If you’ve been offered an interview we congratulate you, this is a big achievement and it is something to be proud of. However, for autistic people job interviews can be a really stressful experience, raising our anxiety levels from the moment the interview is offered to the interview itself. Whether this is your first ever interview, or you have experience of working and interviews, we have some tips to help you through, from the week before right up to the big day.
What to do in the week before
In the week leading up to the interview, ask for the reasonable adjustments you need (explained in the next section). This gives the interviewers time to make arrangements for you.
Have a practice interview with a work coach, friend or relative. This is your chance to find a well-lit place to sit, get familiar with the technology and answer the questions you’re going to be asked. There’s a guide to answering questions in the next part of this article.
Choose your interview outfit – this may be something you already own or something you need to buy specially for the interview. Wear something that you are comfortable in that looks smart – a shirt and tie looks professional but nowadays you don’t have to wear a tie, and in some creative and manual industries it’s best to wear less formal clothing.
Make sure your interview clothes are washed and ironed and kept looking smart for the interview. Remember, the interviewer(s) can only see your top half so you can wear what you like below the waist – just remember not to stand up during the call!
Asking the interviewer for reasonable adjustments
The employer or interviewer must make reasonable adjustments to make the interview process accessible, just as they have to do when people become employees. It is a good idea to be up-front about your needs in the interview so that you can see whether they are accommodating (or not) and they can see what reasonable adjustments they need to make. Some of the things you could request, if you need to, are:
- Knowing in advance what video calling technology they are using. You can then familiarise yourself with it and find out whether subtitles/closed captions are available.
- Whether there is an alternative platform that does offer closed captioning. An employer would have to provide this for someone with a hearing impairment, and it is no different for someone who relies on subtitles to process verbal information.
- Information about how many interviewers will there be, and what they do so that you know who to expect to see on the day.
- That the interviewers use a plain and non-distracting background. You may need to explain that this is to reduce visual sensory input.
- If you can be sent the list of questions in advance so you can prepare answers. This isn’t cheating, it’s not an exam! Explain that you need longer to process questions and that you struggle with being put on the spot. Again, this is a completely reasonable adjustment
- How long the interview will last.
- A different time slot if you need to change it. If you know you function better in the morning ask for a morning interview slot, while if you’re better in the afternoon, ask for your interview to be after lunch.
Do some research on the company
Research the company, and look at their social media and LinkedIn pages too – this can sometimes give you some ideas for answering the interview questions and it shows you are interested in the business – employers love it when a candidate takes the time to learn about them.
These are the things you should try to find out:
- What are the products and/or services the company sells?
- How many people work there across how many locations?
- How long they have been trading for.
- Their latest news (either on their own website or on social media). This might include new staff they have employed, new products or new high-profile customers they work with.
- Which social media platforms they use and how active they are.
- Whether they are popular on social media and whether they use it to communicate with customers or not.
- What they are planning in the near future. This could be new products or services, a new office or shop, or even a new look to the branding.
What to do on the day
You’ve prepared well for the interview by using the ideas and tips we recommended in the first part of the blog, and now the big day is here. Don’t worry, you’re as well prepared as you can be, but it can still be a bit overwhelming.
Have your stim toys or things that help you feel calm and regulated to hand. Having a weighted blanket on your lap during the interview may be helpful, or having something that smells good or that you like touching nearby. Deep breathing is a really useful grounding exercise, so if you don’t already use this technique, this is the time to try it!
Task-ahead-freezing (where we have a big thing coming up so we are unable to do anything else beforehand) is a really common problem. It helps to set a structure and follow it to ensure you use the time before your interview beneficially.
This is an example pre-interview schedule to follow after your normal morning routine:
- Check the device(s) you’ll be using are charged, and plugged in ready to re-charge if needed.
- Get your list of questions and answers, and read through them two or three times to remind yourself of what you will say (and prove to your brain that you can do this!).
- Drink a glass of water or juice at least an hour before the interview, and try to remember to stay hydrated.
- Make sure you eat something an hour before the interview so you’re not hungry and distracted during it. We sometimes need reminding to eat because we don’t get hunger cues in the same way that others do, so it is really important to make sure we’re fed and hydrated before the interview.
- Get any stim toys you need, and set up your lighting and chair in the positions that work.
- Use the toilet before the interview so you don’t suddenly need the loo during the call.
- Prepare something enjoyable or fun to do afterwards. It might be a video game, going for a walk, reading, crafting or even just lying quietly under a weighted blanket, but a grounding and relaxing activity helps to process the interview.
- If your stim toy(s) make noise, explain this to the interviewer, or if you can, use a silent one. Any unusual, unexpected noise might prompt the interviewer to interrupt you with an unexpected question about it.
You can even set up your chair and lighting, get devices ready and prepare a post-interview treat or activity the night before – I know I sleep better when I have prepared well for the next day, and it leaves more time in the morning to get ready for the interview.
After the interview
When the interview is over, it’s time to breathe a big sigh of relief and relax. Changing into more comfortable or familiar clothes is a good idea, and you will have already planned something to do afterwards. This helps with processing and can help avoid a shutdown triggered by overwhelming emotions after a big event like this.
You might be sent feedback about the interview (whether you get the job or not) and this is really useful for knowing what you did well, and what you can improve on. Your work coach or mentor can go through the feedback with you.
We know that interviews are a daunting and anxiety-inducing activity for neurodivergent people, but with these tips you can navigate the process more easily. Whether you get this job or not, treat each interview like a learning process and as practice for the next one. Good luck!