Why can Job interviews be so challenging for autistic people?

We may not give standard or expected answers.

Usually, in job interviews, the interviewers will already have some idea of what type of answers they are looking for when asking their questions. However, an autistic person may provide an entirely valid answer, but is not appreciated or misunderstood by the interviewer. Additionally, the interviewer may not ask clear questions.

A classic question I got in an interview once was “Tell be about yourself” So I started talking about my family and pets (like most previous conversations where this question was asked, this was the expected answer). The second I finished answering the question, I could tell that they were confused and not impressed. I didn’t get the memo that they wanted to talk about my work history/education. It was such a bad interview for me as I knew I had to mask for the rest of the interview, knowing I had no chance of getting that job.

Non-verbal communication

In interviews, many employers subconsciously judge body language and eye contact. Autistic people may not express their emotions as expected with their non-verbal communication, and any signs of stimming could be interpreted negatively. They may see autistic people as “not a good fit” or “didn’t show enthusiam for the role” just because they don’t have the same non-verbal communication as the rest of the team. Sadly this makes it challenging for many autistic people to get through a job interview.

Some of us struggle on the spot.

Answering questions on the spot can be challenging for some autistic people (which is the case for me too), so being asked complex questions with little time to respond to them can be incredibly challenging. I need time to consider the questions, weigh up how to best respond using my skills and experience. On the spot, I can’t often think of a coherent answer straight away, even if I usually am able the answer the question well under more relaxing circumstances.

Disclosure

To disclose or not to disclose my autism? That is the question. To be honest, there is not a right or wrong answer to this. If you disclose, then you can get reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process, but they may automatically judge your autism as making you “unable” to do the job. If you don’t disclose, you won’t have the stigma that sadly still comes with being autistic, but you may be negatively judged for your differences.

In the UK, some organisations guarantee an interview if you disclose a disability and meet the minimum requirement for the job. However, many autistic people feel that some organisations only do this to appear inclusive, but already know that they will not hire you before the interview. So not everybody will disclose. When I am applying for roles, I will only disclose if I think it’s in my best interest. So sometimes I do, and other times I do not.

So what can be done? 

Firstly, I would like employers to make their questions more inclusive (and direct) so that autistic people have an equal chance of providing a good answer as neurotypical candidates. Throughout the recruitment process, employers should make reasonable adjustments, E.g. I have asked for interview questions in advance and extra time for any tasks as part of the recruitment process. The adjustments will depend on each person’s need, but the National Autistic Society’s Finding Employment module is useful for finding out what reasonable adjustments can be made. I am aware of some organisations who have completely changed the recruitment process to benefit autistic candidates. Click here to see how Mircosoft have made changes.

Although it’s promising to see organisations take steps to make the recruitment process more inclusive for autistic people, I still feel there is a long way to go.

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