Autistic job search

Getting a job is a life choice for many people. A choice that seems simple, just apply and someone will employ you. But for autistic people, it is not that simple. It is a process that can be very stressful and exhausting. The process is not uniform, it is different for each company. What does belong in my CV what should I write in my cover letter? It is just the start of a journey.

Since autism is on a spectrum I can only speak for myself. A person who for all his life did not know what was wrong with everyone else, until as an adult they got diagnosed with autism. It made so many things much clearer. Especially to understand why I thought that everyone else was weird. Now as an adult and in the fairly short period of me having been diagnosed in 2020 I now do have a deeper understanding of myself, yet many issues are still there. The worst is the job search. Since 2019 I have sent over 3000 applications and got a total of 5 interviews, while at the same time I registered as a freelancer, Ind├ępandant we call this here, just to have a little bit of money in my pocket. The job office, ADEM, did not present any help, they even claimed that I would not have the right for financial aid, and that I “fell through the cracks” in their system. While this is a story for another time it still presents me with issues. I am not a person who can just sit around and do nothing, I need to work. Without money, I can’t even finance a project to prove myself, cannot buy food, clothes or go to a hairdresser. You need to look sharp to get a job and present yourself full of confidence they say. But how is that supposed to work when all confidence is taken from someone. This already makes just sending in an application a hugely emotional task. Everytime one is forced to represent oneself from the best side, but to what avail? Since you do not have any “prior work experience” to present, that everyone unlogically demands, you are scared to not get employed. While your debts increases and every day you struggle to keep away the debt collectors.

A circle that never seems to offer an exit-path. But sometimes a door opens, and you have the luck to get a peak. A job interview is offered, a rare occasion. Under huge stress you write them that you are interested and ask when and where the interview will take place. Just to be met with the worst reply for many autistic people.

Hello {name},

Thank you for your interest, we would like you to propse a date and time for the interview. It will take place at our headoffice in {city}.

Best regards, {company}

This may now seem like a normal reply, but actually it puts us in a position where we have to make choices, important life decisions even. Is the choice of date and time a test? What times would they like? I dont have a job I can whenever. What am I supposed to reply? Then the next issue is that the first interview immediately is in the head office, while I can handle it, it also puts me under huge stress. I do not know these people, and how will the employees react? Will they notice my walk? What should I wear? Can I even present myself positively? Will they be able to understand me? Is it bad that I do not smile and can’t look into peoples eyes? More and more questions arise, while at the same time creating a conflict in the head if it is the right choice. Then suddenly reality hits, the reality of this silly weird world where everything just circles around money. One needs money for food, clothes and the hairdresser. While I am lucky to have parents that offer me shelter and food, not everyone is that lucky, not everyones parents can afford it.

So you reply to the email, and I choose a date and time, you thank them once again and then try to prepare yourself for the position. you research about the job tasks, the company even about ex-employees and try to get their opinions on the place of work. The mental stress grows the closer one gets to the day of the interview. Every day you go through a hypothetical interview in your mind. Until the day itself comes. The stress fills your entire body, you sweat uncontrollably and enter the building thinking that you are prepared everything will be fine, but then….

….you stutter: “Hello I am here for my job interview.” The employee replies: “What?”. “Did I mumble?”, you think and repeat in lack of control of your vocal cords, way too loud for normal conversation: “I AM HERE FOR MY JOB INTERVIEW!”. The employee looks at you while you can’t look at them directly and asks for your name, which you stutter but with a bit more control of your voice. They then tell you where to go to and you ask at least 3 times to make sure where you need to go to. You then sit down, uncertain if you behaved badly and wait for the interview to start. Time passes, you are already 1 hour to early just to be sure to be on time, and just in case you would miss a bus or train. Then 30 minutes after the agreed upon time, which felt more like 2 hours then 30 minutes, you then get led into a room with a complete stranger who usually is completely emotionless, well that is what you can tell from their facial expressions, which you had to study because they do not come naturally to you, as for neuro-typicals.

The interview starts, and you are asked to present yourself, you do so, but you are not sure if you did it well. Then you get asked about your experience, which you do not have, but you try to explain that you are a fast learner and that you are willing to learn. After that they go through your CV, you explain everything in utmost detail and truthfully, you do not want to lie to person who will pay your wages. Then they ask about hobbies. You think to yourself well that is kind of private, you try to remember what you found out about the person via LinkedIn and Facebook, and forcefully try to relate a few hobbies to them personally. Like for example some interviewees post a lot of music, and you yourself have made a few songs on soundcloud. But you are just so stressed that thinking becomes a mess, a mousse of thoughts, mainly about how important getting the job is. You risk your mind to slip away from the interview and you fight the start of a daydream, seemingly a defence mechanism for the huge stress you are under. The interviewer then asks you about your salary expectations, you try to think of a number that is not too high, but not too low,a number that is in line with the job you are applying for. You utter some number that you think would be a good choice, yet you had to add that the number is negotiable. Without having shown you any emotion or feedback if your application would make it they then say goodbye and send you out of the building.

On the way home the stress lowers a tiny bit, but is not totally gone. Arriving home you then try to let go but it is just impossible. “Will I get the job? I really need a job!” you think non-stop. Not even playing video-games can get your mind of. You open the e-mail client and leave it open just to not miss a reply, and that you can act immediately to it. You check your phone every 5 minutes, just to see if you missed a call or a text message. Later you go to bed, but you can’t sleep. At some point the sleeplessness forces you to just fall asleep. The following day your whole energy is gone you feel like you have been hit by a truck. You are not able to do anything, you can’t even think straight. That one single hour of job interview costs you a week of energy just to remain in uncertainty.

Every following day is just torture, until you get a reply. If it is negative you are devastated, you feel like a failure and just cannot grasp why you, who prepared for so long did not get the job. You can’t keep still and research who got the job instead and find the new employee on LinkedIn, they do not even seem to be the right choice. You start to grow hate towards that single stranger and towards the company! BUT, then you remember that you were raised different and pull the break. You call your friends and talk to them about it, or your psychologist.

But if it is a positive reply and you get invited to a technical interview, the stress begins again just like for the first interview. And you just fail miserably in the presence of the interviewer. You tried to impress them but you just flopped around like a fish on land. You know you have failed it and try to counter with at least explaining in great detail what and how you wanted to solve the issue. Because that is what you are best at, attacking a problem with logic and structure, like the good vulcan on a starfleet spaceship. But after that you sink in at home, already crying like you already lost the opportunity for that job.

You wait anxiously for a reply. And if it is a negative reply your whole world crumbles and you need a lot of time to get back up. You feel left alone and see no hand reaching out to you. While all around you people switch jobs like it’s their underwear. And you, are sitting there alone, without money, without a job, without a future. You feel like you are a failure, a burden to your parents, a burden to society. The feelings can get to strong so you reach out to your psychologist, whom you can barely afford if even, so you do not risk to hurt yourself. Eve if the psychologist just masks as a friend, it still is better than being alone.

If it were a positive reply, you would be the happiest person ever, the company would instantly become your family and you would do everything to present yourself and the company from your best side. Maybe even pay the first round of beers at lunch. You finally got your purpose.

But how many tries does it take? How many interviews? How many rejections? When even supermarkets do not want to employ you to fill up their shelfs. This is what it is like for me, I do not know how to prove myself and I do not know how to present myself. I am me, and I know what I can achieve. And if it were not for money I would just be a creator and produce my own purpose on this very silly planet. To quote the Meeseeks from Rick and Morty: “Existence is pain to a Meeseeks Jerry! And we will do anything to alleviate that pain!”. Please do not be a Jerry, and give autistic people a chance by employing them for a month or two. Chances are low that you would regret it and chances are high that you would be surprised by the results. Maybe they are put in an unfitting position, and you need to give them a different task, but they are not without value. They just need a chance to prove themselves. You may just learn something from them, that no SCRUM-master or AGILE-consulter would ever dream of.

The company would become an important part to them, for which they would always be grateful, even if not every person on the spectrum knows how to express it. We just want to be part of this, for us at least, nonsensical world.