First, I need to start off by saying that a job is not the end-all-be-all. The larger society likes to synonymize one’s job with one’s very identity, but that’s a grave error. We are not our jobs. We are still ourselves, whole and complete, no matter what we do for a living, or whether or not we even have a job. Being employed is advantageous for most and necessary for many; but it’s not the only Game-of-Life Bullet-Point by which we should measure ourselves, nor is it the only key that fits the Life Success Lock. Each person is a valid and worthwhile human being, and there are many ways in which one can “contribute” to the rest of the world, if they wish to do so.
As I mentioned, landing and keeping a job is a necessity for many. Regional laws and systems vary in terms of public support, and our individual situations vary in terms of the socioeconomic statuses of our families, significant others, caretaking situations, financial burden, and our cost-of-living needs/desires. For many of us, these factors add up in such a way that we find ourselves needing a job. Or, we may simply wish to work – maybe it gives us something to do, maybe it does contribute toward a piece of our identity or add a bonus to our self-worth, or maybe we were raised in a family culture in which work is highly valued (these would pertain to me as well, including the family culture part).
So, if any one (or other, similar) situation applies to you, and you’re on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum trying to figure out how (and, if you’re like me, possibly struggling) to make that happen, this post is for you.
As usual, what follows is only my own opinion, based on my own factors (I live in the US, my family culture has a hell of a work ethic, and the particular state in which I live doesn’t offer much of anything by way of public support, nor do I necessarily qualify as disabled in my area; not to mention that I do have an inborn desire to work, produce, create, etc, and our financial burden is fairly high, as is the cost of our desired standard of living). What follows is also based on my own experience and observations as well. Thus, each person’s mileage may vary. 🙂
Tip #1 – Decide what you really like to do.
My personal philosophy is that life is too short to spend a significant proportion of it doing something you despise. If you have to (or want to) work, it might as well be a position that you’re at least semi-fond of. Since I like lists (and they tend to help me), I might make one of activities I like doing. Then, I might make a second list alongside the first, listing career positions that might correspond with each activity. (There might be some crossover and overlap, as one job might combine multiple activities, or conversely, as one activity might be applicable in multiple jobs.)
Tip #2 – Make sure the position you’d like to find would actually be a good fit for your particular personality, too.
Not all jobs are suitable for all people, but there are various categories of jobs that suit various personality types (and individual people, of course). For example, if the phone or face to face meetings make you break out in a sweat, then you might want to avoid positions that involve dealing with people on a regular basis. If you’d prefer not to have to pressure people or you like to keep conversation to a minimum, most sales positions might not be ideal. And so on…
The easiest strategy–at least a good starting point–for most of us is to go where people on the spectrum already are. Teachers/university professors, mechanics, night shift workers, researchers, postal service, inventory, computer/IT, creative arts, editing/proofreading, libraries, web development, law, advocacy/non-profit, working with animals, green technology, chef/cooking, acting, carpentry, electrician, repair tech, pharmacy, etc. Or, you might consider being a sales representative for a product or service that coincides with a “special interest”.
That’s not to say that people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are only suitable for certain, society-stereotyped jobs, however. Although these are common positions for us to hold and there appear to be clusters of people on the spectrum in these positions (or clusters of positions held by people on the spectrum), that of course doesn’t mean that we should limit ourselves to these lines of work. We can–and should certainly feel free to–branch out into whatever we want.
Tip #3 – Research the hell out of the company you’re interested in, if you can. Go into detail-rich, systemizing mode 🙂
What (exactly, specifically) do they do? What is their specialty, their market niche? What do they pride themselves on?
You can start with their Vision and Mission Statements (if they have them), to see what they think they’re striving for (at least in flowery, corporate-speak language, which requires a little translation into the everyday language of Reality Check). But I might only start there; after a quick skim of these statements (if available), I would proceed to go further.
One of the best strategies? Researching product/service reviews. This can be time-consuming, but these product/service reviews are surprisingly insightful in terms of what customer needs their products/services fulfill, as well as their strengths and weaknesses for doing so. This can arm you with extremely valuable information that, in typical neurodivergent/Asperger’s/autism spectrum style, hardly anyone else has considered or obtained. Not only would this strategy arm you with some almost-exclusive information that hardly any other competing job candidates thought to get, but you’ll sound (and feel) much more confident in your cover letters (if applicable), interviews, and should you be accepted for the job, the job position itself!
Another tentacle of job research involves trying to ascertain as much as you can beforehand what kind of environment you’re walking/getting yourself into as a potential member of that company. In other words, you’re trying to avoid a proverbial sizzling fry pan or vicious snake pit. So you’ll want to ask yourself, and try to find information about what it’s actually like to work there once you commit to the position.
One semi-solid strategy is to hear what others (who’ve gone before you) have to say. What are people saying about working there (over on sites like Glass Door (link to their site))? How well is the company regarded among its workers? (Check out Google reviews and other review sites, or perhaps search the internet for “working for [Company Name]” to see if you can dig up any information that way.) Sites like Glass Door will vary in how helpful they are, depending on the industry/field you’re considering, which particular companies you’re looking at, and of course, even by time period (maybe the company wasn’t run so well in the past, but it’s much better now under new management, or vice versa). And of course, there’s always the chance that the Glass Door et al sites might contain little-to-no information about that company. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the company should be kicked off your short-list of possible employers; it just means that the information is sparser and there are more unknowns.
Tip #4 – (Try to) research the hell out of the other people currently working there, especially the head honchos, supervisors, and other influential people, if you can (this one is usually a little tougher).
Make sure you’re a fit with them (and vice versa!). This is imperative for our own mental/emotional health. Aspergian/autistic people tend to be above-averagely-sensitive to the “vibes” of others (if not downright empathic), so it’s even more important to us to make sure we’re not working for complete jerks. Glass Door might come in handy here, too (again, its usefulness will likely vary), and so might other professional networking sites like LinkedIn.
However, the best strategy I’ve personally found is networking on a more personal basis (I know–eeeek!). Excellent (and less-intimidating) resources to start with include friends, a neighbor, a video gaming buddy, former school classmates, a contact/lunch companion from a (profession- or personal interest-related) conference, an acquaintance/counterpart who works at another company in your field, or someone you know in passing who works in the industry you’re interested in, and so on. There are lots of possible avenues to choose from; some of the best opportunities can come from some of the most unlikely/unpredicted sources.
Networking is typically more of an art than a science. Different strategies/methods might work better for different fields/industries/corporate cultures/etc, depending on the nature of each. What works better for one (industry, field, position, company) might not work very well for–or might not even be applicable to–another. Depending on the individual situation, I might invite them for coffee after work (or a similar low-key environment that won’t assault your senses and encourages longer, relaxed conversations; maybe you attend a conference together and meet for a quiet lunch) and pick their brain a little.
Let’s say you want to pick their brain about a particular company. You might ask them a couple of questions (space them out well, and as exciting/nerve-wracking as you may feel, try to “remain calm”), such as, do they work at the company you’re looking at, or have they worked there in the past, or do they somehow otherwise know what it might be like to work there? If not, do they know anyone who does? Is there anyone they can put you in touch with, and can you name-drop their name when approaching that other person? (The higher up their contact is in the desired company, the better.)
You might ask them questions like, what’s the company, its culture, its philosophies (website and PR aside), its general “vibe” like? (Does it coincide with your particular “flavor” of Aspergian/autistic-systemizing logic?)
- Do they treat their employees like human beings, or do they have unreasonable expectations, or are they more concerned with being your friend than your boss?
- How draconian/lenient/sensible/unreasonable/flexible etc are their policies?
- How is their pay structured?
- How intense are their typical workloads, demands, schedules, etc? (These questions are important to answer before accepting/declining a job (ideally), because of our tendency toward strong senses of justice and fairness.)
- And finally, what kinds of benefits/perks do they offer – good pay, performance/merit-based pay, vacation/holiday time, bonuses for exceptional work, generous benefits packages, etc?
Tip #5 – Polish up your resume (if you have one, and if the field/company you’re dealing with requires one).
A resume is usually a necessary evil (although not always; I don’t have one!), but about 1/3 of all applicants lie (!) on their resumes, so hiring managers usually take them with a grain (or more) of salt. All a resume typically really does is land you a spot on the interview list, if the hiring manager likes what they see, but it may (or may not) be a necessary hoop to jump through.
There’s a lot of advice about how to do this (my favorite resource is the Ask-a-Manager blog, “Resume” category! (link to her blog)), but it’s especially important for people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum to accentuate our positive points and skills. At the very least, double-check your resume for easy reading (fonts and font size, margins, layout, etc), spelling and grammar (not all spell-check functions pick up all errors, especially in the instance of two different words that sound the same but are spelled slightly differently and have completely different meanings!), and so on. Proofread and edit the document multiple times. Then, sleep on it and look at it again the next day, when you’re fresh. Then hand it to a friend who is a grammar/spelling/syntax stickler in your native language and have them offer their corrections and other suggestions.
Depending on your region and its acceptance of people on the spectrum, be very careful when choosing whether or not to disclose your status. Sweden is more open, as are a few states in the US; France and other parts of the states, not so much.
Tip #6 – If the position requires a cover letter, each position you’re applying for will probably need its own, unique cover letter.
To make this (much) easier, you’ll first want to mosey on over to Ask-a-Manager’s blog again; she’s got a category about cover letters (link to her blog), too! At minimum, be sure to tailor it to the individual company you’re applying to. The last thing you want to do is send off a generic, one-size-fits-all cover letter talking about how your lifelong dream is to work at “your/this organization”. Write something specific for that entity, something that shows you’ve done some research about their company; they’ll appreciate it, and most importantly, it’ll stand out from all the other job applicants who just submitted generic letters, thus demonstrating that they don’t really have a clue and they’re just trying to land a job–any job. (Employers know this, they’re quite familiar with it, and they try to avoid those people like the plague, so the more you can stand out, the better, and the more well-researched you can present yourself, the more of an advantage you’ll have over a surprising number of other candidates.)
When submitting your resume and cover letter (if applicable), ask (if you can) about the application deadline and when you should expect to hear a response back from the company.
Tip #7 – Practice answers to possible interview questions.
Ask-a-Manager’s blog has loads of advice about interviews, too (link to her blog category). Some companies cling to the age-old “tell us about yourself” and “what’s your best strength/greatest weakness?” but a lot of companies are now turning to questions that can’t be practiced, such as a type of question known as “behavioral” or “situational” questions. These will be unique to each company, based on their individual needs and corporate culture. (That’s a huge reason why you’ll need to research them first: to get an idea of what they value in a job candidate for that particular position!)
The best advice I can give you is to imagine various situations, some of them challenging, and decide how you might handle them. Don’t worry; during the interview process, they already know you’re not totally familiar with their specific policies and procedures, of course, so they’re apt to give you plenty of latitude.
Tip #8 – The main thing is to be yourself.
I know that sounds cringingly cliche, and it (understandably!) terrifies some people. But the truth is, if you’re offered the job based on the interviewer’s impression of you, and it’s false or only partially true, the truth will come through eventually anyway, and it’ll be painful for both sides. If you’re not a fit for the job, and the job isn’t a fit for you, you’ll be miserable. If this misery and/or dissatisfaction begin(s) to poke through your exterior surface, the management might think you have a “bad attitude” and you may not get the recommendation you might need for the next job, which might be a much better fit. If the job doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. And if a company or its management can’t accept you for your authentic self, then it’s not the right fit for you. And that’s OK! It’s not a character flaw on your part, and it doesn’t mean you screwed up or did anything bad or wrong.
Not every job or every company will be the right fit for everyone. If the position you had set your sights on doesn’t pan out, try not to panic! Something else will.
The right thing will come along at the right time. If you had your heart set on one position and it doesn’t work out, consider that it might look shiny on the outside, but might have actually turned out to be painfully devastating for you, and you’ve been “protected” (by whichever powers that be or laws of the universe/nature that you prefer) by being kept out of that position. Also consider the (admittedly metaphysical) possibility that there’s something even better out there, waiting for you, that simply isn’t quite ready yet (for example, maybe someone at your currently-unknown dream company is getting ready to leave their position, which will open it up for you, and even though they haven’t left yet, they will in a couple weeks, and you’ll learn of the opening then).
There’s something out there for everybody and anybody who wants or needs it. Again, the right thing will come along at the right time.