Navigating Neurotypical interviews with Autism

I’ve had a few people suggest I attempt coaching or mentoring and use this blog to help people on the spectrum to get into jobs. Now don’t get me wrong that would be awesome to do and I’d love to help people get into employment!

Except I kinda can’t do that.

Don’t get me wrong I know a lot of advice on how to get into work: I’m signed up to all the job seeking sites, I’ve watched the TED talks, read the articles and advice in interviews from the articles that usually have headlines like “this CEO’s advice on improving employability” and so on and so forth. I even have my own advice ideas from that. But that’s all they are: ideas. That’s because I’m still struggling to get a job myself. So in my eyes how can I try to give you advice yet? It’d be like my trying to give you tips on how to skydive after only reading about the subject: I might mean well but it’s no use when you’re out there trying effectively use your parachute (or in the actual case, trying to get work).

So then I thought ‘well what can I offer?’ I’ve still had experiences after all. Which got me thinking, that rather than acting like I’ll get you a job with some “5 simple steps!” Promises: I can help you control what you can in interviews- minimise the stress of navigating them and to avoid feeling quite so frantic from them.

  • Scout it out (Google maps and street view are your friends). So you’ve managed to be offered an interview. Well done! But maybe, like me, you get worried or stressed travelling to unknown locations or areas. Suddenly a potential opportunity becomes terrifying again. Try typing the address into Google maps (OR, if the organisation hasn’t notified you of their company address Google them and take that address). Once you have that then if also like me your terrible with street names (and that street name kinda looks familiar like you might’ve been there before but you’re not certain…), then simply go into street view and take a virtual walk around the area! Do this multiple times leading up to the interview in order to keep it fresh in your mind and help you feel certain where you need to be. That way, you have one less thing to be nervous about on the day.
  • Embrace the waiting area. A bit of a follow up from the previous point; maybe you know the route but you’re unsure how long it will take you to make the commute (or maybe you don’t yet know the route but your confident you’ll find it quickly). Dont be afraid to turn up early! Even if it’s quite a bit early it’s better to be early to an interview than late and it helps start the good impression because all of a sudden you’re “very punctual”. Not only that but it gives you time to maybe stop if there’s a shop nearby and you can get a drink if needed or if you need a quick toilet break (etc) before your interview. Furthermore being in the waiting area can be a time to breathe. To just take a moment to calm down and try to relax a little so that you can be your best.
  • Smart clothes should be functional otherwise they aren’t smart. For me personally, because of my autism and sensory sensitivity with touch: I can be really bothered with clothes. If they have the wrong texture or are too restricting it may mean I just will not buy them or they’ll becomes really distracting and even stressful for me. I kid you not: I once wore a skirt for an interview that restricted my walk and in the end I ripped the skirt and felt better for the leg space even though it felt like I had just hulked out my skirt (or should I say she-hulked? You get the idea). So for interviews check your clothes (either before you buy them or if it’s just been a while since you wore it) for comfort: are they comfortable for moving around in? Is there an itchy label that might bug you? Is the zip broken and keep falling down? (Don’t worry we’ve all been there). Find this out before to give yourself time to resolve it or pick an alternate outfit. That way you can be confident in what you’ll wear and won’t have any distraction.
  • They want to interview you, not a personality guide. I see a lot of interview tips and work tips start throwing personality catchphrases around. “Be confident!”, “Be enthusiastic!”, “Show your drive!” (Whatever that means…), “Be charismatic!” and first off: they can be as helpful as a “mind your head” comment after you’ve already hit your head. I’ve had a few personality suggestions and read plenty more in regards to getting jobs and my response is usually one of sarcasm- “be more charismatic why thank you! Now my struggle from my autism with social situations, general anxiety and awkwardness are all cured!”. They simply aren’t helpful (especially if like me you have traits influenced by conditions). Secondly they’re implying you need to be or do more than what you’re currently like. Maybe you aren’t super charismatic (shout out to my introverts and anyone who doesn’t consider themselves charismatic!)…why should that be seen as a flaw or something that could be holding you back? It’s not been an issue before so it won’t be now. That isn’t to say you don’t want to try hard and maybe be a bit more formal in an interview setting but why try to force a whole new persona that you only think they may want in an applicant? If they offered you an interview it’s you they’ve offered it to not some buzzfeed article carbon copy of yourself. Plus you will find it far more exhausting in the interview pretending about yourself especially if, like me, you have to regularly mask things (many autistic people especially women mention masks to hide social struggles. I have no intention of building any more masks other than that one!).
  • Sometimes a little comfort soothes a lit of anxiety. I’m not superstitious of this, I don’t think it gives me good luck or anything like that…but I confess that for every interview and formal event I attend I wear a necklace with a picture of my Nana on it. It’s usually tucked into my clothes out of sight anyway but it provides a small measure of comfort. Maybe you have some small trinket that can be discreetly tucked away and/ or hidden (maybe you like to swear geeky socks under your smart shoes or have your own jewellery or a certain keychain that can be hidden in your pocket). There’s no shame in maybe having something in your interview routine that can act as a constant and sometimes give you a focus point (when I start to panic I think of the necklace and maybe hold it for a bit).
  • Don’t hunt for what-ifs. Hunt for what is. Interviewers can take different approaches from different organisations and even the people running them. So trying to figure out what they might ask and when is probably going to be as easy to do as getting over the ending to Game of Thrones. In other words: next to impossible. So rather than focusing on all the things that could happen and possibly causing panic, maybe try looking up the organisation if you don’t already know much. Look at their vision statements (if they show any online), who they are, what they do, how they do it, who they help (etc). That way you can start to understand the organisation more and see how you feel about it as well as maybe even find some questions you want to ask them in the interview. Plus you may then get the chance to show that knowledge in the interview and impress them (showing that you’ve done research and are keen to learn by asking and researching them), as well as get more in depth knowledge from your questions.
  • The early bird gets the good night sleep. Sounds silly to mention but ensuring you get a good night sleep can help a lot with facing interviews. Now by this I’m not meaning or expecting a full nights undisturbed sleep because I can understand nerves can make it hard to get to sleep but if you at least try to go to bed early you give yourself a longer time to eventually fall to sleep (and hopefully stay asleep!). Consider trying things to relax first such as a bath or getting changed into comfy PJ’s before bed as research can show routines with things such as those can aid in sleep (finally putting my knowledge on sleep psychology to use!).
  • Don’t be afraid to pause. Thanks to my autism: my processing speeds get a little bit strange sometimes. Either my mouth speaks too fast for my brain to catch up, or my brain goes too fast for my mouth so it jumbles things together or it’s not even sure what to try to say. The result? Blankness. Nothing. Nada. “Um…sorry I can’t think of my words now” is then what usually comes out of my mouth after a pause or a fumbled sentence. But that’s ok. It embarrasses me at first but I’ve learnt that it’s ok and people accept it. It’s ok to pause and collect your thoughts in an interview (if anything they want that because it’s proof that your thinking over responses and ideas). Just like it’s ok to be nervous and maybe stammer then taking a breath. They don’t expect Shakespeare to spill forth from thine lips!

So there are some if my best tips and explanations (with a few terrible jokes thrown in for good measure). Perhaps they aren’t ones that suit your approach but then I hope they serve as ways to think about how you might want to change your approach (or change these tips to suit you!). Remember that these are just to try and help control what you can because unlike what some articles say you can’t control the whole process as scary as that may be so simply focus on what you can control to ensure it’s the best it can be.

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