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Top steps to help adults with autism find the right job

Career tips with Maisie Cass @The Business of Autism

Career tips with Maisie Cass @The Business of Autism

Published on
August 30, 2023
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Career Tips For Neurodiverse People

For any individual it's important to get to know the company that they're applying for. To get to know what that company's ethos and culture is and how much they say that they know about what it is to be autistic or neurodivergent. Fully familiarise yourself with that company because that can influence how you put your CV together.

If you don't know that much about the company and you're looking at just the CV, keep it simple and straightforward. There is normally a personal statement where you can tell the recruiter about who you are and get your personality across, because that gives a little insight as to what you can really bring to the company.

Preparing your CV

This goes for anybody, whether you're autistic or not. It's handy to have somebody to do this with you. Somebody who can sit and read the job description with you and the requirements. How do they interpret it? Is it the same way that you interpret it?

Concentrate on your skills – those that are really going to be an asset to that company. Try and match them to the job description if you can.

Job descriptions can be ambiguous. To really understand what that job description is asking for will inform how you can put your CV together.

If it is a typed CV - but it could be handwritten, that's entirely up to you - try and keep it to around two pages. It can be less, or more if you have the information to put on there, but the information must be relevant to the job.

The person reading your CV isn't going to have a huge amount of time to read it, particularly if they have hundreds of applicants.

Keep your information concise to show your skill set.

One of the biggest questions we get asked is on a CV or personal statement, do they disclose whether they have a diagnosis? - The answer we say is it's such a personal choice.

Getting to know the company you're applying to will help inform your decision. If in that job description, they say this job would really suit a divergent individual, then tell them. It shouldn't ever work against you as an individual.

If you disclose that you are autistic or neurodivergent, but if you don't feel comfortable doing that right away, you don't have to do that. You can completely keep that separate and private until you get to a stage where you feel like it's time to let somebody know.

If you come to speak to the recruitment team, go and speak to the hiring manager prior to writing your CV, Have that conversation with them. Find out more about the job role. Job descriptions are great, but they don't really tell you kind of the stuff that goes on behind that job role. How much of a social job role it is? How much of a people facing job role it is? How much time might be spent on the telephone having conversations?

Find that information out fast before you put the time and effort. Into writing your CV and then finding out that the job role isn't quite the way it was perhaps described on the job description.

You'll also get as an individual, quite a good insight as to the type of people you'll be working with. All these things will help to inform the type of CV that you put forward. If you're not comfortable doing a written CV, do an audio. Do a video. Just let them know that's what you're going to do.

Quite a lot of companies don't have those alternative formats as standard yet, but they are quite happy to receive them.

If you say, ‘I'm much more comfortable putting everything down in a video, where can I send it to? They may say, ‘Great, Send it over to this person.’

Approaching an Interview (Face-to-face and Virtual)

Preparation is key. The one common theme that we get when we speak to our autistic panel or experts is that familiarity is big. Make the interview environment as familiar as possible.

Let's take going to a venue first - going to an office or an interview centre. Make sure that, you know the route that you're going to take beforehand. Go and have a look online to see whether there are any photos or videos of the place that you're going to. A lot of companies now are starting to put videos together of the journey from the front of the building and the car park to the reception, the corridors and into the interview space so that you can get a really good idea of where it is you're going beforehand.

Plan your journey. Do you know how long it's going to take you to get there? Do you know where you're going to park? If you're taking public transport, do you know how much money you're going to need?

It can be something going right back to basics in terms of what time of day is that interview? What food do you need to prepare? Do you need meals?

When we become anxious around a situation that we are unfamiliar with, it means that even some of those most simple decisions come out to our anxieties. The more we can do beforehand to put all those things in place that we can control, and are familiar with, the easier it is to reduce those anxieties before we go into the interview.

Clothing, do you know what you're going to wear? In a social media post recently, there was a recruitment company putting out an infographic for a few tips for candidates. On there, it said appropriate clothing. It said smile and make good eye contact.

That is going to put off so many people. What's appropriate clothing? Depending on where you're going for your interview - If it's the legal sector compared to the care sector. How does that look? You have to be comfortable in what you're wearing. Don't go, ‘I need to be wearing a shirt and tie’ If that's not normally what you would wear. If you put a tie on and you're feeling restricted, round your neck, that's all you're going to be focusing on and everything else will go out the window.

All these small things that you have control over, make sure you've made those decisions and you've prepared them the week before, if you need to.

Ask about the interviewer and ask to speak to them on telephone so you already know what they sound like.

Ask to see photos of them. They should be readily available anyway.

Familiarise yourself with the process and the people you're going to be talking to. If it's a phone or a video call, make sure that you know where you're going to take that call. Consider if it's somewhere with good signal so it doesn't drop out halfway through, ensure you have sufficient battery on your laptop or your phone. Make sure you are somewhere quiet where you are not going to be disturbed.

It all means that your anxiety levels are going to be less going into that situation, which is our highly anxious situation for most people anyway.

Responding to Social Norms & Making a Good Impression

If you're a person who, particularly when you are concentrating, are in a situation where your anxiety levels are going to be raised, giving a handshake to a stranger, or having to hold eye contact can elevate those anxiety levels and ais going to hinder your response to the interview questions.

There are a couple of different things you can do and can work out what you might do as an alternative:

If you go in holding onto your folders or papers in front of you so you haven't got a hand free, the person is less likely to ask for a handshake.

You can still be polite, even if you are looking across the room when you are thought processing to answer a question. You can still nod. You can still acknowledge that the person's asked the question.

It’s important if you know that in those situations you do find eye contact more challenging and you really don't like to shake someone's hand - which the pandemic has helped with because people don't tend to shake hands anymore though they might still offer an elbow - discuss it beforehand. Let's the interviewer(s) know that you prefer not to shake hands. You are not being rude. You're not being abrupt or antisocial. It's just a preference.

Also maybe say to them, ‘If I am not looking directly at you when you're asking me a question, it's not because I am ignoring you or being rude is because I am concentrating and thinking about what my response is going to be. It's about having that open conversation beforehand. Even though there are aspects that you can't control as an individual, you can still do whatever you can to manage that situation in the best way possible.

A lot of what this comes down to is the interviewer rather than the individual. It's putting yourself as an individual in a situation that you are the most comfortable with because when you are comfortable, you are relaxed and calm to be able to deal with situations that are unfamiliar.

Dos and Don’ts tips when interviewing people with Autism

It is common now, as individuals, to put our own social norms of how we expect somebody else to behave depending on our own experiences and the way we behave on to them. If they don't meet our expectations with a handshake, a smile or with small talk, we immediately form this picture of them as to who they are.

If I was advising an interviewer, the very first thing I would be saying is you have to take your own experiences and social normal standards out of it and what you expect that person is going to be like through small talk. We all do it. We go into a room, particularly with people we don't know and before we know what we're going to talk to them about, we see if we've got anything in common with them and make small talk. It might be about the weather. We're very good at that in England being British, the weather is normally the main topic of conversation. Or if you're going on holiday or been on holiday.

These are topics of conversation that you don't need to have. Keep it limited, keep it professional, and relevant to the interview itself.

If you are interviewing, make sure your interviewees know who you are beforehand. Make sure they've had the opportunity to see your photo, even if you sent them a LinkedIn link which shows them your headshot. Ideally if it's on the company website, it will show the candidates who will be interviewing them. It's important, particularly if somebody has disclosed that they're autistic or neurodivergent, that the interviewer or somebody on the interview panel has knowledge and understanding as to what that means.

As an interviewer, you must have an understanding of who you are interviewing. That's slightly trickier if that person hasn't disclosed anywhere on their application that they have a diagnosed condition. But if you do have somebody on that panel who has knowledge of what it means to be autistic or neurodivergent and they will pick up on it.

That knowledge and understanding is really important for an interview. Think about where you are conducting that interview, think about the surroundings. If it is in a venue or an office, go and sit in that room. Sit quietly and really allow all the sensory information around you to be heard and experienced.

Think about what the lighting like.

Is one of the bulbs flickering?

If it is winter, is the heating on?

In the summer is the air conditioning on?

Do you have any natural light in there?

Is there somewhere for the candidate to sit and make notes if they want to?

Is there something they can lean on?

Really be very aware of the surroundings and it's having a real awareness of these things to try and minimise them.

If we look at interviewing on the phone, or video conference call, ask if they are happy to have their camera on? Can they manage to have this format? Because if they can't, you're not going to get the best out of them.

The language that you use and the type of questions you ask is important.  Keep them specific and relevant.

Don't ask for hypothetical situations where it is really ambiguous. Try and say, for example, tell me about a time when…

If you do have to ask questions like that, follow it with a, let me give you an example of what I'm after. For a lot of people in interview situations, autistic or not, it takes longer to process the information that's come in, particularly if it's a wordy question. Then allow them to really think about how we're going to respond.

As an interviewer, even if the silence gets slightly uncomfortable after you've asked a question, try to give that person the space to really formulate what they want to say and how they want to respond.

If you've asked a question and you're waiting for a response, it can feel like an eternity. But you have to learn to sit and just wait sometimes. It can take 30 seconds, or even a minute to sit there and really let that information go through to make sure they give an appropriate response.

Alternate Interview Formats for people with Autism

Is there a way in which, depending on the job that you are interviewing for, you can say to the candidate, ‘Is there a preferred format of method that you are more comfortable to be interviewed in?’ Is it just sitting and having a conversation?

It might be easiest, rather than having interview questions, to have a set of tasks, and you can pull that information out at the task, whether it's in a group setting with 3, 4, 5 other people, or individually.

There are quite a few businesses now, which is fantastic because, rather than doing interviews where they are over 1-3 hours. They're making contact over a four-week period so they really get to know that individual, but more than anything, that individual gets to know them, because at the end of the day, it should be the individual choosing the business that's right for them, not the other way around.

Those are the biggest things are making sure you understand autism in the first place where you have somebody on the panel. And if you don't and you know, you're interviewing someone that's autistic, either get that information and upskill yourself to know that or have somebody else take the interview. Keep language and communication to a minimum.

The Importance of Companies Offering Alternative Interview Formats for people with Autism

It is not a case anymore of who interviews the best, who is the smartest dressed, who is the politest or the most sociable. It is about getting the right person for the job and to do that, we need to make sure that we give every individual the best platform for them to showcase their skills because if we don't do that, we're doing ourselves a disservice and the individual a disservice and it means that businesses aren't getting the best people for the job first time round. They're also missing out on that untapped pool of talent that is out there.

Those standardised interview techniques are still used and for those businesses that don't offer alternative formats and aren't more open-minded and more creative to how they recruit their team, they may be successful businesses now, but they won't be as successful as their rivals in the future.

The only way forward is to open ourselves up to getting the best person with the best skills for the job that's there first time around because recruiting is an expensive business. It's stressful and time consuming for all involved.

If we look at on the businesses side, reducing those recruitment costs by making sure that they are accessing the best candidates in the first place, then providing the best interview space and techniques for candidates to showcase their skills. Those businesses are showing that they are open and accessible to all those different ways of thinking out there, whether you are neurotypical, neurodivergent or autistic.

Reasonable Adjustments for an Interview with people who have Autism

The environment itself is really important and having an awareness of the environment that you are asking the individual to interview in.

If they prefer to be at home, can you accommodate that?

Can we do it over the phone rather than in person? Particularly in the early stages when they are getting to know you.

Can you do a walk around of where they are going to be interviewed? You should be able to, there's no reason why anyone can't do that. It should be offered as standard.

Visuals are important for familiarisation of an unfamiliar situation and environment. Provide visuals in the first instance. When a candidate puts their application in, make sure that at the very least there is an automated email response to say, thank you. We have got your application.

Then one step further than that and give a timeline of what to expect. When does the job application close? How long after that will they find out whether they've been successful going through to the next round? Do you even tell them they have been unsuccessful?

Put that out in a visual flow chart or timeline. It means that there is no room for misunderstandings with anybody.

As an interviewer, it's important to know the sensory information that you are giving off as well. Perfumes, aftershaves, Coffee. Make sure there's water on hand.

One thing about reasonable adjustments which seems to get misunderstood is that we are not offering reasonable adjustments to give people an unfair advantage.

We are really encouraging businesses to give those questions prior to the interview. Let the candidate familiarise themselves with what they're going to be asked. It gives them more processing time to make sure that they are coming up with the right information. That is not unreasonable. It is not giving somebody an unfair advantage to give the questions out beforehand and not just get to an autistic candidate, give those interview questions to everybody who's being interviewed.

Reasonable adjustments don't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Most of it is common sense, but if you don't know what reasonable adjustments to make, ask somebody. Go to somebody who does, don't not do it because you don't know. You can pull in The Business of Autism for an hour to say, ‘We've got interviews coming up. How would you do this?’ Then make sure that's part of your process as standard to everybody.

Improving Job Adverts for people with Autism

Shout about the fact that you want neurodivergent applicants. That you are open to that diversity of thought that comes with those who are autistic or those who have ADHD or odd or dyspraxia or dyslexia.

Provide an organisation who not only accepts diversity of thought but welcomes it. Be that company where autistic people say, ‘I want to work for them’. When it comes to the job description, hear the language you use because, again, it doesn't matter whether you're autistic or not, job descriptions are like stories. Define:

What does it mean to be an excellent communicator? Do I need to be fluent in different languages?

Be specific, don't be ambiguous with your language. Be very literal, only say what you need to say in that job description and keep it to the point.

When you're looking at the format of your job description, be mindful of font size and what fonts you use. Italics, underlining, bold headings and subheadings, all these different things can really impact on that advert and how easy it is to decipher.

Only half the opportunities we see that have the opportunity stated in the job description that the opportunity is there for them to discuss the role prior. When you say that the opportunity is there to get in touch, don't make it a generic telephone number or a genetic email to get in touch with, make it personable like, ‘call Sandra on...’

Do you recruit in-house, or do you subcontract recruitment out to a firm? Either way, you need to know that, particularly if you are contracting your recruitment out, that they are doing what you need. That they understand about how to access neurodivergent candidates, autistic candidates that they understand about how font size, style and language can impact on whether that candidate can access that job description.

It's not good enough to say, ‘Well, we subcontract and let the recruitment company deal with all of that’. You must be responsible for that recruitment company to make sure they are getting you the best candidates that they can without missing out on this cohort of individuals who may be perfect for your business.

It's just being aware of: The advert format. Who is doing the advertising?  And who is doing the recruitment?

Support from The Business of Autism

We have worked really hard to speak to as many autistic individuals as possible, both employed and unemployed. The biggest barrier that comes through is that autistic candidates can have access to support out there, such as job coaches and support networks, and they maybe get through the application process and interview, they might even be offered the job, but none of this is sustainable because the businesses aren't geared up and set up properly to be accessible to that individual.

The Business of Autism make sure that we connect those missing dots. We put those missing links in between that autistic candidate applying for the job and going to interview and making sure that businesses understand how to, not only support their needs, but to get the best out of them. From the recruitment side of to the onboarding process, then to the retention on the progression of those individuals.

It's not good enough to just get them into a job. They need to be getting into jobs that are suitable for there their skillset and they need to know that they are somewhere where they want to stay as they are valued. More importantly, if they want to progress through their career, those opportunities are there for them. We support the businesses to allow them to do

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