Autism and Job Interviews
Huge numbers of autistic adults who are willing and able to work are unemployed. They have skills and talents which would be valuable to employers, and they want to work. What is going wrong?
The answer is complex, and many factors are almost certainly involved, but one major problem for many autistic people is recruitment processes, and interviews in particular.
All autistic people are different, and there are some autistic people that shine in an interview. But many struggle with social skills, eye contact and verbal communication, making an interview close to the perfect situation to show an autistic adult at their worst.
What can be done to address this? I spoke to 3 autistic adults about their experiences of job interviews and recruitment processes, and some common themes emerged. Their experiences were far from all being negative, but there is certainly much room for improvement.
In some ways, an interview can feel like a game, but as Briony, an autistic analyst, put it, it is a game where autistic people do not know the rules or the objective and where the interview panel are looking for something specific without saying what that is. The game involves social skills that many autistic people struggle with, such as saying one thing in a question while meaning another, demanding eye contact or placing more emphasis on how a candidate answers rather than what they actually say – a poor answer delivered with confidence may be valued more than a good answer spoken quietly while staring at the ground. Having to dress formally for the interview, particularly if you work in an area where normal dress for work is very casual, adds to the feeling that an interview is an artificial situation, and many autistic candidates feel unable to be themselves.
Many autistic people question how effective an interview is at determining ability to do actually do the job being filled. While some applicants may be able to use questions as a launch pad to talk about their strengths, autistic candidates will often take questions more at face value. Many would welcome a recruitment process which includes tests or trials of the skills actually needed in the role to allow them to demonstrate what they can do.
Another point made several times was the need to identify if the employer would be receptive to an autistic employee. Gavin, an autistic IT specialist, said that he often views the interview as an opportunity to find out about the employer and the workplace culture as much as the employer wants to find out about him. The culture of a workplace can be hugely important for an autistic person seeking employment – a difficult workplace culture that will take a huge amount of effort to manage will leave little energy left to perform well in the job.
Finally, education about autism for those carrying out interviews was mentioned several times. A little understanding can feel like a huge step towards the level playing field that autistic candidates need to be successful in both the recruitment process and the workplace itself. As Damien, an autistic software engineer put it, “it is OK to talk about autism!” Almost all autistic people welcome being asked about their specific needs, and the unique way in which autism affects them.
Autistic people have a lot to give in the workplace – they just need a chance to show it.
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