Interview No. 1: a debacle.
She came down with a nasty bug 48 hours beforehand. She spent the time curled up in a ball feeling sorry for herself instead of getting familiar with the region where the job was based, the industries and issues there, the station or its staff, or reading up on her technology and communications blogs.
Sucking at emotional regulation, as can be common in people on the Asperger's/Autism spectrum, she panicked. She started beating herself up mentally after the first bad response to an interview question, which then put her in a lousy emotional state that screwed up the rest of the interview.
Interview No. 2: an Aspie's dream come true.
Jodie van de Wetering, an Aspie and an online journalist, prepared for the next interview "like a woman possessed." She read blogs, took notes, trawled archives, and generally threw herself into the task with "that legendary autistic perseverance," she says.
What was helpful in both situations was that they were phone interviews. That meant no eye contact or body language to interpret. It allowed her to print out large copies of her notes, with bold headings and bulleted points so she could find what she needed quickly, along with a copy of her resume and the job's selection criteria to reference in a pinch.
Does any of this ring a bell? It should, since technology is – depending on your outlook – notorious for/blessed with more than its share of people who have impairment in the social interactions so crucial in a job interview. To be more specific, in the field of technology there exists a great deal of, in the words of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: "Marked impairment in the use of nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction."
Granted, this is all cliché. Bill Gates, for one, is the classic spectrum techie, known for what Wired's Steve Silberman described back in 2001 as a "single-minded focus on technical minutiae, rocking motions, and flat tone of voice ... all suggestive of an adult with some trace of the disorder."
Having either a trace or a double-dip dose of the “Aspie” disorder doesn't help much when you're in a job interview, of course, particularly since the neurological profile typical of touchy, emotive human resources types tends to include being unusually adept at nonverbal communication. What's the best way to handle it? Do you tell the interviewer straight out that you're on the spectrum? Apologize for any resultant awkwardness and promise her that you're constantly striving to improve your communications skills? Would the honesty endear her (big plus!) or just creep her out, evidenced by that squirmy body language you've maybe, or maybe not, learned to associate with creeped-out-edness (bad!)?
Because here's the thing: You well might be Aspie, but you're sure not lacking in intelligence. You can do the human interaction thing. Herein, some tips, gleaned from Aspies who've learned how to speak nonverbal human.
Note that these tips aren't Aspie-specific; they're good interviewing skills for anyone. However, skills like remembering to look people in the eye are difficult for Aspies in particular. I went right to the source, gleaning these suggestions from people on the spectrum. I offer particular thanks to those who contributed tips on WrongPlanet.net, an online community for those with neurological differences.
Mastering human interactions in job interviews
Thanks goes out to WrongPlanet member's Fnord for supplying these first 14 tips:
1. Bathe. Body odor is offensive.
2. Dress and groom for the job you're applying for. You're not going to get that programming job dressed like a dock worker.
Aspies tend to lack fashion literacy and often don't have a clue what's appropriate. One way around this is to ask for advice by either calling the office receptionist or the person setting up the interview. One WrongPlanet member says he'll sometimes make it humorous by asking the interview something like, "So, I was planning on wearing my tuxedo, but my cummerbund isn't back from the cleaners. Will that be OK?" That usually elicits a response regarding what the interviewer might expect, says "ViewUpHere."
3. Bring all relevant documents. This may include your birth certificate, so be prepared.
4. Show up. Most candidates lose out because they simply fail to show up for the first interview.
5. Arrive 15 minutes before the interview is to start. On time is late.
6. Know what you're applying for; and no, "A job" does not count. Read the job description, and bring a copy.
7. Know what the company does. Is it producing goods or providing a service? Both?
8. Know the company's customer base. Do they sell mainly to other businesses? The government or military? The public?
9. Know the company's competitors; down the road, across the country, and globally.
10. Know the company's business model. Their mission statement is a good place to start.
11. Be upbeat. Observe those celebrities making the talk-show circuit; they're trying to make a good impression, the kind of impression that you need to make, as well.
12. Be nice. Whatever trouble you may have had with previous employers is not worth mentioning. Same for the argument you had with your relatives this morning. This also means no profanity, no bigotry, and no political or religious proselytizing. Leave it all outside.
13. Remember their names. Write them down—if you have to—but don't get lost in note-taking.
14. Show gratitude. When the interview is over, shake their hands, look them in the eye, and say, "Thank you."
And from other Aspies, I picked up these tips:
15. Beware of your voice tone. PerfectlyDarkTails, an Aspie who wanted to get into IT, wrote on WrongPlanet that he found interviews kept going bad due to his not showing enthusiasm, sounding too quiet, or getting turned off by jobs that had an unwelcome emphasis on social interaction, working too quickly, or working without the safe framework of a regime. One way to address these issues is to role-play with somebody who can critique your performance before you have to do it live with an interviewer.
16. Make eye contact. This is challenging for people with Asperger's or ASD disorders. WrongPlanet member "Richman71" recommends at least looking at the interviewer's forehead (or the bridge of his nose or mouth or the side of his forehead). He handled it in a job interview by having most or all of his answers ready in his head and then concentrating on making as much eye contact as possible. Focusing on the interviewer's bridge of the nose at intervals lessened what might have been interpreted as an intense stare directly into the person's eyes.
17. Practice body language. Aspies are often cited for lack of physical responsiveness. WrongPlanet member "shaman" was cut short once by the interviewer, who asked if he really wanted the job, given that he was sitting, "well, like us!"
"I have an (unintentional) tendency to mimic body language in situations I find ambiguous," he says. "Of course, in the workplace there are unequal power relations and I have had a few embarrassing situations where I've interacted with my boss as if I were his equal."
When role-playing in a practice interview, ask for feedback on your body language to make sure it acknowledges the hierarchical difference inherent in the situation. You're looking for a job, and the interviewer has the power to make the decision on who gets it. We don't want your tail between your legs like a whipped puppy, but being too relaxed reads like you've got the same status as your interviewer, if not more.
18. Practice giving concise, confident answers. Aspies have a tendency to go on and on at great length, sometimes in a pedantic fashion that's off-putting. You might not pick up on nonverbal cues that show the interviewer is wishing you'd shut up, so stick to short answers that are to the point, and try not to repeat yourself. While you're at it, avoid repeating yourself. (Sorry, that was irresistible.)
And finally, an important consideration:
To Fess Up or Not to Fess Up, That Is the Question
One of the more tangled issues regards whether it helps or hurts to tell the interviewer that you're on the spectrum.
Legally, employers can't ask questions that touch on a disability. If you bring it up, they're legally allowed to talk about it, but they can't raise the issue themselves.
For her part, Jodie van de Wetering says she's experienced a wide variety of reactions.
She's had interviewers who argued with her, refusing to believe her, as if they had more medical expertise than the doctors who diagnosed her.
She's confused people who think that Autism (Asperger's is a particular form of Autism, and she was originally diagnosed as Autistic) only affects small children.
She's had blank looks.
She's experienced people who've been relieved to figure out what it was that caused whatever off-cues they perceived, as opposed to her being some kind of "stuck-up bitch who doesn't like them," she says. "I've actually made a few really good friends with people who've completely changed their view of me after I've revealed my [diagnosis] to them."
You have to make your own call on this one, but a safe bet might be to just play into the stereotype. When the time's appropriate, after they've asked you to talk about yourself, one option is to just tell them you're a nerd.
You’re supposed to be this way.
- Interview Etiquette: Is It Rude to Cut Out Early?
- How to Answer the 'Tell Me About Yourself' Question
- Linux: It's Where the Jobs Are
- The Introverts Guide to a Job Search
- Calling All Introverts: How to Thrive in an Extroverted Workplace