After several years of producing articles, white papers, and whatnot on human resources and job-search advice, I’m giving serious thought to writing a guide to job-seeking for autistic adults. Because, while a lot of the advice out there is good as far as it goes, it usually doesn’t go as far as giving us the advice we need to network, survive interviews, and so on.
This project is still very much in the embryo stage. I don’t even have a working outline. I will gladly accept questions and recommendations for topics – leave them in the comments please!
For now, here are my top three pet peeves about job-search advice from an autistic person’s point of view:
1. Eye contact.
If one more person, blog, or book advises me to “make eye contact” during an interview, I am going to have a meltdown. That’s not a threat, it’s an inevitability.
More to the point, I think the “eye contact” advice is largely overrated and is actively harmful to the autistic person’s chances of doing well in an interview. Here’s why:
- I have been practicing
faking neurotypical“modulating” eye contact for 32 years now and counting. This is literally the best fake-neurotypicalmodulated eye contact you will ever get from me. Encouraging me to try harder isn’t going to help.
- If I’m worrying about my eye contact, I’m not paying attention to the things in the interview that really matter. Like my skills, or how I can help the company.
I get it. Fidgeting makes people uncomfortable. Heck, when I’m teaching and my students fidget, it makes me uncomfortable. But like the eye contact thing, the “don’t fidget!” advice is not only useless for autistic job-seekers, but actually harms our performance. Much better to recommend ways to re-direct those stims that are so necessary for us to think and communicate in a high-stakes environment.
True story: during my interview for an editing job in 2004, I stimmed by playing with the hem of my blazer under the table. At a law firm in 2008, I redirected hand-flapping into perhaps-excessive but readable gesturing. I got both those jobs.
Networking advice and speed-dating-style “networking events,” it turns out, are useless for everyone – and the industry is starting to realize it. But this nonsense is, I think, even more stress-worthy for autistic people, for all kinds of reasons related to social anxiety and sensory overload.
The hard truth is that most jobs come through people, not postings. (Although I have landed two separate jobs from postings in which I did not know a soul.) But autistic people have profound abilities to develop depth of relationships, rather than breadth – and this can be a great strength in hiring when we know how to use it. The problem is that conventional advice doesn’t do much to help us use it.
Since these are my three biggest pet peeves, they’ll probably be among the last questions I address – what makes them my pet peeves is that they are tough and hella anxiety-provoking. I’ll probably start with interview questions, those being somewhat more in my area of expertise both as a human-resources writer and as a rhetorician. But please send suggestions!