According to Autism Society’s statistics, 70 million people around the world have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD. 35% of young adults with autism don’t have a job or receive postgraduate education after leaving high school. Even those, usually with Asperger’s syndrome, who do have the right skills for a job seem to struggle to find one, partly because they fail the interview process.
Let’s see how the interview works in a typical hi-tech corporate setting: Recruiters are meant to find the person who (they think) will fit best to the position and the company culture within a given budget and time frame (which is usually “yesterday”). These limitations mean that they have to make decisions quickly based on the facts they have: the candidate’s resume and behavior during the interview.
Sometimes there are other steps in the process like references from past employers, psychological assessment tests, in-tray exercises, assessment tests, etc., but they are usually complimentary to the first two. The interview is done mainly to verify the candidates’ soft skills (communication, presentation, leadership skills etc), his or her potential to perform under rapidly-changing, high-pressure situations, and ability to adapt to the existing team and the company’s culture.
The majority of recruiters are neurotypical. They also don’t usually know about ASD. ASD candidates don’t know about the neurotypical frame of mind. Given these facts, imagine the following scenario:
Step 1: The interviewer enters the room, gives her hand to the candidate and greets him looking him in the eye. The candidate doesn’t shake hands and avoids eye contact. The interviewer thinks, “That’s rude. Doesn’t he have any manners?” The candidate may think, “I hate sweaty hands”.
Step 2: The interviewer makes a joke to break the ice. The joke falls flat and the
candidate doesn’t even smile. She thinks, “Is he really that humorless or is
he so arrogant he’s ignoring my joke?” He may think, “I don’t get it”.
Step 3: The interviewer asks the first question: “Tell me about yourself”. The candidate looks at the floor and fidgets with his pen. Time passes by. She thinks “If he cannot answer such a simple question, how can he cope with the heavy workload?” He may think, “What does she mean? What am I supposed to say?” and he fidgets with his pen.
Step 4: The interviewer, already annoyed with the previous steps, stares at him and thinks “He doesn’t pay any attention to what I’m asking, he doesn’t give me an answer to a simple question, and he is playing with his pen. ” The candidate cannot concentrate; there is a light blinking on the ceiling. He thinks “I cannot stand it, why don’t they fix it?”
Step 5: The interviewer thinks, “He seems like a waste of time. I have four more interviews to go. I have to be quick,” and she continues with the next question: “Why should we hire you?” The candidate sweating now, and some minutes later, he replies: “Well, I don’t know. It’s your decision, not mine”.
That’s it. The interviewer has heard enough to reject him. She finds an excuse and finishes the interview. Even if the above is a simplistic example and every person, neurotypical or ASD, is unique and behaves differently, there are some common behavioral patterns among ASD people which give a “No” signal to the ignorant recruiter’s mind, even if the candidate seems to have the right education for the position.
As a neurotypical recruitment manager in the ICT industry for the last 17 years, I have conducted thousands of interviews and have worked with many engineers who could easily fall under the ASD diagnosis. I didn’t know about ASD myself until my own son was diagnosed with ASD some years ago, and this was what shined a light onto a completely different world for me.
As recruiters, we aren’t trained to interpret Aspies’ difficulty in understanding non-verbal communication, dealing with change and ambiguity, and putting their feelings into words. We don’t know how to handle their social awkwardness and sensory hypersensitivity. We are trained to focus on their poor communication skills, their risk-aversion and adherence to routine, and use these to predict their potential professional failure.
Things aren’t quite what they seem to be. There is a lot of undiscovered ASD talent out there, and we cannot afford to waste it. Thankfully, some US companies have already created inclusion programs for ASD people, but there is still a very long way to go to overcome ignorance and biases worldwide.
Ready to get the job? Check out my course: