As attitudes towards hiring those who fall under the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or aspergers have slowly been changing, there has been a lack of resources available to those who want to pursue careers at the higher levels like Fortune 500 companies or those in Silicon Valley. Through my work coaching these specific types of candidates, I have identified a 3 pronged approach to help them make progress and ultimately get results during their job search.
Looking for a job when you have high functioning autism or asperger’s syndrome is possible by following three steps:
Make sure you identify 3-4 ideal companies
Understand the “why” behind the questions you will be asked
Research the person who will be interviewing you to understand what they value
Identify Your Dream Jobs
A mistake most people make when looking for a job is to use the “spray and pray” approach. In other words, people start focusing on applying as many jobs as possible hoping that one of them will eventually call them. This approach can be exhausting as well as overwhelming for anyone.
Recently, when I started working with a client that fell on the spectrum, he asked me how many jobs he should be applying per day. I suggested to instead spend some time thinking about 3-5 ideal companies that matched up to his major, his short/long term career goals as well as some “nice to haves”. These “nice to haves” included what city and how far away from his parents’ home he wanted to live.
Instead of applying to 10 jobs a day until he got a call back, he was able to more effectively use his time and apply to the companies he sincerely wanted to work at. Focusing his time and energy allowed him to spend the extra time needed on his applications to make sure they were producing the results we wanted (interviews).
This strategy paid off: Soon after, my client was able to get 3 interviews and two job offers including one as a software engineer at a Fortune 500 company. Not only that, but by identifying his “nice to haves” from the beginning, his top choice was a company that was 30 mins from his parents’ home and in an area where he was familiar with the support systems available to him. It was far enough away from home where he could ease himself into living in an apartment on his own but close enough to home in case he needed extra help.
Understand the “Why” behind the “What”
Another thing that helps those with high functioning autism or asperger’s syndrome when preparing for job interviews, is not only practicing interview questions but rather understanding the “why” behind those questions. Those who are neuroatypical may think that questions like “Tell me about yourself” or even “What kind of salary range are you looking at?” are useless and may answer them abruptly or worse yet, not at all.
This can be done in two ways: First, create an Interview Theme. Similar to an avatar, an Interview Theme helps during preparation by allowing you to create the type of persona you want to project during the interview. You determine the theme by figuring out what the employer is looking for and how you want to present yourself.
If you want to be seen as the software developer who is a self starter, we want the Interview Theme to touch on the summer project you did on your own. If you want to be seen as the software developer that works great on teams, then we have to make sure we talk about your experiences working with teams and how you influenced and helped the team reach its goals.
By knowing what the employer is looking for (based on your research) and creating the Interview Theme, you’ll have an easier time coming up with answers to any question you get asked.
The second part is understanding why these questions are being asked.
Your job during the job interview is to answer questions in a way that sells your skills and abilities and makes you look like the most likeable person out of all the candidates.
For example, when you get asked “Tell me about yourself” they’re not really interested in a complete run-down of your resume. They’re asking this question because they want to get a better feel of how you interact with people and if you can be concise with your answer.
Another typical question “What’s your biggest weakness?” The real reason behind this question is to find out if you are self-aware and if you work towards correcting those weaknesses. Imagine how you would look if you said you didn’t have any weaknesses or that you haven’t taken steps to correct those weaknesses. Saying you don’t have any weaknesses makes you sound egotistical and saying what your weaknesses are without presenting a plan to correct them makes you sound aloof.
Instead bring out a weakness, how you identified it and then the steps you’ve taken to correct it.
Pre-interview the interviewer
When meeting someone new, I always recommend everyone,particularly those that have high functioning autism or asperger's to research the people who will be interviewing them. Doing this research helps you be prepared by knowing more about the other person. Although using LinkedIn is a good start you can take your research deeper by reviewing their social media accounts and using google to find out more about them.
Knowing more about the interviewer also helps reduce some of the anxiety that often occurs when meeting someone you don’t know.
Jon, a client of mine, used this strategy and found out that the assigned interviewer liked trail running, a pastime that my client also enjoyed. By bringing that topic into the conversation, Jon was able to establish and build rapport with his interviewer. The last 20 minutes of a 60 minute interview were spent talking about the different trails near the office. Jon knew the interview went well when his interviewer told him as he finished their conversation, “I can’t wait for you to start so we can go on some trail runs!” Less than a week later he was offered a position at the company.
By breaking down the process, those with ASD or Asperger’s can make the job search process less daunting and more fruitful. Remember that this is a skill that you can develop. The more you practice and implement it, the better your results will be.