FIND FRIENDLY EMPLOYERS – AND KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE RECRUITMENT PROCESS
Job hunting is tough for everyone — but graduates with Asperger Syndrome (often referred to as ‘Asperger’s’) may face a few extra challenges when trying to land their first job after university. The key is to know what to expect from the recruitment process — and find employers and roles which are likely to suit you. Helen Cooke, expert in disability and graduate recruitment and founder of MyPlus Students’ Club, shares her tips to help Asperger’s graduates smooth the pathway to employment…
1) Find friendly employers “No employer can discriminate against you for having Asperger’s, but some are extra-good at understanding that candidates with Asperger’s may have slightly different needs from other applicants and the unique skills and work profile people with Asperger’s have – such as very high attention to detail, greater loyalty to employers and fewer sick days taken off. EY (with an Asperger’s network), Reed Smith (who focus heavily on disability at graduate recruitment level) and Goldman Sachs are particularly keen to hear from you, and you can find more ‘Asperger’s confident’ employers on MyPlus Students’ Club. Or if you’re looking for specialist schemes to provide work experience, try Leonard Cheshire’s Change 100, or Asperger’s/Autism-specific Specialisterne.”
2) Be cool “For some graduates with Asperger’s, it can feel tempting to rush into applying for as many jobs as possible, but it’s vital you plan ahead first. Making a huge number of applications won’t help if you haven’t taken your time with each — many will not get through the initial stage. Instead, you should consider which areas you’d like to work in, research the area, and pick out a decent number — between five and ten — jobs to apply to initially. This way you aren’t relying on one application but also have the time to fill each out properly. Once you’ve sent those out, keep applying for more while you wait to hear back.”
3) Play to your strengths “Everybody on the autism spectrum is different, so I would stop short of prescribing careers for people with Asperger’s. However, there are certain jobs that are likely to make better use of the skills Asperger’s can bring. Since people with Asperger’s are usually good at spotting patterns, jobs which require a mastery of systems (e.g. IT, librarianship) are a good bet, while jobs that require frequent social interaction (such as front-of-house, HR, or client-facing positions) could possibly be less suitable. If you’re not sure what job you would be good at, speak to your university careers service to match your skills to a job; and if you really want to do a job you’re not naturally good at, be sure to identify and build the required skill set first.
4) Declare Asperger’s as early as possible “As with all disabilities, it’s best to be open as early as possible — this allows you to request adjustments as early as possible into the process. It also makes you come across as someone who is self-aware and confident enough to share this information. You can be open later on in the process, but if you decide to wait until, say, you’ve passed a recruitment process, then you won’t be able to perform at your best throughout this process and it’s likelier you’ll be taken out because you haven’t been able to demonstrate your (very real) skills without adjustments.”
5) Answer the question “When filling out application forms, it’s vital that you pay close attention to what you are being asked, and also try to ‘read between the lines’ (people with Asperger’s can view things literally, without considering the context). Remember, these questions exist for you to demonstrate key competencies for the job. A beautifully written answer that fails to demonstrate these, and instead goes off on a tangent about interesting but irrelevant things, won’t help. Instead, you should research the competencies the firm is looking for beforehand and weave them into your answer. When you read a question, ask yourself ‘Why are they asking me this?’ Always double check that your answer addresses that.”
6) Request adjustments “Many larger firms require online testing before the interview stage, and these psychometrics can be good or bad for people with Asperger’s. If you need adjustments to perform to your best, such as asking for interview questions in advance so you can prepare for them, this is the moment to let them know. (Sometimes graduates don’t mention this until they’ve already been unsuccessful on the tests, by which point it’s too late.) If you’re having trouble with any of the tests, don’t just ignore them (although it’s tempting, I know — failure can feel deeply personal to people with Asperger’s). Instead, practise until you’re used to them as this greatly increases your chance of success.”
7) Ask interviewers to be clearer “Interviews are often difficult for people with Asperger’s. Evidence shows this is where most of their job applications fall down because they test social interaction. If you’re comfortable being open and requesting adjustments, this is the stage where it’s most beneficial to do so. Adjustments like asking for interview questions in advance, or asking interviewers to spell out exactly what they’re looking for in an answer, have been offered before and are a great help for working out how best to demonstrate your abilities and awareness of the role. If you don’t understand the question, they may have phrased it in a way that isn’t clear. Just ask them to re-word it.”
8) Know how to talk about Asperger’s in an interview “Like any other disabilities, there are good and bad ways to bring up Asperger’s in an interview. You don’t necessarily have to mention it, of course, but then you won’t be able to address concerns the interviewer might have. If you can, speak about how living with Asperger’s has caused you to develop coping strategies others won’t have picked up, such as how to read body language and the intentions of others — this will demonstrate a level of determination and perseverance. Don’t simply bring it up and list negative qualities, or offer no explanation at all, since this is irrelevant to the selection criteria you’re being assessed against. If nothing has been said about Asperger’s by the end of the interview, consider asking if they have any potential concerns about your ability to do the job as a closing question — you can then tackle these concerns”.
9) Don’t forget the paperwork “Had a job offer? That’s great — but remember your work doesn’t stop there. Now you need to send off confirmation details within the deadline set (something which people with Asperger’s can forget if they have executive functioning difficulties). You should also get in touch with any workplace adjustments if you haven’t already; it’s better to get these out in the open now, rather than wait until you start the job.”
10) Try to take rejection less personally “Every job hunter experiences knockbacks — and it’s always disappointing. It’s very unlikely you’ll get the first job you apply for, so it’s also important to learn how to deal with this. People with Asperger’s can be perfectionists, who are often distressed by rejections since they take any knockbacks very personally. The key is to make the most of the situation. If you’re unsuccessful, ensure that you ask for feedback so you know the areas to work on in future interviews. This will also help to think of feedback less personally. See it as an evaluation of skills you can improve, rather than a personal attack on you as an individual.”
11) Always ask for feedback “It’s vital for all jobseekers to obtain feedback — but it’s even more important when you have Asperger’s, as can be very hard to judge how you are coming across to others. When getting in touch with an employer, remember to be polite and respectful, even if you are upset about the result (it will not help your case to attack anyone or come across as hostile). It’s also important (although easier said than done) to focus your energy on listening to and applying the feedback to yourself, not arguing with it, since this ultimately won’t help you. Be sure to thank the person at the end of the call for taking the time to give feedback, so you leave them with a good impression should your paths cross again.
12) Seek extra support “Even if you’ve graduated already your university should still be able to help you. In addition to contacting the university careers department it may also be advisable to contact the university disability department who may also be able to provide help and support. MyPlus Students’ Club provides really useful and practical advice specifically for disabled graduates. And don’t rule out non-disability specific websites such as Milkround and Target Jobs as their advice will equally be useful”.
AUTHOR BIO: Helen Cooke, is an expert in disability and graduate recruitment. Helen founded specialised website MyPlus Students’ Club to provide disabled students with all the information they need to prepare for school leaver and graduate job applications and the recruitment process (follow @MyPlusVoice).
The article was co-written with Jonathan Andrews, a student at King’s College London. He provided the expertise on the graduate recruitment process for people with Asperger’s.
* SHARE YOUR ADVICE FOR GRADUATES WITH ASPERGER SYNDROME
We’d love to hear from employers with tips and insight to add to the article above. Or, if you have Asperger’s yourself and have found a job, please share your experience of navigating the recruitment process. What did you learn – and what advice would you give to those who are still job-hunting (who may well be reading!)…