Interviews and autistic people – a match made in hell?
Autistic people have it tough in the workplace. Actually, they have it tough even getting into the workplace in the first place. Employment rates for autistic people are scandalously low. People are scared of different, and many of us autistic people are very, very different, but in a good way! Since so many people cannot see beyond the overall picture that we are different and see us as individuals with unique talents and skills, they miss out on the many benefits that autistic people can and do bring to business when they are given a chance.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to employment for many autistic people are interviews. As a recruitment process is designed, it will almost certainly include an interview at some point and often as the decisive element. I once passed a tough two-day assessment centre only to be turned down at a follow-up interview.
I stink at interviews. I mean really, really stink. So do lots of other autistic people. We are often not good at face to face conversation even with our friends and family, and talking to strangers is even harder. Making eye contact with people can be hugely difficult for us, but it does not mean that we are not interested or listening. We also often have other mental health conditions, like anxiety, so combine that with a history of bad interview experiences, our nerves go through the ceiling.
Given this, an interview can be a nightmare for many autistic people. If you want to design a situation to see us at our worst, an interview is probably it. But how much does an interview have to do with the ability to do almost any job, except possibly appear on chat shows? If you have written evidence and references setting out the abilities of the candidate, and perhaps scores through the roof on aptitude tests (lots of us do those for fun!), does it really make sense not to employ that person on the basis of the interview?
I understand that you will want to meet someone before offering them a job, but there are a number of things that can make this easier for autistic people and those interviewing them. Try a more informal setting in an environment that works for the candidate – ask them what this is, but somewhere relaxed without lots of noise or bright lights is likely to be good. Make it clear to them in advance that this is an informal chat and not an interview. Tell them that you understand that interviews may be hard and that you just want to meet them in person – all the other evidence provided will be taken fully into account.
Give us information in advance about what is going to happen, who we will be meeting, how long it will last and ideally what you want to talk about. As much knowledge as possible will help to ease anxiety. Make it clear that you are happy for them to refer to notes if that helps. When I am allowed to take notes to an interview I often don’t actually use them, but having them is a huge boost to my comfort and security.
We do not want preferential treatment, we just want a fair chance. If you employ an autistic person, you will very likely see huge benefits if you make proper provision for them, which is often very minor. Autistic people are the great untapped goldmine in the employment market.
Mark Palmer is a freelance writer specialising in mental health, autism and neurodiversity. He can be contacted through his website www.markpalmerwriter.co.uk, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MarkPWriter.
All the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to RGB.