My White Whale – The Interview (Take 2)

Or: How Moby Dicked Me Over Again

[clever alternate title courtesy of Paul 😉]

[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. 🌸

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My White Whale – The Interview

I’ve titled this entry referring to the White Whale in Moby Dick to use in this context: “To describe an opponent/nemesis who is extremely difficult to defeat; can also apply to miscellaneous games or events which are difficult to master.”

So, I realise it’s been a little while again, but to be fair, I’ve had another few cognitively exhausting weeks which included preparing for an interview which I was originally convinced that I didn’t get offered.

I’ll rewind a bit.

I saw a job posting for my local Local Authority for a Fostering Social Worker post in the fostering support team (i.e. supporting carers directly versus recruiting them, which was my downfall in the independent fostering agencies I tried working for a few years ago).  I was on the fence about whether I wanted to re-enter the field I’ve been out of for over three years but thought I had nothing to lose by at least applying.  So I did, and I had expected to hear back exactly two weeks after the closing date (which was the first May bank holiday).  When I heard nothing by the end of the Monday a fortnight later, I thought that it wasn’t meant to be… until Tuesday morning when I received the email inviting me to interview.

Because the last time I tried applying for a SEN Casework role with this Local Authority and I didn’t get offered the job because I didn’t fully answer the questions – (because how can you ask a three-part question and expect ANYONE to be able to answer it fully??) – so I actually went so far as to ask the Recruitment Team if I could have the written questions available to me in the interview (n.b. not asking for them beforehand), as I am awaiting an assessment for Autism.  Beyond that, I spent time on the phone with my friend who is a Kinship Care social worker and chatting to a couple of my friends in my current team, doing my best to prepare for this interview.

Well, the interview was two days ago.  I’ll give you the spoiler alert now: I didn’t get offered the job.

I got to the first part of the interview at 10:20 (for a 10:30 interview), but the lady on reception didn’t ring up to the team to say I was there until 10:32 – which made me mad, because surely that would say to them that I got there late!! When the admin came down to collect me, I made it a point to say that I was there early and that I couldn’t understand why the receptionist didn’t ring up sooner… especially since there were prolonged silences with her and a man who I could only guess was a security type person (walkie-talkie on his belt) interspersed with awkward chit-chat.

Anyway, get into the interview room and have the questions put in front of me, introductions made to the interview panel – the team manager for the post in question recognised me from when I applied to this role about three years ago where I missed the benchmark by 5 points.  They asked me the questions, I re-read them to make sure I understood them, and I did my best to answer them.  I was even given the opportunity to return to any of my responses to give more information, which I did for one question wherein it was about research or serious case review informing practice… I mentioned my interest in Autism and I brought it back to relating to foster carers looking after children on the spectrum.  I walked out feeling fairly confident.

I then had an hour to kill before the second part of the interview… all that was mentioned in the email was an hour-long session with “young ambassadors” with the other candidates… delightfully vague, right?  So I had no idea what to expect.  I get led into the room with the other two candidates – one slightly older and one slightly older than her – and in front of us on the table was a range of arts and crafts supplies with big pieces of paper taped to the wall behind us.  The activity was also delightfully vague – “illustrate what you think a good fostering social worker looks like”.  Not being funny, but I am not a super crafty person anyway, let alone when put on the spot and expected to be instantaneously creative.  I couldn’t hide my horror and tried my best to follow the lead of the other candidates.  I can’t really draw for anything, so rather than illustrating, I was just writing words on the side of the outline of the person.  I did the best that I could despite feeling horribly uncomfortable.

Fast forward about four hours after the interview and I get the phone call.  Something along the lines of, “thank you for coming in, it was lovely to meet you, you have a lot of warmth and passion, however….” and then the most infuriating thing: “the candidate we selected, it was apparent in her responses that she has had more [quantity] recent involvement of direct work with children and that did not come across as much in your responses”.  I was starting to fume.  I reiterated that I answered the questions as they were presented to me, and if they wanted me to talk about that, then I would have done, but I didn’t feel like that was asked in any of the questions.  At this point, because I had nothing to lose because I already didn’t have the job, I explained to her that I’m awaiting an assessment for Autism (as I wasn’t sure if the Recruitment Team indicated this or not), and why I asked for the questions to be written out for me to read after asked verbally was because I wanted to be sure I was answering all parts of the questions.  She didn’t seem to respond much to this revelation, but thanked me again for coming along and best of luck, etc. all the same bullshit you dismiss someone with.

I realise that a diagnosis is not going to change much in my day to day life, but I realise that it’s probably gonna make it harder for me to get a new job because I can’t get past the interview part when there are veiled questions behind the questions I’m actually being asked.  It’s almost like I need a subtext interpreter in an interview… is it so wrong that I take things at face value?  I don’t think people understand my difficulties with language interaction because I am very articulate… but processing verbal information takes me a long time and it’s hard for me to read into the subtext or find the implied questions.  I’m so mad about this.  It’s not even like I was that desperate to get the job, but I’m more upset about the fact that I didn’t get the job is basically because of my language difficulties, which I’ve only become aware of since delving into this whole diagnosis journey.  I feel like I want to complain to someone… the Recruitment Team, or the National Autistic Society (to seek an advocate to help me complain)… but then, on the other hand, I wonder if it’s even worth it.  People will just continue to find other reasons to not hire someone even if it’s not directly because of their Autism.  What frustrates me even more is that I have successfully worked as a social worker for nearly five years before I even discovered that I may be on the spectrum… but clearly that counts for nothing.

On the other hand, I’m in a good position because I still have a permanent job within a team where I have several friends who understand and support my journey to diagnosis; now whether this is just because of the nature of our job (Special Educational Needs) or that I’m just lucky enough to be around caring, understanding people, it’s hard to say.

Like all my other recent interview rejections, I’ll eventually get over this one too, but I’m still angry about it… but for the first time, I’m not mad so much at myself but rather the unwritten rules of the interview game which I’m clearly not privy to.

Until the next one… 😥