In 2015, I was looking at new positions after a layoff, nervous about what would come next. The network I cultivated was not big, and when I submitted resumes for positions that interested me, I could only hope they passed the initial filters. Then one day, a recruiter reached out to follow up on one of those submissions. After passing the initial screening, the next step was the job interview. It was obviously time to panic.
For many of us on the autism spectrum, a job interview is often an obstacle we look to avoid…or survive with minimal damage to our mental state. What happens if we lose out on a job, or hit a streak of awkward interviews? How do we search without letting our current employers know? What are the expectations? I am here to note that it is not something we should fear if we are looking to move on to new positions, whether it be for greater pay and/or increased seniority, no matter the color of our collars.
Interviews will take some practice. In my case, I had to do a few interviews before getting comfortable, especially as I stayed in my first two post-college jobs for around three years each. Part of what helped me in the last few years is that I hopped around looking for the right fit each time, which meant I interviewed when a fitting opportunity was presented to me. Here are the keys that I focus on for interviews:
Many of us don’t look directly at others by default. I never did that easily, either. Unfortunately, most employers perceive eye contact as an indicator of attention and engagement, so it’s an important skill to cultivate. One thing that has helped me in practice is to focus on one still object when giving a speech, limiting how much I look down at my notes or other objects. I did not put myself through some sort of physical punishment, but rather a conscious effort with another individual focused on the eye contact aspect.
It’s okay to not know something
I did not realize for years how honesty about field experience was crucial. Particularly as someone in technology, we have a desire to give the right objective response. The interviewer will likely ask an unexpected question that takes you off guard. If it’s one that you are not sure about, feel free to say that you don’t know and can’t answer. If possible, follow up with how you can research the answer. Again, that works well in a technical field, showing that you know how to learn, but can also apply in other industries. If you don’t know everything, it is better to admit that and focus on what you do know.
Do some research
Definitely do the homework and look up information about the employer where possible. For most jobs which require some amount of college education, and even many that don’t, check out the LinkedIn information for both the company and the hiring managers. It will demonstrate your interest in the position and the company. However, there is the risk of oversharing information and seeing that as a potential turnoff. I have noted directly where I saw information from, and that seemed to work to my benefit. If you really want to be sly, do check online for some interests and see if they line up with something you are into. If they line up, bring up the shared interest as something you are into if asked about personal hobbies; no need to let them know where you found it, as the conversation should progress naturally.
Show off the skills
Some of the best advice comes from none other than Dr. Temple Grandin. In the book Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Grandin notes that she put together a portfolio of her published articles when suspecting she was on the verge of being let go. Instead, showing her collection of work to superiors got her promoted. I have previously put together a portfolio showing off some software development code and a personal project, which has helped me earn at least two positions in the past. Other public-facing roles will allow you to show a body of work without having to go through the awkward request for recommendations every time.
In the end, the interview is about confidence. Confidence is not easy to come by if you don’t have it at the beginning, though finding it is also hard. If you find out about the job and do the practice, that should instill the confidence necessary to remain in consideration after an interview.
There is never a guarantee after a good interview, as someone else may end up receiving an offer, but because the offer goes to someone else does not mean the interview went badly. Be careful when you ask for feedback, as you want to be kept under consideration for the future. You were merely dealing with a competitive field, and the next opportunity will be ready. You know the interview I was discussing at the beginning? I ultimately did not get the job for this reason, but the next one I pursued worked out very well.
While I know what worked in my information technology sector, your own industries may require you to tailor some of my tips a little. Still, my hope is that little interview secrets will help on the journey to your next job or in the next step in your career. No more need to panic.
More Information: Autism Society of North Carolina’s Employment Supports Program
About the author: Chris Voss is based in Raleigh. He is a data professional by trade, and was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at age four. Within ASNC, he is a member of the self-advocates advisory board and chairperson of the human rights committee.Tags: autism, autism communication, autism employment, autism resources, autism social skills, Autism Society of North Carolina