Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, June, 2017
Alex could not get past initial screenings and to an in-person interview. Many of the screenings took place online. So we arranged a mock screening using Skype.
Alex dressed as he normally did for an interview, and positioned his computer in the usual spot on the desk in his bedroom. I told Alex that all I could see on my computer screen was the top of his head. He adjusted his computer.
“Now I can see your eyes and the top of your head,” I said. “Do you see the small window on your computer screen that shows how you appear to others?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Interviewers expect to see your full face,” I explained. “They are using Skype to simulate an in-person meeting.”
Alex responded that he did not have room to move the computer. He was surprised when I said that he would need to find another spot to conduct Skype screenings. He didn’t realize that the partial view of his face was off-putting to interviewers. “What difference does it make?” he asked, “I thought they want to know whether I can do the job.”
It is true that job seekers are evaluated on their ability to perform job tasks. Interviewers ask questions to determine whether a person has the necessary knowledge, skills and experience. However, they are also assessing whether a candidate will be able to work well with other employees. This is often referred to as “fitting in,” which is a confusing concept to many people with Asperger’s Syndrome and NLD.
“Fitting in” generally means to behave in ways that make other people comfortable to be around you. Many employers place a high value on teamwork and interpersonal communication. They do not want to hire individuals who are perceived as unfriendly, unenthusiastic, poor listeners, or difficult to interact with.
During the coaching session with Alex, I positioned myself so that he could only see the top of my head. He laughed when I began talking … and agreed to make sure that his full face was showing on future Skype interviews.
Smiling is so important to fitting in that I consider it to be a basic job readiness skill. Jenna did not realize that her expressionless gaze made her appear to be unfriendly, and disinterested in the coaching session. She was sending this same, unintended message during interviewers.
I showed Jenna how to practice in front of a mirror, so that she would learn how her facial muscles felt when she made a friendly smile. We practiced smiling during a greeting, and when ending an interview. Jenna also arranged five minutes of daily practice with her mother. Within a few weeks, she automatically smiled when she arrived for a coaching session.
Personal grooming, your manner of speaking, and body language also communicate social messages, and influence how an employer perceives you. This is why I emphasize to clients that interviewing is a “social event.”
Mock interviews and video recordings can reveal areas for improvement. Be open to receiving feedback, especially if you have had many interviews and no job offers. If you have significant difficulty with these skills, consider disclosing the reason during an interview. (To download my free guide on workplace disclosure, click here.)