Once someone has landed a job interview (see Part 1 for steps to take to get to this point), then we want to look at ways to successfully get through the interview and land the job.
Disclosing the diagnosis
One thing to determine prior to an interview is whether the job seeker wants to disclose the autism spectrum diagnosis. In some situations it may be a fait de compli, because the diagnosis may be known due to the involvement of a job coach, Vocational Rehabiliation or some other sponsoring program. However, if the ASD job seeker is not getting outside assistance, he may have to make this decision on his own.
If the job seeker decides to share his diagnosis, I suggest that he also shares a brief description of how the diagnosis applies to him, mentioning both a couple of problem areas and a couple of strengths. Here’s one way this might sound. “I want to let you know that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. In case you don’t know what this is, Asperger’s is like a mild version of autism, and is a neurological difference. For me it means that I have trouble reading social cues and I don’t usually show my feelings on my face. It also means that I am particularly good at following the rules and that I am very good at facts and figures.” Another version might sound like this: “I have high functioning autism. Autism is a neurological difference, and for me it means that I am not very good at small talk, and I’m not good at reading people’s nonverbal behavior. I sometimes pace when I get stressed. It also means that I know a lot about my special interest, which is astronomy. I don’t usually like talking that much, but I do like talking about astronomy.”
“I’m the kind of person who……”
Some people don’t want to disclose the diagnosis, often for good reason, such as not wanting others to stigmatize them, or because they themselves don’t think that they have a disability. In that case, if they feel they may not do well in interview, they may want to use some other means of describing their differences. For instance, one could say: “I’m the kind of person who….” I’m the kind of person who has trouble with social cues. I’m the kind of person who has trouble understanding whether people are serious or joking so I don’t do too well with sarcasm. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like small talk.
Another skill people can use to negotiate the interview, is to very early on in the interview say something like: “This is my first job. I feel really nervous about this interview.” Another option is “I’m really nervous about this. I don’t feel like I do that well in interviews.” This helps the interviewer know where the job seeker is coming from and this disclosure will tend to elicit their helpfulness in the situation.
Rehearsing the job interview
One of the most helpful strategies is to prepare by role playing typical interview questions. The job seeker can write down a list of questions. Others can help prepare the list or typical questions can be obtained from the internet or a counselor. Then the job seeker can write down her answers and then practice saying them aloud a number of times, until the level of nervousness has decreased. This could be done in a role play with a friend or family member, or in front of a mirror, or even in front of a video camera. If being done with a friend or family member, I suggest that the job seeker be given a lot of positive feedback and support. Remember we do not want to create discouragement. Therefore, several positive comments (such as “You did a great job explaining how the interview is hard for you” and perhaps one or two constructive criticism comments (such as, “I know it’s hard for you to make eye contact, but I think it would help if you looked up now and then”).
A last tip is for the job seeker to develop some “safety phrases” she can use in situations when she doesn’t know what to say. For instance, if really stuck in the interview setting, she could learn to say: “I’m sorry. I can’t think of how to answer that question.” Or, “I’m not sure what to say. Could you explain your question a little more?” Or “I need a minute to think about how to answer that question.”
Stay tuned for part 3 where I will continue with tips for starting and keeping a job.
I also have a YouTube video about discussing the diagnosis in the workplace.