Experts who work with First Place–Phoenix, a residential community designed to support and empower adults with autism and other special abilities, share insights in the article below regarding job search tips, starting with interview preparation. Although resources are available that address the nuances of job seeking with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this article simplifies a few key areas as you, or someone you care about, prepares for an interview.
If you or your family member has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), here are four key things to consider when looking for a job and taking the next step: the job interview.
1. Review appropriate interview and everyday work attire.
Choosing the perfect outfit is never easy. Although most people may be able to sense what is appropriate to wear, dress codes can be confusing when you’re a person with ASD. What to wear is dictated by subtle contexts of social situations. When can we be flexible by wearing a jacket and jeans versus a suit and tie? When is a casual dress versus one with a blazer OK? How can an individual with ASD decide?
Don’t feel alone—everyone questions what to do here! It is helpful to have a conversation with the employer or other trusted adult in the workplace to inquire about the dress code. Gain some understanding on why wearing a nice blouse and close-toed flats might be OK for a Starbucks interview. The definition of “business attire” and “business casual” will depend on the culture of the place where you are seeking employment. Sometimes, we just have to wait to start the job to see how people dress in the workplace. It’s OK to ask if you aren’t sure.
2. Interviews: overwhelming for all of us, especially for individuals with ASD
Oh, no! Direct eye contact. Responding to a line-up of questions about yourself. If you have ASD, you may know how daunting all of this can be, including social cues, self-awareness and effective communication. But don’t sweat it! Again, you’re not alone. The best thing to do is to prepare. Look up common interview questions. Practice, practice, practice in front of a mirror or with a friend or trusted adult to get yourself comfortable. You’ve got this! Go a step further and research the company you want to join and yes, ask them questions, too! (More about this in a moment…)
3. What autism means to YOU: Feel comfortable with yourself.
Autism can mean different things to different people and look incredibly different from person to person. Ultimately, it is your choice whether to tell an employer or not about yourself as a person with autism. Know that the law is on your side: You have the power and the right to self-disclose or not.
Autism may be part of how you identify because it has given you a unique perspective of the world. People with autism often demonstrate great attention to detail; are hard-working, dependable, loyal, creative, organized; have the ability to follow instructions and provide different perspectives…the list goes on and on. Reflect on your positive traits, on what makes you a great employee or team member. It may not be as daunting as you think to talk about your autism once you realize how valuable you really are.
4. Do you have any questions about the culture of the company or its ability to provide accommodations?
You’ve prepared, the daunting interview is almost over and then you’re asked: “Do you have any other questions?” You can use this moment to your benefit. Think if this place is really going to be the right fit for you. Ask what the company culture is like. How do employees interact with each other? What will be expected of you? If one has not been provided yet, ask for a formal job description. What level of interpersonal skills are required? Some workplaces have a room for employees to interact—what’s that place like? Is it also a lunch room? How much will you be interacting with customers? There are many possible questions you can ask to understand what this workplace might be like for you.
You can also use this moment to advocate for yourself. Take time to formulate some questions beforehand so that you feel more secure to ask them at the end of the interview. If you choose to self-disclose, this is also the time to inform your potential employer of the kind of support or accommodations you will need. If you need earphones to help you work, is that OK? Ask if there is a mentor program, if you could briefly shadow someone while they perform the job, or if your life coach can support you through the first few days.
You deserve the chance to thrive in your new workplace. By focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t do you will help you feel more prepared for the interview and your first day on the job.
Good luck—you can do this!