Autistic individuals may possess a number of skills and abilities which could be particularly attractive to an employer (see separate section on Skills and Abilities). However, finding and keeping employment can be particularly challenging. Common barriers faced by autistic candidates include communication issues, lack of understanding, assumptions about autism, and the misconceptions regarding the needs and abilities of autistic individuals.
Some of the issues around the topic of recruitment include:
Job advertisements often mention requirements such as ‘team spirit’ or ‘good communication skills’ which are not necessarily essential in order to fulfil the role. Autistic individuals who have difficulties in these areas may not apply even though they may fulfil other essential requirements of the position. They may also feel that the organisation may not be able to offer them the environment in which they will feel welcome. Ideally, job advertisements should only include information that is particularly pertinent to the role.
Autistic individuals may be particularly capable in a role but may lack the necessary qualifications or work experience. CVs may include gaps or changes in education, education completed over a longer period of time, gaps between jobs, multiple job changes, or reference letters that differ in their appraisal of the person’s competencies
This may be due to barriers experienced whilst in education, during recruitment or in the workplace, such as communication issues, assumptions regarding the person’s capabilities, lack of appropriate adjustments made or a change in supervisor. As a result, autistic individuals may apply for roles for which they seem underqualified. Alternatively, they may have a higher level of education but not sufficient work experience and therefore apply for roles for which they seem overqualified. Some applicants may feel that, due to previous unsuccessful applications, applying for a junior role is their only option. For others, a junior role may be a more suitable entry point into the organisation.
Preparation for the Interview
Autistic individuals may become anxious when visiting new places, meeting new people, or answering unexpected questions. If anxiety levels are high, this may impact their performance during the interview. Key principles for reducing anxiety are predictability, structure and having a sense of control.
During an interview, social interaction and communication skills are essential if the interview is to be a success. Due to sensory issues, difficulties with communication, or differences in processing information, autistic individuals may have difficulties interpreting non-verbal communication, understanding when to speak and how much information to disclose, following discussions with various participants, interpreting open, vague or ambitious questions, keeping eye contact or coping with distracting stimuli. They may also have problems visualizing events they have not yet experienced. Consequently, hypothetical questions may be confusing. In general, autistic individuals may need more time than others to process information.
An internship as part of the interview process is an ideal opportunity for the employer to gain a full picture of the skills and abilities of the person. In addition, the person can meet and get to know the team members.
Focus on ability rather than on qualifications and/or work experience alone. Gaps in a CV need not reflect badly on a person’s ability to perform. Also, do not assume that autistic individuals require roles that are a perfect fit, or in a certain field of work. Autistics have various abilities and interests.
Provide interview information in advance (participants, location, duration, questions) and ask the candidate if adjustments (special lighting, quiet room) are required.
Allow the candidate to be accompanied during the interview by a close acquaintance or friend. This person can rephrase questions so the candidate is in a better position to answer, or simply help the candidate to find their way around. Give the candidate extra time to answer questions and avoid asking additional questions whilst waiting for a response. Hold one-to-one interviews rather than panel interviews and ask closed questions that are specific, direct and logical and about specific situations the person has already experienced. Offer a selection of possible answers to help the candidate focus their response.
Introduce the person into a small, quiet and understanding team.