My White Whale – The Interview (Take 2)

Or: How Moby Dicked Me Over Again

[clever alternate title courtesy of Paul πŸ˜‰]

[For context, see My White Whale – The Interview

UGH.  I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of a massive meltdown and am desperately trying to hold myself together.  This week I have been contending with a cold, an interview (detailed below), discovering an attempted break-in to our house (looked like an opportunist and thank goodness they didn’t succeed, but dealing with the police and home insurance has been cognitively demanding), and feeling a growing sense of dread over the American Presidential election next week (I can’t even go there right now… either outcome fills me with dread, but obviously one outcome would be far worse than the other).

We came back from our holiday the other week with me having a little bit of a scratchy throat.  Participating in an outdoor choir performance the next day probably didn’t help things and I now have my standard autumnal viral infection/”cold” and persistent cough.  Greaaaat.

On Monday, I had an interview with my local Local Authority for a position with the SEN Casework Team.  As I now have my official diagnosis, I was able to confidently ask for the reasonable adjustment of having the written questions available to me in the interview (n.b. not asking for them beforehand) and I thought that surely I would be able to approach this interview in the best position possible – I’m interviewing for a job I’m doing every day anyway, and I don’t have to solely rely on my auditory processing skills to be able to fully answer the questions – WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Lots, apparently.

This service had recently undergone a massive restructuring so there were 5 posts advertised – 3 permanent, 2 fixed term – and two of the three permanent posts would have been great for me.  Despite being kept waiting in the lobby for 45 minutes beyond my scheduled interview time without so much as a “We’re very sorry but we’re running late,” and apologising to the interview panel for still being a bit poorly, I thought I actually did a really good interview.  I was rattling off things relating to the Code of Practice and Education Health & Care Plans and I thought my scenario examples were quite good and gave sufficient evidence of what (I thought) they were asking for in the questions.

They had three full days of interviews (I was advised that they received over 60 applications for these posts) and two days to make decisions and callbacks were made today.  I was told that I scored highly on the knowledge side of things (in terms of understanding the Code of Practice and technicalities of the position), but that I did not score as highly in giving examples of managing difficult scenarios – not that I scored low, but that other candidates scored higher.  With so many qualified applicants, the odds were stacked.

I’m quite disappointed (for obvious reasons) because I really thought I did the best interview possible, but I guess my ability to understand what the interviewers are looking for is still a hindrance (yay for my Aspie brain).  I expressed my disappointment and said that I am very keen to work for this Council again, and she said that it certainly wasn’t a poor interview, but that there were just so many very qualified and able candidates.  What was quite encouraging was that she said to try again if another job was advertised.

However, I am really in the best situation because I had nothing to lose with applying for this job: I have my current job and I have super-supportive colleagues and senior staff around me.  I really cannot say enough about how wonderful they really are; we have a laugh/cry/rant together, we look after each other, and they understand me.  I am not actively trying to leave, but I had to take the punt with this authority as it is closer to home and I’m getting bored of commuting 40-ish minutes each way every day (except when I’m working from home, which can be once or twice a week).

Obviously, it’s not a case that I expected to be given the job because I disclosed that I am autistic; if anything, I still feel like even with the reasonable adjustment of having the questions printed for reference in the interview itself, that still doesn’t change the fact that the questions are quite ambiguous and what I think may be relevant may not be what the interviewers are looking for – it’s that whole Theory of Mind thing again.  I find it hard to anticipate what exactly they want me to respond with.  Do questions have to be ambiguous (even for neurotypicals) because anything else would give the answer away in an inadvertant way and not end up having the “weeding out” effect that interviewing is designed to have?  I feel like there is still a lot that is not understood about autism presentation in adults, especially those who want to work, which is the focus of the current campaign that the National Autistic Society is running about closing the autism employment gap [sign the petition by clicking the link].

I realise that I am in the 16% minority of autistic people in employment; however, I have had brief periods of unemployment a few years ago when a job I had gone for turned out to not be what I was expecting at all and I ended up being fired from it after two and a half months.  I had never felt like such a complete and utter failure before and I hope to never feel that way again.  It was a very bleak and depressing time for me.

When a new job did not come up within the next few weeks, I finally applied for Job Seekers Allowance – my first time ever on any sort of benefit – and when I tried to get it backdated to when I lost my job in the first place, they rejected it and said, “You should have applied straight away.”  How is someone who has never been unemployed or on any benefits supposed to know that implicitly?  When I left that awful job, they didn’t give me any sort of information as to what to do next!  Even thinking about it now brings up awful memories of the deeply rejecting feelings I had.

I still have to indicate on any CV or job application the periods of time I had unemployed (after losing that job and when short-term temporary contracts ended), and while those were in 2012/2013 and I’ve been continuously employed since Sept 2013, I still have to answer to those employment gaps, which would be minor in comparison to others on the Autism Spectrum, I’m sure. In this way, I’m grateful for my diagnosis now so that I can put my past employment experiences into a context of my undiagnosed Autism and hopefully this will help me move forward with future job applications.

We don’t want to sit at home doing nothing; we know that we have a lot to contribute to a job.  We just need to be given reasonable adjustments to show what we can do.

As with every application rejection, I will eventually get over it… but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt right now. πŸŒΈ

I’m so proud of him.

So, Paul was on a team building-type conference today for the banking corporation that he works for… mandatory attendance jobby, despite the fact that he’s IT and not banking.  Anyway, they were focusing on all these soft-skills things and interviewing techniques (which candidate would YOU hire?) and he explained a scenario where you were shown a video in two parts – initial impression (“hello, I’m here for an interview”) and then the interview itself (about a minute long).  The video was stopped after the initial impression and people had to say “to hire” or “not hire”.  In one of the videos, a middle-aged woman walked into the room, was quite nervous, shy, didn’t make eye contact, and tripped over her words when saying she was there for the interview.  At this point, about 60% of the room showed “not hire” cards.  The video was then resumed and she continued to not make eye contact, couldn’t get her words out, and asked to look at some of the questions again.  Now, just on reading that, I’m sure many of you may think that she may be on the Spectrum, perhaps at the Asperger’s end of it.  Please bear in mind that while the example was not illustrating neurodiverse interviewing techniques (as she later showed lack of interest and other non-ASD related behaviours).  By the end of the video, 99% of the room said “not hire” and Paul was the only one to hold up the “hire” card, but unfortunately was not called upon to explain his position.  He explained to me that, after watching Employable Me on the BBC, he understands more that those who are high-functioning intellectually but perhaps lower-functioning socially do not often get a fair first impression when it comes to interview situations, and probably explains why so many people on the Spectrum end up going years without being able to successfully land a job; just because one is ‘bad’ at interviewing does not automatically mean that they would be bad at the job they’re interviewing for.  I know I personally have failed at interviews because of my short-term auditory processing difficulties have let me down (before I knew that’s what they were), and I wonder if I had asked for the written questions if that would have also worked against me anyway.  Paul recognises that he himself is most likely on the high-functioning end of the Asperger’s part of the Spectrum, but he is not interested in pursuing a diagnosis for himself because he reckons that he’s developed his own set of coping mechanisms to get through day-to-day interactions.  He acknowledges and supports my desire to pursue a diagnosis for myself and as such “waves the flag” for those with Autism and embracing neurodiversity.  While we both say that neither men nor women on the Spectrum “have it easy”, he accepts where I’m coming from in my perception that it’s almost easier for men to get through life without the context of a diagnosis, whereas it benefits women to put them into that context so when seemingly uncharacteristic behaviours present themselves, they can be explained within a framework.

Even though he didn’t get to explain his position in the training session, I’m still so proud of him for recognising that the way that interviewing scenario was managed was not inclusive nor showed recognition of neurodiversity.