Autism and interviews

img_1659
[image shows the text ‘Performing without a script’ against a background image showing a manual typewriter on a bleached wood plank desktop]

Performing without a script

This week I had an (unsuccessful) interview for a role which I was quite capable of doing and which would have fulfilled a long-held ambition. I am not confident or arrogant enough to have thought I stood a chance against the competition, but I had hoped to demonstrate my capabilities at interview and to come away believing that I had given my best.

Instead, I completely fell apart.

Despite being diagnosed autistic, I still have moments when I wonder if the diagnosis was wrong. After all, I manage to balance the demands of work and family life, I am independent and fairly well educated. I didn’t think I needed much in the way of support and adjustments. But, slowly, I am realising that for me to move forward, out of my carefully constructed safety bubble of the familiar and predictable, I do indeed need support and adjustments. My autism is limiting me and I want to stretch those limits.

In common with many autistic people I have spent hours analysing my performance and trying to work out what went wrong and what I should have done differently. If I had a time machine and could return to the day I was invited to interview, what advice would I give myself? What should I do next time?

Book a hotel room: even though the interview was little more than 20 miles away, terrible weather disrupted my travel plans. I have an appalling sense of direction and getting lost ate up my contingency and last minute preparation and relaxation time. A night away from the responsibilities of work, home and parenting might have helped me get into and establish my role.

Ask about the interview room: and let the interviewers know about any sensory problems. My interview room was very hot and I was distracted throughout by an electronic buzzing noise. A picture of the room would have helped so I knew what to expect.

Ask about the dress code: I would have been more comfortable if I hadn’t tried to smarten up from my usual fairly casual workwear.

Ask for the interview questions to be presented in written as well as verbal form: interviews are stressful for most people, but, as I discovered, for some autistic people (like me!) they can be so anxiety-provoking that processing information and verbal skills are severely impacted. I struggled to both process the questions and formulate coherent responses. Had the questions been written down I would have been able to take my time to read and think before speaking.

Ask for the main questions in advance: it is not unusual for many of us autistic people to struggle with situations where we have not been able to prepare. It is basic autism awareness to limit surprises and prepare as much as possible to enable many autistic children to participate. Autistic children become autistic adults, and our needs for support might change as we get older but they don’t all disappear.

Ask to take notes into the interview: despite copious preparation, I failed to recall any of my prepared responses or themes. None of the interview questions were a surprise, but, coupled with my already hindered processing, and perhaps some literal interpretation, my prepared scripts proved elusive. Some brief notes under potential headings and keywords would have helped jog my memory and provided a framework for my replies.

Ask to meet the panel ahead of time in a more informal setting: I realise that this might be a step too far for some interviewers, but walking into a room of strangers was my tipping point. I struggle to meet new people even at my best (except at work where I am in ‘work role’) so some element of familiarity would have reduced my anxiety. This could also be ameliorated by conducting part of the interview in a non-verbal format, perhaps written questions and responses by email followed up by a face to face interview.

Don’t look at lists of what not to say: it appears that, when under pressure, if my brain is given a choice between ‘what to say in this sort of interview’ and ‘what not to say in this sort of interview’ it will opt for the latter. Next time I will only focus on what I should say.

*

The interview panel were very kind, and I have had encouraging feedback about my written application. Next time I will be proactive in asking for adjustments so that I can show that the me in person matches up to the me on paper.

11 thoughts on “Autism and interviews

  1. Gosh, this is me too. Last summer, just a couple of weeks before my diagnosis, I was interviewed for a job that my experience and qualities would have been well suited to. I didn’t get it, and the feedback I asked for afterwards made clear that I hadn’t given sufficiently specific and relevant answers to some questions. I hadn’t demonstrated my competencies by highlighting examples from the past.
    The simple reason I didn’t was that I couldn’t think fast enough, process that information efficiently, or remember enough. So yes, next time – knowing this – like autisticmotherland I will ‘adjust’. I’ll ask for more time to process the questions and consider my answers. I’ll make the case for bringing in a crib sheet of key points I can refer to, and maybe even knowing the key themes in advance.
    In the UK in some employment fields, people with disabilities are guaranteed an interview as long as they meet the job specification. It stands to reason that we should also be given a reasonable chance of giving a strong account of ourselves once we get there. Now that I’m starting to understand better the difference autism makes to me, I’m growing more confident about explaining it to others and less shy/cautious about disclosure.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s