 7 – Getting a Job when your Autistic: Preparing for an Interview and Getting the Job

Introduction

When you are invited to an interview it means you are good enough, on paper, to get the job you are applying for.  You have met all of the criteria they need and you should be capable of getting the job.  If you succeed in the interview you will get the job.  In an ideal world, everyone should have an equal chance of getting the job.  In reality this is not always the case.

You will go for many interviews where other candidates will be guaranteed to win, and no matter how you perform it will not swing the decision of the interviewer.  This often happens when people are known to the interviewer like internal candidates (someone who either works or volunteers for the company already), a family member or friend.  There is a saying when it comes to getting a job ‘It is not what you know, it’s who you know.’  This unfortunately holds true occasionally, but not all the time.  It is a blow to us, as we struggle to make these positive relationships (even with people we know, that could give us a career opportunity). I have lost out on several jobs by people known to the interviewer.  I was even an internal candidate on two of these occasions, but beaten by other internal candidates.  If you miss out unfairly, don’t let it frustrate or upset you.  Just see it as positive experience and practise for the next interview.

There will often be people more qualified and experienced than you, especially if you’re young.  But never let this stop you.  Almost everyone gets the job that is right for them in the end.  The secret is to never give up and keep trying.  I know this is much easier to say than do. In honesty, I have been so disheartened by failing interviews that I have given up before.  I really wanted to do a PhD after my master’s degree and missed out on two funding opportunities by failing interviews.  I questioned whether doing a PhD was right for me, and decided it wasn’t.  Losing interviews will affect you negatively, and you will feel like giving in, but if you have the courage to keep trying you will win, I am certain of it.

How Autism Affects the Interview Stage

Autism is seen as a hidden disability.  If someone looks at you, they cannot tell you are autistic.  This is true to some extent.  But it will usually be our autistic traits that prevent us getting the job.  The things that hold me back are:

  • I am sensitive to touch:so struggle if someone pats me on the back or shakes my hand.Although I try to act normally it is sensed by the other person.
  • I find eye contact difficult: so either give too little or too much which gives the impression I am not interested in the person I am talking to or I am creepy.
  • Saying something totally inappropriate or giving the wrong answer to a question. So I try to take the time to think about my answers.  If I take too long I will panic, which builds up my anxiety then increases the chances of me making a mistake.
  • I get incredibly anxious in new situationsand talking to people I have not met before.Although, after years of practise, I’m better but still not entirely comfortable.
  • Helping other candidates so much they end up getting the job. There are many times when I am left alone with the other candidates.  When they are nervous, I end up helping them to keep calm and use all my energy on talking to them instead of saving it all for the interview.
  • As a young adult, talking was very difficult for meso I struggled to answer many of the question asked.
  • Until a couple of years ago I didn’t like eating in front of other people, especially strangers. This was a big problem when eating a lunch was part of the interview process.  The first time I was asked to have lunch, as part of the interview, I completely turned down the job.  The second time I ended up getting cake dusting all over my black trousers and jam all over my fingers so it didn’t go too well.

These are just some things I struggle with. You might struggle with a few of these things yourself, or have other difficulties.  It’s good to know where you have problems, so you can think of ways to overcome them.

When applying for the job, you might declare you’re autistic.  If you feel they will give you a fair shot, you can be yourself on the day.  You might be a strong character that believes they will either love you or hate you, but you will not change for anyone, and again you can just be yourself.  I usually try to hide my negative autistic traits as I find this works the best for me and the type of jobs I go for.  Whatever you decide to do and the regardless of the outcome, it will be fine.  It is all good and positive experience that you can learn from.

By being autistic we will struggle to get a job. It is a horrible and unfair fact of life and one of the many failings of our society.  Many people do not understand autism and do not want to understand.  Never let these people win and never give in.

How to Dress

There are some jobs where smart casual clothing is appropriate for an interview.  For a man this would be any dark trousers and a polo shirt or plain shirt without a tie. For women a smart top with trousers or a knee length skirt.  This type of job is usually a minimum wage type position such as a factory worker, painter, construction worker, taxi driver and so on.  But for most jobs you want to dress fairly smart, such as smart dark trousers with a white shirt and plain tie for men.  For women a plain shirt with dark smart trousers or a plain dark knee length skirt.  You also want to wear plain dark socks and a smart pair of shoes.  If you have got tattoos cover them if possible, and only wear deodorant.  Most recommendations state not to wear any strong smelling perfume or aftershave.  If you’re going for a professional job, where the people who work there dress smart, you will want to wear a clean well fitted suit.  If the suit is brand new, it is a good idea to wear it for a couple of hours around the house to get used to the feel of it.

If you wear the right clothing, you will feel more confident than your normal self and feel like you are a person who can succeed in the role you are applying for.

A new suit is an expensive purchase.  In the past, I have attended a number of important interviews where I should have worn a suit but only wore a shirt and tie. Mainly due to the expense.  On these occasions I felt uncomfortable and didn’t get the job.  I have also worn old, ill fitted suits and lost out on jobs.  I cannot be sure it was exclusively for wearing the wrong clothing, but I feel it contributed to how I performed.  In the future I will always wear the right clothing for any job I go for. It is a small price to pay for a job that will provide thousands of pounds (dollars) in future earnings. Good places to buy suits in the UK are Marks and Spencer’s and Burtons.  For cheaper, but lower quality suits, you can try Matalan or Asda.

Thinking of Good Answers to Questions Before the Interview Day

If your autism affects your communication, it is a good idea to think of all of the possible questions you could be asked and what your responses will be.  I have spent years doing this, and already know the answers I would give to almost every question I could be asked.  Of course there will be one or two questions that catch me out, but I am ready for almost all of them.  When I first started this practise I bought a book called ‘Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions.’ This gave me a good foundation of the typical questions I could be asked and all the ways I could answer.  This book is a bit old now, but I am sure there will be modern day equivalents.

In the job specification or advert, they usually specify the kind of tasks you will be expected to do, skills and qualities you should have or what kind of experience they are looking for. If they do, most of the interview questions will be based around this.  I literally take each point they ask for, write it down and think of how I can answer each possible question based on this.  I will also think about a real life example, from my past work, for each point.

On the day, if you asked a question you have not prepared for, don’t worry.  If you need to pause for thought, don’t worry about the length of the pause.  What seems like minutes to you, will probably only be a few seconds in reality.  So take your time and answer the question the best you can.  If you really cannot think of an answer you can tell the truth, and say you are not sure, but the more times you do that the lower the chances of you getting the job.  Once is fine, but a few times is not the best idea.

Body Language

If you were like me, and have no idea about body language and what it means, then definitely buy a book that covers the basics or get one from the library.  It is essential that you give the right messages with your body.  For example, bad body language is crossing your legs and arms and slouching.  As this gives the impression you are defensive and disinterested.  If you answer a question with open palms, it shows you are telling the truth and are open.  It is important to make it look as natural as possible and not to overdo it. There are areas where you can slightly mirror the questioner’s gestures that will also help to build trust.

Of course making the right level of eye contact and looking at the person who is questioning you also helps.  I usually look at the top the nose and make an effort to look sideways from time to time.  I still struggle with this, and sometimes find I am uncomfortable, but always get through it well enough.  Once you’ve researched good body language try and do it as often as you can, in the right situations, to practise and perfect it.

One of our biggest areas of weakness is how we smile. A creepy (horror film) smile is where you just move your lips into the correct position without changing other parts of your face.  It may sound strange, but your eyes are the most important part of a smile.  It is something that can be practised in front of a mirror.  To give a genuine smile think of something that makes you happy and relaxed and then smile.  You kind of radiate your positive energy outwards when you are genuinely happy. You may notice yourself how your eyes change in comparison to just moving your lips.  It takes practise but well worth the effort.  With a genuine smile people become much more open to you, and feel more comfortable.

On the day

You will feel nervous on the build-up to the interview. You may have a sleepless night the evening before or feel nervous for several hours on the day.  You may feel anxious and your body may be telling you not to do it.  This is all normal for us.  It does get a little easier with practise, and there are things that can reduce this.

One of my first important interviews was so bad I did everything wrong that I possibly could: from having a drink of water and spilling it down my top, visibly shaking with nerves, having a totally dry mouth so struggling to talk and completely freezing and not being able to respond to many of the questions.  This was probably the most important interview I ever had.  As you always learn more from the times you get it wrong, than when you get it right.  Additionally, I managed to get through it despite everything that went wrong and I never had an interview this bad again.

A good method of calming your nerves is to drive to the location of the interview a few days before.  Pretend to yourself it’s the interview day and you will feel some of that nervous tension beforehand.  With this preparation you will feel more relaxed on the day, as you will know your way to the place and everything will be more settled in your mind.

On the day give yourself plenty of time to get there. This will give you time to deal with unexpected traffic and other potential incidents.  Take some water with you to drink if your mouth goes dry or you feel thirsty.  If you need to take paperwork put it in a nice folder or thin brief case.  I think it is fine to take a bottle of water all the way into the interview with you, but most people go in without.  If you decide not take water into the interview building you could put it into a bin before you get there, or leave it in your car.  I do get a really dry mouth when I am nervous and the water does help with this.  If you need the toilet often, it might be worth calling into a place such as a supermarket that is close by on the way there or ask at reception. The receptionist will often be willing to save excess luggage for you too such as your coat and umbrella (if needed).  I read a recommendation once that taking some spare money is a good idea, as if you have an accident such as spilling a drink down you top (other than water) or you get splashed with mud, you could consider buying a new shirt from a supermarket.

If you feel very anxious or overly nervous, especially in your car when you park up, then do some deep breathing exercises. To do them just relax and take a deep breath in, hold it for a second or two and then have a long gentle exhale. Repeat this several times or more until you are calm.  It really does work, and is well worth doing it if the opportunity is available.

The interview starts the minute you are next to the premises and ends when you are out of sight of the building.  It is so easy to mess things up by not realising this. Act professionally and calmly all the time you are there.  People may say hello, or interact with you before and after, and it could well be a part of the assessment.  So take this into consideration and be prepared for it.

At all times be friendly, approachable, considerate and helpful.  You want to give them the best of yourself.  When answering questions try to give very full answers, especially if you can see they are working to a tick sheet.  This will give you a greater chance of getting that tick, but at the same time do not waffle on too much.

Above all else try to enjoy the experience as much as you can.  Even if you fail, you learn and learning is often more important.

Interviews are probably the worst thing I could ever do and I genuinely dislike them.  I hate how something as important as my whole career rests on something that I am the weakest at, and only lasts for a few hours at most.  But you only have to do them a few times in your life.  In the grand scheme of things, they are a tiny portion of your whole lifetime.  A job could last for many years and you will not need a single interview again in that time. In many ways, it is a lot more insignificant than you give it credit for.  I do still think about interviews I had years, if not decades, ago and they could have taken me down a very different road and career.  However, in the whole scheme of my life, they would not have changed much if I am honest.  I also think about all the interviewers that did not give me the job. Some decisions I agree with and others I don’t.  It is easy to pin the blame on them, and on rare occasions they deserve the blame, but they are not in control of your destiny, you are.  Never pin your hopes and dreams on the decision of one person. Always plan on what you can do if their decision is not in your favour.  Sometimes there will be a better person for the job in their eyes, and that better person gets the position.  But there will be a time you are the person that succeeds.  Just try your best.  If you win, well done.  If you fail, then learn and try again.  I am a great believer that if you are meant to be doing something in life, you will find a way to get there in the end 🙂

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