job-searching advice for a teenager on the autism spectrum

Here’s a conversation I recently had with someone who wrote to me, and I’m hoping y’all can help. She writes:

I am having such trouble getting a real job. I don’t know why (though I have my guesses, which we’ll get to in a moment), but I really am.

I am 17-3/4, and I will be turning 18 in December. Most people I know in my area and age bracket are working at least one job. I have tried and tried and tried to get a job. There was one point where I almost got one, but the person in charge of my case quit, so I was dropped.

Is it because I’m a girl? Is it because of my stutter? I have a slight unibrow – should I tweeze it? I have Asperger’s – do they know that, and are they not hiring me because of that? Should I get some sort of facial surgery or other medical procedure to make me look “more professional”? Is it my poor math skills? My loud, sometimes flat-ish voice? I’m not blonde – does that matter? Do they know about my slight mental health issues? Is it something to do with my unusual parents? Is it my weak back? My weak arms? My weak hands? My big feet? Is it my height? I mean, I’m pretty tall. Do I seem too indecisive? Too impulsive? Is it the fact that I have to wear glasses? Am I not wearing the right colors to interviews somehow? Am I too extroverted? Does my not having a car matter? Should I be wearing more makeup? Less makeup? Do they know I have to take meds, and is that why? Is it my teeth? My dark circles? My slightly pointed ears? Do I need different earrings? Different skirt? Bring a pen? Am I over-thinking this?

YOU GOTTA HELP ME!!!

I wrote back and said: “It’s probably not any of that, and you definitely shouldn’t feel like you need any kind of plastic surgery to look professional! As long as you look reasonably neat and groomed, your appearance shouldn’t be playing much of a role in hiring decisions.

Any chance it’s something about your manner in person? It can be hard for everyone to come across as professional when you’re just starting your career, and Asperger’s can sometimes make it harder. If that’s what’s happening, it’s absolutely something that you can overcome with some pointers. (I could be off-base about it; it’s just something that’s not uncommon with Asperger’s in the beginning of job searching.) If you think that might be what’s happening, I’d be glad to do a post soliciting advice from readers on the autism spectrum; I know I have a bunch, and people tend to like to be helpful with this stuff if they can. Let me know if that seems like it might be helpful, and I’ll do it!”

She gave me the go-ahead:  Please do an Aspie-targeted post for advice. You’re exactly correct that it definitely does make social-type things harder when you’re an Aspie. I could use some help from some more successful Aspies in learning to be a successful person with Asperger’s. Thanks in advance.

So, readers on the autism spectrum, do you have advice for job searching that might help in this context? (Others are welcome to chime in too, but I’m especially interested to hear from people with firsthand experience.)

{ 268 comments… read them below }

  1. Temperance

    I’m not on the spectrum, but I have some practical advice that may help you. Are you involved in any support groups or organization for people on the spectrum? That might be a great way to get some experience navigating professional norms and/or meeting people who have dealt with similar challenges to you.

    Also, if you’re up for it – have you thought about volunteering in your neighborhood? This is also a great, low-stress way to learn to navigate professional norms and communicate with many different types of people. (I’ve done volunteer box office and ushering at a community theater, and they always, always, always need ushers.) Senior centers are always looking for volunteers, too.

    1. Been There - Done That

      The community college in my area has an autism group and also an office of accommodations, as well as general job seeking support. If you are near a community college or university, they are a great resource for guidance, and you may not even need to be a student to use some of these resources.

    2. janna

      Agreed … my stepson is on the spectrum and our local Asperger’s Association has regular job fairs throughout the year with some very good advice for the job-seekers and of course the participating organizations understand about interviewing/recruiting people on the spectrum. You may not have a physical group nearby, but perhaps you can get some advice/support from some of the many national organizations that support people with autism/Asperger’s. Good luck!

  2. EW

    Some general teenage job advice – do you have anyone working minimum wage jobs that could recommend you? My very first job was obtained through a recommendation from a classmate. Since most of the people you know have jobs, I’d recommend putting out the word that you’re looking for one and would like to know of any openings.

    And seconding Allison’s advice that you don’t need to change how you look as long as you look professional! It’s so easy to let a fruitless job search affect your self esteem, so you’re really not alone in that aspect. Good luck!

    1. Finman

      I would also try to elicit help from any adults you know. They may know of someone who would be willing to help you get a filing type job.

      1. M-C

        Adult help, yes. As long as it remains advice and doesn’t fall into running your life for you, or applying in your stead. BUT pleeeease, listen to every other post here and don’t involve your parents in any way! It’s especially important if you have any sort of unusual-ness, like Asperger, as the whole exercise is likely to devolve into some kind of therapy for how your parents feel about your different-ness instead of anything any sane person would do about job hunting. Quite apart from the fact that parental advice usually stinks for general reasons, like 40 years later or different fields.

        My office went through some true weirdness last Spring – owner agreed to hire the disabled child of a friend, no problem, he had the basic qualification anyway (good in math, sorry OP :-)). But then we had several weeks of severely disturbing interactions, where his mother would call and negotiate about points of employment, ask questions etc. We never found out whether these were his questions at all, or just mom’s idea, we never communicated with him directly. And this wasn’t a teenager, but a 25 year old man! By the time he started, everyone was really squeaked out about the whole thing, and there was nothing he could have done to convince anyone that he could be in fact a fully functioning employee. Don’t be that child, OP, any interaction must involve you and only you, no matter what advice you’re seeking in the background.

  3. Sara M

    All the highly-functioning Aspergers people I know say they studied social interaction and practiced a lot so they could “fake” it when they must. I’m sure you’ll get great advice from readers!

    My ex-bf says he made a flow chart in his head. It had things like, “After speaking a few sentences, check these four things: are their eyes wandering away? (something else, etc) If any of these are true, pause and let them start talking, because they might be bored. If they say ‘go on’, you can go on, but repeat this process if they do any of the four things again, because sometimes people are too nice to tell you they’re bored.”

    I wish I could quote it better for you! Good luck, and you’re doing the right thing by researching and figuring this out!

    1. Just Me and My $0.02

      Not on the spectrum, but I have close family members who are. I think this suggestion is really important for understanding the *dynamic* nature of conversations. Scripts are a great place to start, and having an ongoing process to assess the other person’s non-verbal responses helps you pick the script that makes sense. Sort of a choose-your-own-adventure situation.

    2. Jayn

      Be careful about using terms like high-functioning. Because autistic people/aspies tend to have both scattershot and variable levels of ability, some people find them bad descriptors that may give the wrong impression of what a person’s capabilities are.

    3. PatPat

      I think that’s good advice.

      I work with someone who has Asperger’s and something he does that I’ve noticed is really try to make eye contact. He has a cute way of doing it that comes off as just shy if you’re not aware of why he’s doing it. He’ll make quick eye contact and then, where a person without Asperger’s would probably hold the eye contact for a few beats, he’ll tilt his head cever so slightly away so he’s not looking at you in the eyes, then continue to speak. Him doing that helps me feel like I’m still getting eye contact when actually I’m not.

      1. Alienor

        I do that too! I don’t have Asperger’s (that I know of) but I have a really hard time maintaining eye contact when I’m thinking while I talk/trying to choose my words carefully, so I’ll look at the other person when I first start speaking and then look away to “process” while I keep going. I’ve always wondered if it comes off badly to people, so it’s good to hear it seems OK.

        1. Vicki

          This is introversion. Introverts are more sensitive to stimulation and we need to think before we talk. So looking away lets you not have stimulation for your eyes that interrupts what your brain is trying to think.

          1. Kathryn

            Oh my god! I do this too and was starting to wonder if I might be autistic. My son is autistic and it has brought a lot of traits under scrutiny (of the whole family, not just us). I thought I was quite introverted so it’s probably just that. It’s nice to see someone else question this issue. :-)

      2. Anonicat

        Haha me too! I also find that most people can’t tell the difference between me looking them in the eye and looking at the point in between the end of their eyebrows, which is much less intense for me.

    4. DNDL

      A college friend of mine would come right out and say, “I have Aspergers. I am high functioning, but I have a hard time understanding social cues. If I do something weird, please point it out so I can learn and do better in the future, especially in the professional world.” We were very open with him, and would clue him into nonverbal cues very readily. He is now a very successful guy in the world of computer science.

    5. Paper Librarian

      The flow chart is an interesting, but puts a lot of emphasis on the autistic person needing to change. Are there any reverse flow charts people can suggest? One of my young high school volunteers is very likely on the spectrum, and he loses focus quickly. Usually we are pretty blunt (ex. “We told you to shelve books on the second floor, so please don’t look at the vending machines right now.”), but I don’t know if that’s the best way, or if there are better ways of conveying work obligations.

      1. Qweert

        The reality is that it is on the aspire to learn coping mechanisms. Some people are great and willing to change there approach when I mention being on the spectrum or the symptoms I have. Others toss out out completely flippant zingers like “read a personality book”.

    6. Dzhymm

      This. I’m a software engineer on the autism spectrum, and I call this sort of thing “emulating neurotypical in software”. One of the things that people like me deal with is the fact that there are all kinds of social cues and protocols that are second nature to most other people, but that we have had to learn explictly. (The way I put it is that most people got their social skills with their mother’s milk, but I’m a bottle baby). These days people are surprised when I tell them I’m an Aspie because I don’t come across as such. It’s taken a lot of practice to “optimize the software” as it were so that it becomes second nature. There’s still effort involved, though, as I sometimes do fall back on missing social cues and blurting out inappropriate things when I’m really tired or stressed…

      1. AnonAcademic

        Haha I love the metaphors people come up with to describe social skill acquisition! I am a researcher with a PhD in computational neuroscience with similar social difficulties. I refer to my coping skill set as my “brain classifier” where basically I’m doing machine learning and pattern recognition on other people’s discrete behavior, to develop a robust enough training set that I can then generalize the knowledge to novel social situations. I actually seek out tons of social information (this site, advice sites in general, message boards, people watching, etc.) so that I can train myself better. I attribute doing this relentlessly since around high school to why I pass as not only normal but even socially intelligent.

        1. M-C

          Ditto over here. I can certainly pass better now that I’m a lot older and have had more practice :-). But let me point out that not getting cues right off can make you a lot more observant in the long term..

        2. halpful

          me too! :) I read several years’ worth of the archives here, and at Captain Awkward, to calibrate my sense of boundaries and office norms. I also spent some very social years around openminded people where being awkward/eccentric was more the norm. :)

          the weird thing is, somewhere in the last few months it feels like my brain leveled up. When I’m watching shows/movies, there’s this huge extra layer of information available to me now! all these subtle social things that my brain is automatically tagging for me! :) it’s pretty awesome; my only worry is that it might be harder to explain things to newbies because I’ll forget what it was like to not understand those things.

      2. Sara M

        For what it’s worth, I do have ADHD–and while I have learned many coping methods, it falls apart when I’m tired. I think that’s very normal! I know I’m tired when I can’t stop talking, I interrupt constantly, and my thoughts are really jumpy and confusing. I can be very overwhelming when I’m like that. I make effort to adjust, but sometimes all you can do is try to escape the situation and get some sleep.

        1. Misc

          Yesssssss. This. I have a tonne of filters I have to run during conversations, but they all take energy and vanish when I’m tired.

          More on topic: all those filters are things I had to carefully memorise, everyone thought I was Asperger’s growing up because I was too distracted/overwhelmed to properly absorb social cues and react appropriately.

          Stuff that helped:

          – practice. Just …practice.
          – learning scripts (SO many scripts) – I can’t allow myself to just react on the spot because I say strange random things and process slowly (so I usually don’t understand what they actually said until I’ve finished MY response!)
          – figuring out a range of likely reactions/specific goals from interactions and coming up with multiple possible scripts ahead of time
          – a checklist of stuff to watch out for (internal head filters); don’t blurt out first thing that pops into head (impulse control), check if I’ve asked them anything about themself, compare relative amount of talking, smile and act friendly if necessary, fake some eye contact (but not too much or I get distracted), handshake or no handshake, did I answer the question they actually asked? and so on. If any of the above, then apply learnt script.

          – also a checklist of common behaviour stuff; slumping? facial expression? Learning to ‘act’/slip into friendly/interested/capable roles for short periods is very helpful, so looking up human behavioural/posture stuff can be useful.
          – did I check my clothes are clean? do they ‘match’? would my mother approve? have I spilt something/sat on the grass/climbed a tree without noticing in the last half an hour?

          1. Misc

            Also practice leads to confidence and confidence is a huge deal. If you’re anxious and second guessing yourself, it shows and it holds back the effectiveness of your coping tactics. And often people respond to confidence – if you’re sure of what you’re doing, then it must work for you, and they’ll adapt round it, even if it’s not quite usual. If you’re uncertain, holding back, then what comes across is ‘this person is *both* weird and not certain of the correct way to do things’.

            (Coming across as friendly/approachable is also important: confident is good, but ‘cannot be asked to change if necessary’ is not good).

        2. JessaB

          Yes with the interrupting and stuff. I’m also ADHD and worse than that I grew up in a New York-Brooklyn/Queens Jewish overtalking family, where it wasn’t rude for two people to be talking to each other at the same time. So I have absolutely NO sense for talking cues. I try and try and I either step on someone or fail to chime in during a break in conversation. I discussed it with my therapist and we tried to work on it, but it’s nearly hardwired in my head. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I’m talking and someone wants to say something and just doesn’t say it. And like you, if I’m tired it’s worse. I have to concentrate on every sentence being said to me to try and recognise when it’s okay for me to speak. Which makes me appear like I’m not actually listening to the content of the talk.

        3. Leelee

          I’m a little late jumping in, but this makes me feel better. My previous job (retail management) meant covering 3rd shift call offs, with no notice and it became a nightmare. Not being able to sleep makes me overstimulated, but my ADHD brain loves stimulation so it also perpetuates an insomnia torture loop.

          Once I realized nobody wanted to be around me at or outside of work, I finally put two and two together and realizing how overwhelming and nonproductive I was being. And then realized it was making me incapable of registering how frustrated people were with me at work. Now I work more normal hours teaching and waitressing. It’s made a huge difference.

      3. LabHeather

        As an aside, it really grates me when I finally trust someone enough to tell them I am autistic (because visibility and awareness), and they (like my manager) responds with something akin to “You? No way! It must be very light!”.

        No! It isn’t “light” autism. I’ve spent countless hours and years watching, learning and emulating neurotypical behaviour to avoid being read as “off” or “too odd”. To just blow off all that work by giving a backhanded compliment (they think it’s a compliment, at least) just rubs me the wrong way.

        I usually go by the different operative system explanation. It seems to get the point across.

        As Sara M. mentions though, things fall apart when I get tired, which is something to look out for.

    7. Alison Read

      Yes! Flow charts! Check lists, too. Reading this I see my son who is the same age and faces the same challenges. I think a lot of your anxieties about appearance could be put to rest if you had a pre-interview checklist. What does hireable look like? Really it is just neat and tidy. Nothing tricky here. Do you have a teacher or adult (parent if you must) in the work world that can help you figure out a couple of appropriate outfits? Be sure they’re comfortable and well fitting! Once that’s done it’s as simple as running through your checklist, clothes clean and not wrinkled? Check! Blouse tucked in trousers zipped? Check! Nails clean? Hair combed? Do it before you leave your house and before you walk in.

      We call them pre-flight lists, like pilots do. You can make them for all sorts of things, it just takes the pressure off that task and “closes” that page so you don’t worry about it. You can make a pre-flight check list for the interview; start with the grooming checklist, and possibly add the job duties they’ve listed – by mentally listing your applicable skills you’ll also be increasing your confidence that you’re a good fit for the job. I like the flow chart idea for dynamic situations, like constantly assessing other’s behavioral cues. (I’m going to share this with my son.)

      Unfortunately many entry level positions are hired by entry level management who may not have much experience dealing with people on the spectrum. That’s okay. You’ll find your fit. That fit may not be your first job either, so don’t be discouraged if that first job doesn’t work out. You will get this.

      Something I wish the world would realize – just because an individual’s approach is different, it doesn’t make it wrong. It is the normies that are really at a disadvantage, we’re not very innovative (comparably speaking). Your unique approach should be cherished and encouraged.

  4. Mustache Cat

    I’m getting the sense from this letter that you have a little bit of job-search related anxiety. Is there any chance that these thoughts about your slightly pointed ears and weak back are running through your head as you’re interviewing, and possibly making you act more anxious than you want to come off? It might be helpful to use some mental tricks to clear your head and appear calm and confident.

    1. hayling

      Yes, I hear a lot of anxiety in the letter. My cousin is on the spectrum and also has major anxiety, and as I understand it’s pretty common to have both. As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I empathize!

      If the LW is not actively working to address her anxiety, I think that would be a good starting point (and would help in life overall).

      Also, I know that some people on the spectrum need a little extra guidance in the personal grooming area to get that “polished” look (my cousin definitely does). I’d recommend the LW ask a friend or family member for a gentle but honest assessment and tips on how to present herself best in interviews.

    2. Wendy Darling

      I am not on the spectrum but I am a very anxious person with rubbish self-esteem (working on it!). I have a playlist of songs that make me feel like a huge badass that I play before interviews. If it’s a phone interview I put on the headphones I use as a headset ~10 minutes in advance and blast the playlist on my phone until the phone rings (which helpfully automagically pauses the music). Sometimes I even watch music videos on Youtube. If it’s an in-person interview I like to leave super early anyway in case of traffic or horrid parking, so I typically arrive 10-15 minutes early and sit in my car or in a coffee shop or on a park bench and listen to my Awesome Music and play a relaxing phone game (I’m partial to word games) until it’s time to go inside.

      Maybe I’m just easily manipulated but the music gets me pumped up and keeps me from rehearsing all my anxieties in my head before the interview. So I walk in feeling energetic and confident instead of like someone who just spent 10-15 minutes rehearsing everything they’ve ever screwed up in their life.

      1. Koko

        Playlist additional suggestions: “Confident” by Demi Lovato and “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. The latter used to be my “theme song” a la Ally McBeal.

          1. Wendy Darling

            That could lead to unfortunate instances of me dancing (badly, because that is the only way I dance) in someone’s lobby.

        1. Dot Warner

          “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “Airplanes” by B.O.B., and “Devil Without A Cause” by Kid Rock are my pre-interview go-tos.

  5. Sarah Thomas

    Hi letter writer. It’s not easy being a woman on the Autism spectrum in the world of job interviews. But I have a few things to suggest:

    1. Because your mind works in such a way that you create instant connections between ideas that other people might not immediately see, and because you want to make a good impression and impress the recruiter, I am betting that you are probably giving very complex and multipronged answers to questions. This can sometimes backfire and give an impression you don’t intend; either that you will be unfocused, or that you will be bored with the job (an especial concern in entry-level type positions for young people, which often don’t have a lot of scope for creativity and self-directedness). Try to just answer the question the recruiter is asking, and ask follow-up questions if you’re not sure how.

    2. Kind of on the same level, since your mind makes so many connections so fast, I think you’re making connections between one narrative – having a hard time getting a job – to everything that you even suspect might be wrong with you. Not only is this an unhealthy way to view yourself, it probably has the effect of psyching you out in interviews. Before you go into an interview, tell yourself all the reasons you will be an asset to the company.

    3. Have a friend you trust to be honest to work with you on your interview skills and look over your resume. Chances are that what seems like a huge flaw in your eyes isn’t even an issue to them.

    1. AndersonDarling

      I’m on the spectrum and I had huge issues with your second point. And I could have written this question at one frustrated point in my life. I really felt that there was some magical pattern of words/visuals/signals I needed to use to get a job. Although there are some really screwed up interviewers who are looking for exact phrases from candidates, that is not the norm, and you don’t want to work at a place that hires like that.
      I couldn’t put the pieces together of why I didn’t get a job- and I really need pieces to fit together! I’d come up with all kinds of possibilities, but in the end, someone was just a better fit. THAT IS ALL. There is no secret handshake.
      Once I realized that I would not know the reason someone else was selected over me, I was able to cope with that outcome. It wasn’t my business to know why. I just needed to focus on the next opportunity.

      1. TL -

        When you do get a job that’s a really good fit for you, I think it helps give perspective – like, I didn’t get X job but in Y job, I’m really happy because of my work+coworkers+culture and that is what I was aiming for.

        At least, that’s how I feel after my last job search! I ended up in a position that is pretty damn awesome (but pretty damn awesome for me! Other people may not like it so much or be frustrated by aspects that I love) and every job I didn’t get just wasn’t going to be as awesome, for whatever reason. And the job before this one, which was the opposite of awesome, helped me get this job, so that’s okay too.

    2. Wendy Darling

      As I’m searching for a job, one thing I’ve had to keep repeating to myself is that if I am not chosen for a job I interviewed for it does not mean I am terrible. It means the hiring manager thought I seemed like a better fit for this job than everyone who submitted a resume but did not get an interview, and it means that one or more other people seemed like a better fit than me.

      I did not come last. Realistically I probably came second or third. Which is actually pretty good! And I just have to keep trying until the time I come first.

  6. Dean Jackson

    Getting a job is pretty darn random; you will be turned down many, many times in your life, and it won’t (always or often!) have anything to do with *you*. Maybe the boss’ kid also applied. Maybe they already had someone internal they wanted to hire to that position, but legally had to interview a few people before making it official. Maybe the interviewer you got turns everyone down, and they hire whoever the other interviewer said they liked.

    As someone who’s different, you’ll also occasionally *lose* jobs because of it, and there’s not much you can do to change things at that point except spend a limited amount of time learning and moving forward. The difference is you’ll actually learn, while most people don’t, so over a decade or so? You’re going to gain workplace superpowers.

    If you live anywhere where you can get a job with a software company, that’s kind of the gold standard for people on the spectrum. So, so many software people are on the spectrum (hi!) that any personality quirks you’ve got, they’ve seen before, and they’ve seen in some of their top performers. Even if you grab a random support role for one of these groups, they’re very used to working with quirks, while letting you shine where you’re strong.

    Coming back to that? Yeah, aspies are different. But stressing it again; some of that different turns into work superpowers, in the right role. And it might take years to find that fit, to find where you get to shine, but damn, when you do, .

    So take small lessons away from stuff like this… but yeah, either find someone external to check your logic (holy cow, don’t get plastic surgery!), or limit the amount of time you allow yourself to spend analyzing the situation before trying again. Realize that getting a job – even for the person who’s already got the job-interview skills *polished* – often takes several (sometimes many!) tries.

    And hang in there. It works out. :)

    1. Erika

      Ditto on software – or really technology, or anything non-customer-facing that involves detail-work. One of my favorite people in the world is a female aspie and she works for Facebook.

      Have you considered running a practice interview with someone you trust who can give you feedback on how you come across? It’s pretty standard job-search advice and many, MANY people could benefit from it, not just folks on the spectrum.

      The jobs are out there – you’ll find one if you keep at it. Good luck!

    2. Anonny

      Though lots of people on the spectrum do not have skills or interests that fit neatly into IT/tech, and it can be very frustrating to think you “should” be a software whiz or “should” enjoy IT because of the stereotype that Aspies are all math and data nerds.

      1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)

        This. I have been diagnosed with both ASD and a nonverbal learning disability – the latter of which is hell on my math skills. I’m fine with basic arithmetic – making change and such – but even though I’ve always been fascinated by and good with computers I didn’t dare to even try majoring in CS in college because of the math it required, since I’d spent 3-4 hours a night on math homework alone in high school and barely passed.

        I’ve mostly been a real failure in the employment world; I currently do quality assurance for data entry and am OK at it.

      2. Kit

        I think that a lot of people in corporate work associate “task-oriented” with “technology-based” because task-oriented work in the corporate world usually involves computers. But lots of jobs are task-focused (rather than people/relationship-focused). I’m a butcher, and it’s obviously very task-based work. My shop has ten employees, eight of whom have ADHD, myself included. Jobs that work for people with ADHD often work for people on the autism spectrum.

        OP, since you’re a teen, consider applying to grocery stores. It’s satisfying work and grocery business are often very inclusive, accessible workplaces. The grocery store I work in does specific work placement for people with disabilities and mental health struggles. You might be able to find one like that.

      3. LabHeather

        I agree. There is an organisation where I live who specifically deals with giving people on the autism spectrum job experience and courses, but it is all IT based!

        When I approached them and asked for help because it had been over a year since I graduated and I was getting nowhere, they were utterly unable to help me. Their entire model was to teach the person IT/coding and then hand them out to partner companies who understood their challenges. For someone who had gone and got an education in a different field (STEM), they had nothing to offer me.

        I thought STEM was a good field for ASD, all lab work and research. But these days you need to be a people pleaser too. It’s all conferences and relaying your science to a layman audience and coming across as friendly, sociable and approachable.

        I honestly don’t know what to think anymore. It’s my third year after graduating with the best grades in my class and with glowing recommendations. Nothing apart from irrelevant temp work to keep a roof over my head. All my life I’ve wanted to help with the climate crisis somehow, and now it seems I’m utterly unable to get off the launch pad. It galls me.

        1. RuthUK

          This sounds utterly frustrating. You seem to have a quite nice writing style from this comment (obviously no idea if this is typical for you or not), but if it is perhaps networking online via sharing your knowledge via science and climate change blogs/online magazines or forums might be the way to go for you…

        2. B

          Hmm. I might make some missteps here and I hope people forgive me for not being an expert; I agree there can be a lot of importance to social and soft skills in the STEM world that don’t match with the typical STEM person stereotype. I imagine running a lab might be tricky as that tends to involve a lot of networking and grand writing and management, moreso than actual benchwork. But I would think being a tech would still pay decently and have more tolerance for personality eccentricities. I don’t know what STEM area you are in or what you’ve tried, though.

  7. Jesmlet

    I’m not on the spectrum but I used to work for DMHAS as an employment specialist helping the mentally ill find jobs. Our sister funding source BRS works with many individuals that are on the spectrum and do everything from interview prep, job coaching and outreach to employers to find people who want to work with people and help them develop their skills. There must be some kind of state run program out there with people who are specifically trained to assist with this. When you reference the person in charge of your case, it seems like you might have gone through one of those programs but even if your case manager quit, that’s not reason enough to drop you, at least not where I worked.

    Mock interviews are everything in my opinion. Have someone you’re comfortable with do some mock introductions and full interviews and film them. Then go over it together and see what can be improved. Then have someone you’re not as comfortable with do the same and repeat until you’re comfortable. Sometimes it’s just the little things we do that we don’t notice but others pick up on and see as red flags. They can be totally innocuous but enough to make them choose someone else.

      1. Jesmlet

        DMHAS- Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services
        BRS- Bureau of Rehabilitative Services (think vocational rehab)

        Both have employment departments that help people with any sort of diagnosis find jobs

        1. Erika

          We have a great guy who was brought to us by a local social services office because he’s had a traumatic brain injury. He’s on light duty and we’ve had to make some accommodations, and he can only work 15 hours a week, but that 15 hours is so helpful and he’s so sweet that it’s totally worth it. Sometimes you get very lucky through these services.

    1. Mr. Mike

      Generally, State run Vocational Rehabilitation programs can assist with such and, per new federal guidelines (WIOA), more focus is being paid to youth transitioning from high school. Seek out your local vocational rehabilitation office for more information on services that can be utilized.
      The other advice that I have read works as well. Practice interviewing. Practice soft skills. This is a complex issue and there is a lot of misinformation and lack of education on the employment side. And, in the end, it may not be you at all. It may simply be the normal job searching frustrations that come with the territory. Do what you can to work on your knowledge of social and professional interactions, job searching, and the interview process, but don’t necessarily assume that you are the reason you haven’t found a job yet.

    2. Girasol

      +1. Your mock-interviewers can help identify any problems, and on a more positive note, pare down that laundry list of awful possibilities by saying, “It’s absolutely not that. Don’t worry about that.” Your problem may be some small mannerism easily addressed once you know what it is, or it may be nothing at all and you’re just having the sort of luck that so many terrific people often have when trying to get a job.

  8. Student

    It’s your insecurity.

    Go practice job interviews with somebody. Preferably, somebody who is (1) not your parents – too biased (2) much older than you – at least 25 with a stable job, preferably 35+ and with a stable job. Have them play hiring manager, while you practice being interviewed. Your first run-through, you’ll be nervous and rubbish and awkward, and that’s okay – everybody else is too! Then, once you get some sense of what answers come off well and what don’t, start taping yourself in the sessions. Look at your mannerisms and how well your answers flow; you don’t have to be perfect, but make sure your answers come out coherent and any major physical nervous ticks are in check.

    Start going into the mock interview pretending in your head that you are some big-shot successful person – basically, fake confidence in yourself. Practice until the fake-self-confidence comes across like it’s believable. Then, go back out to your real interviews and keep up the fake self-confidence act. Eventually, once you get your foot in the door, you’ll start earning some real self-confidence in your work skills.

    The truth that no one clued you in on: we all land our first job with tremendous fake self-confidence. When you have no real work experience, it’s basically just ego and bluster to get a job. It’s just that most people have a more inflated opinion of themselves than you do.

      1. Marisol

        Yeah, I don’t think that generalization quite applies, although I’m sure that is true of some people. I would say that for a young person in an entry-level job, it is perfectly fine to be earnest, and that any social clumsiness/lack of polish is a lot more forgivable at that stage.

      2. Clever Name

        I got my first job at the library because my mom was on the board and her friend was the branch manager. (I swear I was a hard worker!)

      3. Blue Anne

        I certainly didn’t… it was more of a terrified “er, well, I think I can do this job pretty well” “thank god, we need someone ASAP, can you start tomorrow?” situation.

      4. Misc

        Genuine confidence works better :D

        I got my first job because duh, of course I could shelve books in this library I spent hours in everyday and knew all the librarians in. Of course, I’d been a school librarian for many years before that, and wouldn’t have dreamed of asking for such a job, but when one of the staff mentioned it was a possibility, I was just ‘oh, well, OBVIOUSLY I should do that’. And they were all ‘OBVIOUSLY you can/should do this’. But it took both sides – I could easily have seen myself demurring out of shyness a few months before that.

      5. Not So NewReader

        Hmm. For people who were not nervous on their first day of their first job, I would consider them very fortunate. I have trained and/or supervised a lot of people. Only twice I have I ever seen someone who was not nervous. In both cases, the person was fired eventually. They weren’t nervous because they did not care. YMMV, of course. And, yes, this is just my own experience. I’d like to encourage OP that interviewers and boss do understand that people get nervous. They know that it is part of the process and some people are more nervous than others.
        OP, it’s also good to know that people who have been at their jobs for a bit can still get nervous about something going on at work.

        One thing that might help: I have a very dear friend who can stutter when tired or stressed, she was upset because of “appearances”. I thought that her upset helped to increase the stuttering. I told her to watch her breathing patterns. My suggestion was to deliberately take in a breath before starting to speak. She has been working at this and she has gotten great results.

        When you do catch yourself stuttering, simply say, “excuse me” and pull in a good, deep breath then continue on.

      6. Cleopatra Jones

        I got my first job because the store manager (who was old enough to be my dad) said I had a really pretty smile. So gross in retrospect but I didn’t know any better, and I was stoked to finally get my first ‘real’ job.

    1. Brooke

      “Start going into the mock interview pretending in your head that you are some big-shot successful person”

      I feel like this is a recipe for coming across as arrogant.

    2. Misc

      I hate the practice interview advice because I just cannot do a fake interview. If it’s not real, I feel silly/get bored straight away.

      However, ACTUAL interviews made for great practice. I think rather than setting up a complete fake interview, getting people to discuss/practice specific parts – your strengths, how to shake hands, the overall ‘pattern’ of an interview – might be more helpful, rather than jumping straight to the full rehearsal.

      1. halpful

        me too. :/ and if I’m pressured to do it anyways, it usually ends in a meltdown. :(

        I’d love some advice on how to learn to deliberately practice things, but you’re the first person I’ve heard about with the same problem. Most people just do it, and can’t even begin to understand how anyone could be legitimately struggling. :(

        1. Jenna

          I also can’t do practice interviews, and I have also just ended up in tears of frustration. The weird thing is that actual interviews go fine. I have enough things about the other people at the interview to think about and evaluate that I can stop focusing like a laser on everything that I am doing potentially wrong.

  9. Christian Troy

    OP, I don’t have Asperger’s but it took me FOREVER to get my first job (which was at Wendy’s). I remember in my state that being under 18 I needed work permit and a lot of places didn’t want to deal with the limitations under 18 employees carried so they opted people for people who were older. I also know that because I was in school, it was easier to hire people who had a more flexible schedule. I would suggest keep applying, see if you have any connections to places that are hiring, and realize it might be easier once you do actually turn 18.

    1. Sans

      My daughter doesn’t have Asperger’s but it also took her forever to get her first job, which she has now. She was just nervous, and had to go through the experience of messing up interviews and learning from it. She is 19 and now works as a hostess at a restaurant. It’s amazing how much more confidence she has she can get her next job, because she has proven herself in this one.

      The first job is TOUGH, but it gets better after that!

    2. DoDah

      Mine was at Kinko’s–and not until I was 18. My delightful parents used to accuse me of not trying hard enough. Interestingly I got the Kinko’s job because I did the very opposite of what they “coached” me to do.

      Don’t give up OP!

    3. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)

      Yes. When I worked retail, we absolutely would not hire anyone under 18 because the manager did not want to be responsible for minors, didn’t want to deal with child labor law compliance, and thought that the (supposedly) lighter penalties given to juvenile offenders meant minors would have less of an incentive not to steal.

  10. Jessie

    Since this is your first job, you might not be confident you know what “look professional” looks like. Here is what I explained to my teenager when he was looking for his first job:

    1. Make sure you are clean and showered.
    2. Wear pants (or a skirt) that are not jeans to the interview. If it is a skirt, not a short skirt- go knee length. Wear a shirt that is not a t-shirt. Tuck it in (unless it is a sweater or something, or course).
    3. Brush your hair and make sure it is neat. If your hair is “big” or gets in your eyes, clip it back away from your face.
    4. Wear shoes that are not sneakers or sandals.
    You don’t have to wear makeup or tweeze anything, and you absolutely do not in any way need plastic surgery. :-)

    For interview tips:
    Be friendly and upbeat. Try not to be fidgety or really loud. Don’t interrupt the interviewer. Make eye contact while the interviewer is speaking so that he/she knows you are listening. When it is your turn to talk, keep answers brief – a couple of minutes long, a few sentences. As a poster above mentioned, check to see if the interviewer’s eyes are wandering – if they are, then wrap up what you are saying and pause, so that they can move to their next question or topic.

    Try a practice interview with your parents or a friend or a teacher – someone you trust to give you specific and helpful feedback. (You do NOT need to practice a lot and have rehearsed answers. I suggest practicing once in case there is something specific you could use help with that we can’t know from this post).

    And don’t worry too much. Lots of teens have jobs, sure, but plenty have lots of trouble getting a job. It is hard to get your first job!

    1. cleo

      You don’t say where you’re from, but if you’re in America, Americans tend equate making eye contact with being trustworthy, so it’s important in job interviews to make some (but not too much) eye contact.

      If making eye contact isn’t comfortable for you, choose something eye-adjacent to look at occasionally – bridge of nose, eyebrows, eyelashes – but not the mouth, because that can be interpreted as being sexual.

      1. Lance

        Yeah, eye contact is a big thing… and speaking as someone on the autism spectrum, can be pretty tough. It can also, for that matter, be something you’re not consciously aware you’re missing, because it’s just more comfortable to look somewhere else. If you (or indeed, someone close to you) finds that to be an issue, then practice, practice, practice. I’m not sure if it’ll ever be entirely comfortable (it’s not for me even at 32), but it will be doable.

      2. Misc

        Yeah, I think it’s a ‘being receptive to feedback from the other person’ thing; if you’re looking at their whole face/eye area, you’re paying attention to visual cues from them *and* showing them your face so that they can read your visual cues.

        It’s not specifically a ‘stare into their eyes’ thing.

    2. Adonday Veeah

      I used to work with teens who were learning about how to job hunt. Some other things that may or may not apply to you, that you might or might not have thought of:

      1. Do you have an “appropriate” phone message on your cell phone? Your voice mail should be professional and should not include music of any type. It should also be short. I’ve hung up on a few phone messages that shrieked unpleasant music or were too long. Ditto your ring tone. If you’re in an interview and your phone rings (anyone can forget to turn it off now and then) don’t let it embarrass you. Set it to a quiet, basic ring tone.

      2. Do you have an “appropriate” email address? A professional one is some variation of your name @ whatever, not one that refers to a hobby or interest. Aspiesonparade@ or Fanoffurries@ might get a pass.

      1. heatherskib

        +1 to both of these! I used to work in debt collections, and a client complained to me that he couldn’t find a job. He had recorded a voicemail as a “joke” claiming to be satan and going into some really weird stuff.I pointed out he should change his voicemail, and he got an interview within a few weeks. “Baby got back” or it’s ilk blaring from your pocket during an interview (or if you have a ringback where the caller hears a song instead of ringing when they call you! I once had a guy with the Tenacious D sausage song as the ring back) will not work in your favor. As far as e-mail addresses- I have been on hiring teams and I can’t tell you how many addresses I see like “sexybabe@eml.com” etc. This immediately brings to mind potential HR risks.

        1. mergs

          yesssss. I have previously worked in post-conviction relief (i helped people clear old convictions or arrests off of criminal records). One woman called me a few months after her record had been cleared and accused me of lying. Obviously if I had cleared her record, she would have gotten a job, right? I asked her if she was using the same email as she was when working with me. She was.

          Although her email was janedoe@whatever.com, she had the email settings changed so when the email showed up in my inbox, the sender was displayed as *~*PiMp JuIcE*~*. When I told her that she hung up on me, and I never heard from her again.

    3. Biff

      I agree with almost everything you said here EXCEPT tweezing. Brows don’t need to be over-groomed, but a unibrow does not make a positive impression in most scenarios, and in a conservative town it really could be preventing the OP from getting a job.

      1. A Bug!

        Yeah. I have very unruly eyebrows and have since I was pretty young. I told my mom about it and she took me to a salon to get the unibrow waxed and the brows just slightly shaped. After that, I knew which hairs to tweeze and have done it myself since. It makes a pretty big difference to the overall polish.

        If you go that route, just be really clear to the esthetician that you want to keep them as natural as possible and you just want them tidied up a bit and the unibrow gone. Thick eyebrows have recently been in style, so it should be fine.

      2. Lemon Zinger

        I’m glad you said this. One of my good friends in high school had a unibrow and when her mom finally allowed her to start tweezing, she was treated a lot differently (and better) by others. Now, it shouldn’t have to be this way, but unfortunately this is what society expects from young women.

        OP might also have better self-esteem if she likes the way she looks, and tweezing the unibrow can make a big difference.

        1. Two-Time College Dropout

          This was my experience too. People asked things like “did you cut/color your hair?” “are you wearing makeup?” “have you lost weight?” etc– I don’t think they could tell WHAT had changed, but they could definitely tell something looked “better”.

        2. Hazel

          I’m mostly lost on why your friend’s mother felt her teenage daughter somehow needed permission to do basic self-care.

          “Allowed.” Seriously??

          Wow… that’s really messed up.

      3. Pix

        I hate weighing in to agree to this, but I agree with this. Now, that’s not to say that you need hair thin eyebrows, but a) it might make you feel better, and b) eyebrows do A LOT to shape and frame your face. If you go somewhere and they’re rude, WALK OUT. This is a dialogue, and whomever you speak to should be willing to have a conversation with you about what you want, even if it’s to tell you that they can’t do that and suggesting alternatives.

        I go to one particular place and ask for the same person every time because all I have done is my eyebrows ‘cleaned up’. I don’t want arching or thinning or anything, I like the natural shape and thickness of my eyebrows! And she knows that, and is cool with it, and I leave feeling good.

        1. Snazzy Hat

          If you go somewhere and they’re rude, WALK OUT. This is a dialogue, and whomever you speak to should be willing to have a conversation with you about what you want

          Many years ago, I was at a beauty supply store buying hair dye. The clerk was making conversation, and out of the blue suggested I wax my eyebrows. My eyebrows are dark & thick, but not unruly, and I get a few fine stray hairs in the center right behind the bridge of my glasses (i.e., virtually unnoticeable hairs). I recall innocently replying something like, “but I like my eyebrows!” While I did stay to make the purchase, I never went to that store again.

      4. MyFakeNameIsLaura

        I’d recommend sugaring, threading, or even waxing vs tweezing because of how it can irritate the skin and follicles over time (causing breakouts and other issues). Plus if you’re prone to anxiety the act of tweezing could lead you to over-tweeze, which is much harder to fix and can cause permanent problems with how your eyebrows grow in.

      5. DMC

        I was going to comment on that as well. I have weird eyebrows (bush at the inner side and very sparse on the outer side) and though I do not tweeze them regularly like I should, when I do go get them cleaned up and shaped a bit better (and filled in for parts — the opposite problem), it makes a huge difference. So, I now always do that before anything where I want to make a better impression. It’s the small touches sometimes that really gives that polished professional touch. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t spend hours with my hair, but I try to keep a reasonably professional hairstyle and do something with my brows when I need to :) So, yes, get your brows professionally shaped. It usually costs about $10-$20 depending on where you go. Make sure they don’t overtweeze, just clean up and shape.

      6. Marisol

        Totally agree–that stood out first to me when I read the OP’s post, and the thing is it’s true for a man too, so although it IS one of those shallow, superficial looks things, at least it’s not sexist…

      7. Beaks

        On one hand, yes, unibrows aren’t great. However, put in a list with a need for plastic surgery, I’m inclined to say nerves might be magnifying the issue. Anxiety and tweezers don’t mix well.

        1. Biff

          Ungroomed eyebrows, however, are going to be deemed sloppy by most. A crooked nose is a crooked nose. There’s other ways to manage eyebrows than tweezers, most have been mentioned here.

        2. Temperance

          I definitely agree with this – she should see a pro the first time. It will help her feel better about herself.

        1. AcademiaNut

          If you’ve never tweezed your eyebrows before, don’t do it for the first time right before an interview, and either have it professionally done, or have an expert show you exactly how to do it (no DIY).

          Going to an interview with bushy eyebrows is better than going in with a red bumpy rash because it turns out your skin is extra sensitive, or lopsided, or missing 1/3 of an eyebrow because you slipped with the razor.

    4. Beaks

      This is dead on! I would also add the following:

      – Nod or say “um hum” when the interviewer is explaining something to show you are listening.
      – Many interviews are behavioural type interviews that ask to “tell me about a time when”. You can prepare for this by looking up some common questions and making a spreadsheet of the questions and your stories/answers. This helps get you thinking about the types of situations you’ve already handled, and minimizes being caught off guard. (it’s also a good way to list out skills you may not realize you have)

  11. persimmon

    I was an awkward teen who couldn’t get a job too, although I haven’t been diagnosed with Aspergers. I was rejected from all kinds of service/retail jobs. Then I went to college and did lots of relevant internships and experience, and subsequently did much better in job applications for higher-skilled entry-level jobs. The thing about service/retail jobs (I assume these are mostly what you’re targeting) is that they are unusually demanding of an at-ease manner and social comfortableness with all kinds of people, and you can’t be excellent at some other skill to make up for it. So: what are you really good at, and how can you translate this into in-demand career skills? I would say focus on this, as you also keep applying and keep working on learning norms in interviews and work social situations. I hope you get a job now, but if not, remember that your career is long and you may be much better suited, personality-wise, for jobs that you can become qualified for later.

    1. AVP

      This is true. And it might sound counter-intuitive, but as an awkward teenager who *hated* talking to strangers, I was great at telephone polling at a call center. There was something great about not having to know who the other person on the line was, that I would never meet them or see them, that made me so much more relaxed. And I’m sure I sounded young and nervous so people were more likely to feel bad and take my survey.

      There might be a lot of that work available over the next few months if you google around!

    2. Snazzy Hat

      I love this advice. When I’m in interviews or just chatting about work history (e.g., with a staffing agent or a representative at a job fair), I explain my retail days thus: “I liked the work & I liked my coworkers, and some customers were nice, but retail isn’t for me.” Being an expert filer was good, although it didn’t make up for cowering or crying when total jerks yelled at me for something that was in no way my fault or responsibility.

      My education no longer has anything to do with my ideal career. It stinks that it took me so long to find out what I can do well and what jobs allow me to use those talents. It’s awesome that I can be specific in my job search, rather than swearing whilst circling job postings I don’t want to apply for.

      Keep learning, take internships, volunteer, and ask questions, including “hey [person who does something interesting], how did you get your interesting job?”. Best of luck!

  12. Gaia

    Oh dear. I can’t give any Autism spectrum specific job search advice but I do want to say that from your letter you seem to be insecure about a great deal of things. This is often common in your age group but I want you to hear it from someone who has been there and felt I was inadequate in so many ways.

    You are exactly perfect. One day I hope you will come to believe that. You are beautiful and unique and strong and powerful in yourself. Coming to understand that may help lessen your anxiety and, in turn, help in your job search. Good luck, LW.

    1. Lance

      All of this. And let me just say, this is the sort of thing a lot of us on the autism spectrum need to hear, because this sort of social anxiety can be pretty prevalent.

    2. Not So NewReader

      This. Absolutely this.
      There IS something out there for you. Just because you don’t see it right now, does not mean it’s not there. It is there. You will be okay.

      See, we kind of have special insight here. There are not a ton of young people who read AAM. The fact that you are still in school and reading AAM is outstanding. I am so impressed. I don’t know if 17 year old me would have read AAM. I hope I would have.

      I hope you continue to read here. And I hope there are times when you would like to comment or ask a question and you chime in to the discussion. If you keep reading here, you will learn sooo much about jobs, people and life in general. And it’s fun, on top of all that.

      1. The Aspie teen girl in question

        Thank you so much. You’re very nice. I love this website so far, and I’m glad I came across it. It is helping me get inspired and learn new things about the professional world. I hope that reading this website might help me score a job. So far, I still don’t have a job, but I feel like I am more empowered to get one now that I have started reading and now that people have replied to my question. :)

        Right now, I have put my job searching mostly on hold due to personal stuff, but I’m starting to get back into it.

  13. first a library clerk, now a library supervisor

    I’m on the spectrum, and my first job was working at a college library. It was a student job, and therefore low stress enough for me to learn the steps and dance of customer service and interacting with people. Also finding a mentor also on the spectrum can be a big help as well.

    1. ChemMoose

      I am not on the spectrum. I would like to recommend working in libraries. My first job was as a library page (at 17). I initially applied to be a clerk, but I needed more experience. As a page, I returned books to the shelf based on the Dewey Decimal System. Then for one of my 4 hours, I would “read shelves”. This consisted of looking at the numbers and making sure they were in order. I interacted with my coworkers (only 1-2 at a time), and if any patrons needed help finding a section. I got really good at knowing where to look for things in non-fiction (still to this day, I know where to go in a public library). It was a great detail-oriented job that didn’t require too much customer/people interaction, which might be perfect if you are into books/reading.

      I want to encourage you to apply for jobs in fields that you are interested in. It will automatically give you credit when you get to the interview as you are interested in the subject/field (which counts a lot!). Job searching/applying is hard for all of us and takes a lot of effort. You can do it! I know someone said to practice interviews, you might find it helpful to watch a good mock interview between two people.

      Finally, as for “tell me about yourself” questions, it really just means, “Tell me in 1 minute about your past work experiences that helped you gain the skills you need in this position”. For example, if you were interviewing for the library page position, you might answer, “I read books all the time, and my favorite genre is autobiographical non-fiction. I also enjoy crime mystery novels by Sue Grafton. Based on what I read, I will give my friends and family recommendations on books that I read and what they might like about the book. In addition, I like to keep things organized. I keep all my clothes sorted by color and type of clothing.” This tells the interviewer (your future boss) that you are interested in the subject, you have knowledge of the subject, you know how to give recommendations, and that you can keep things organized. I hope all of this helps!

      1. Bibliovore

        I’m chiming in on a library job except- I am not sure what you mean by “Is it my weak back? My weak arms? My weak hands?” Shelving is physical labor. Clerking in our library requires pushing heavy carts, carrying unwieldy boxes of archival materials, and public service/interpersonal relationships.

      2. Oryx

        I agree with Bibliovore re: it being a physically intensive job at times.

        Also, giving recommendations as a non-MLIS librarian can be ….. tricky. I say this as someone with an MLIS who has been working in and with libraries for almost 20 years. I started as a page and knew that collection backwards and forwards but the staff librarians at the library did NOT like us giving recommendations or showing people where the books were, no matter how versed in the collection we were. One in particular went so far as to complain to our manager and from then on we had to direct the patrons to the reference desk even if the patron approached us lowly pages back in the stacks right next to the books the patron was looking for.

        The politics of capital-L Librarians v. paraprofessionals can be, well, very political within the field.

        (Not that I care and I work for a vendor now so it doesn’t even matter to me. I ran into that same employee years later, after I had my degree, and suddenly she didn’t find me so lowly anymore so I had my MLIS. *eyeroll*)

        1. Not So NewReader

          FWIW, as a patron I would be ticked if the person I was speaking with was not allowed to answer my question. I would have filed a complaint.

    2. OhNo

      To add on to this:

      OP, if you are going to college, you may be able wait until you get there to start working. Not ideal, I know, but it is often a lot easier to find a job on campus as a student worker, especially if you have no previous experience. There are often positions available in the library, the cafeteria, campus cafes, bookstores, and various offices. The best part is these bosses often know you are coming in with little or no experience in interviewing, so they tend to be a bit more forgiving.

      If college is not in the cards, make sure that you are starting with very entry-level jobs (retail, fast-food restaurants, etc.) because again, the managers for those positions tend to be a little more forgiving about interviews. If you’re asked about availability, give them as much as you possibly can. You won’t end up working all of it, so don’t worry if you list way more availability than you’d actually be comfortable working – you’re just trying to show them that your schedule is flexible.

      And above all, relax! It’s normal to be very nervous about interviews, especially if you’re new to the process. Try to take a few deep breaths before the interview and remind yourself: You are an awesome person, and if the interviewers don’t see that then it’s their loss. If you don’t get this job, it is not the end of the world. You are going to go far and in a few years these little speed bumps along the way won’t even matter!

    3. zora.dee

      combining this with another one above, local libraries can also be a good place to volunteer. It was my very first volunteer job ever, only 2-4 hours per week, but the experience I got there really helped me get my first real paid job. And gave me a chance to practice lots of workplace skills.

  14. Manders

    I was in the same position at your age, although I’m not on the autism spectrum. My problem: I was following my parents’ advice to “hit the pavement” and job search in person instead of looking for postings online (this was over 10 years ago, so going to the internet wasn’t quite as obvious then as it is now, but I know some adults still give this advice). I was also searching in an area that was just beginning to tip into a brutal economic downturn, and there were some basic facts that no one had explained to me (one of the most obvious in retrospect: I didn’t understand the difference between a GED and a highschool diploma, and was filling out forms with the wrong information). I know you feel like the only person who can’t figure this out right now, but struggling with this at your age is actually pretty normal.

    If you’ve been getting job hunting advice from your parents and teachers, maybe it’s time to have someone else look over your resume and your appearance and behavior in a practice interview. Do any of your friends have parents who might be able to help out? Maybe someone who’s been a hiring manager and understands how the game is played?

    (Also: you mention being “weak” several times. Do most of the minimum wage jobs in your area involve hard physical labor? Because if you’re in an area without many jobs that you *can* do without hurting yourself, that’s a whole separate issue.)

    1. Mona Lisa

      Actually, the kinds of jobs for which a minor like the LW is probably applying (retail, food service, etc.) are usually the ones that still like people to come in and ask about applying. At my retail job, someone won’t be discounted for only applying on-line, but if a person comes in, asks about an application, and seems reasonably professional, my manager will take down her name and make sure to call her first for an interview. It’s been similar at most of the retail jobs I’ve worked over the past decade.

      1. justsomeone

        Every retail or fast food job I’ve encountered in the last 10 years has been an online-only application and if you come in and ask for one you get a funny look and told, “you need to apply online.” This is for grocery stores, retail stores, Burger King, Taco Bell, Macy’s, etc.
        I’ve only had one job in the last 10 years that was a paper application – for the city pool.

        1. Mona Lisa

          Yes, the applications are on-line, but I have witnessed applicants who come into the store get preferential treatment if they make a good impression. The manager will typically speak to them, give them the store’s card with the web-site and our location’s number, and then he will take down the applicants’ name and/or phone number. This has been at multiple chain locations over the past ten years.

        2. fposte

          I was stunned to see “Apply inside” on lots of retail and fast-food venues on a recent trip, so I think this is very location-variable.

          1. Manders

            Yeah, I think local norms are so variable that the LW would probably be better off asking an adult she knows personally rather than trying to guess. It’s not even just a regional thing, it might vary between cities and suburbs. And some areas may have more of an unspoken culture of referring friends.

            1. nonegiven

              It might be the difference between corporate and locally owned stores, too. Walmart, online. Subway may depend on the franchisee. Joe Blow’s Hardware may only have paper applications.

          2. Not So NewReader

            We do this here. And the reason is that high speed internet is spotty. In some places there is no internet at all. Added to that a sparse and spread out population, employers have to use every tactic possible to keep finding new people.

            I marvel at how much is online now and I am wondering how rural America will cope. I know here the cable company LAUGHS at requests to run lines in rural areas. (I say “laughs” read that as “extremely disrespectful”. “WE will NEVER run cable in that area!”)

              1. Jenna

                Some rural places are getting Internet the same way they got phones and electricity, through cooperatives. It’s getting to the point where internet is definitely seen as a necessity rather than a luxury almost everywhere.

  15. Erika

    What kind of jobs are you looking for? If you have any difficulty relating and/or social anxiety, this makes finding (and succeeding in!) customer-service position really hard. I’m 32 and when the phone rings at work I groan. Sometimes it doesn’t get any easier.

    Can you look for a data-entry type job, or something similar? I was lucky in that I found a great data entry job for my school system when I was in high school and it led to a lot of great opportunities and a decent paycheck (better than retail at the time, anyway!).

    Perhaps think outside the box and try to come up with something you might be able to do that not everyone is competing with you for. Fast food and retail are seen as ideal for teenagers, so the hours they’d be hiring someone your age for are actually pretty competitive.

  16. Dust Bunny

    Fellow Aspie here: I’m not sure where to find this, but please seek out, wherever you can get it, Aspie-targeted advice.

    I think it’s right that it’s none of those things, but . . . there are so many things. I’ve been at the same job for a dozen years, watching my classmates move on to adult-er things, better paychecks, home ownership, etc. with no idea how to achieve this. Granted, a lot of neurotypical people struggle with this, too, but I have a college degree and a good work history–I suspect I should be doing better. But I literally have no idea how to start. Everyone I know seems to know all these other people from their fields and I don’t know anyone. Networking is one of the things that seems to be most crucial to career advancement but also can be one of the most difficult things for Aspies. I don’t bond well with people *at all* and have basically no professional network, even after this long. I meet people, sure, but nothing ever sticks.

    I’m lucky to have a pretty-OK job that uses my weird skills to great advantage, but I don’t make much and worry that I’m setting myself up for financials struggle later in life. You’re younger than I am and Asperger’s is better-known and less hush-hush than it was when I was your age–please take advantage of this.

    1. MadtownMaven

      Fellow Aspie here, raising a teenage Aspie son.

      So much of this advice is super! What a great community!

      Letter Writer, there are many online resources you can look to for Aspie-related work advice. Check YouTube for informational videos, too. It can be so very helpful to be able to watch and absorb all of the “unspoken information” parts of mock job interviews– when they’re presented by people who are specifically presenting for an Aspie audience. One good channel to check out is this one: https://www.youtube.com/user/AspergerExperts .

      It may take time to figure out the basics of working a job, but you can do it!

    2. Mr. Mike

      This can be one of the largest barriers for persons with disabilities in general. The system is ultimately founded on socializing and human to human contact, usually in the realm of extroversion, that has a lot of unwritten but concrete rules of engagement. For instance, the interview is largely based on the ability to establish rapport as much as, if not more, about discussing skills and abilities related to a job. So, it becomes a huge problem for people that suffer from different socialization styles.

    3. irene

      Yes, I feel this, too!

      I am starting to see how networking is super important in my new field, but I have no idea how to do it. I can learn faces and names, but beyond that…? (And I DO know faces and names – I’m in development in a non-profit and I worked at the reception desk for years and know our regular donors, etc. by sight, which is partly why I got my promotion) I had no idea even how to find out what kinds of jobs had what kinds of skills to figure out what options I had, or where I might want to get training. I honestly am not crazy about working in development (I loathe sales!) but all the database and record-keeping stuff about my job is so perfect for me that I can just think of the fundraising aspects as numbers to game, mostly.

      And I’ve only been at my job for 7 years. (Wait, I guess it’s place of employment? new job is only a few months old…) Not a dozen like you, Dust Bunny. But I did also not learn about my Asperger’s until I was in my twenties, about 10 years ago. So I had a late start on getting guidance and accommodations.

      1. Candi

        … I’m suddenly feeling a lot better to ‘meet’ another adult-diagnosed Aspie. Thank you. :)

        More broadly, one of the keys to networking informally is to chat with everyone it’s reasonable to chat with. Bites to high heaven, but it did get me one of me best retail jobs, back before I worked this one. Nowadays, I’ve been using it in stores and other places I frequent; being known as a patient, reasonable customer also has it advantages. :p

        1. Irene

          A lot more women are getting diagnosed (even if informally) in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s…….. in the last few years as it becomes more obvious that social conditioning of little girls is very different from that of little boys and often masks the autism spectrum traits, especially if our traits are complementary to what is expected of girls. (Does that make sense?)

          I actually did get a psych eval as a little kid, but this was in 1992 before anyone really recognized that girls can have asperger’s. The psych’s write-up looks textbook “Girl Autism” now, but at the time it was determined to be “very nervous child, OCD tendencies”. :D

          Anyway, to your comment – chatting with everyone is so hard! I just have no idea what’s appropriate to talk about beyond the weather or something, and that doesn’t feel like how to do networking. I struggle with the rule about not asking people personal details because it’s rude, but you’re supposed to do that to create connections?? so i end up volunteering information about myself in hopes that the other person will take over and talk about themself so I know what’s okay to ask about, except then i just appear self-involved AND i usually end up making all kinds of lies in order to match social pleasantries, maybe other people don’t care that I’m hedging the truth or prettying it up, but I always feel like I’m this actor on a stage and it’s exhausting!

          I also find it really difficult to fake interest in things that I don’t care about, which is another social pleasantry skill I’ve learned is very important. :/ but that’s why I have my Coworker Friendliness Points program. I get a lot of advice to do roleplay and pretend social encounters, but I can never take those seriously because they’re fake.

          1. Indywind

            Socially-successful neurodivergent person here.

            For networking chatting, talking about things related to work can be both useful (provides information that you can use to make employment connections later) and less socially taxing — harder to miscalibrate and accidentally cross the line into rude, or fake (faking it can make social pleasantries easier in the short term, but if you represent a very different perspective at chitchat time than other times and someone notices, being considered “dishonest” can be a lot more damaging than being considered “awkward at social pleasantries” or “standoffish”).

            The ideal sweet spot, I think, is chat that is work-related but focused on social aspects of the work (experience, motivation, thoughts or feelings about Work Topic, how it fits with their general life), and overall positive and egalitarian — give about equal time talking and listing/inviting (or slightly more of the latter), limit brags or putdowns (whether of self or others), and complaining/worrying/venting (keep these brief/infrequent, and follow with something positive).

            The popular advice to ask/tell personal details to create connection is a terrific example of the kind of advice that is too broad to be helpful, especially when given by someone who intuits nuances (how personal is personal enough but not too personal? what kind of connection?) that the person receiving the advice does not — if they did, they might not need the advice in the first place!
            My rule of thumb is that the kind and amount of personal information to ask/tell should match BOTH the kind and depth of connection one wants to make with the other person (so coworker is different in kind from casual friend, and different in amount from work-mentor, and different in kind and amount from close friend or romantic partner) AND, within a small range of the kind and amount of personal interaction they offer (if they start the conversation first) or respond with (if I do). This helps to keep the degree of personal-ness where both people are comfortable with it.

            Coworker Friendliness Points sound like a great idea.

  17. M.D.

    No advice to offer, but as an adult on the autism spectrum, I could also use a post with job search/interview advice aimed specifically at us. I find most of my difficulties pop up during the interview process:

    – I have difficulty making eye contact AND focusing on listening/speaking with the interviewer
    – My body language is non-standard, and that seems to put interviewers off; as with eye contact, it’s nearly impossible to focus consciously on my body language AND have a productive conversation with the interviewer
    – I also have to consciously focus on my facial expressions, which again takes away from the conversation
    – I cannot answer broad questions like the dreaded “tell me about yourself”
    – I sometimes go involuntarily non-verbal (my mouth literally stops working)
    – I don’t know whether I should be telling someone before the interview that I’m on the spectrum, and that these behaviors are normal for me and others on the spectrum but will not affect the quality of my actual work

    I *know* I would do better with skills testing than a traditional interview. I even have good references, but can’t get far enough in an interview for the hiring manager to check them. I’ve also sought help from organizations in my area that are supposed to assist autistic adults with job placement, but they all say they can’t help me because I’m “too high functioning” (whatever that means) to qualify for their services. I have no idea what I’m going to do when I graduate college. The statistics scare me: Roughly 80-85% of all adults on the autism spectrum are unemployed worldwide regardless of perceived “functioning” level, education, or other qualifications.

    1. Kiryn

      I always have trouble with eye contact too. I can come across as somewhat intimidating to people who don’t know me (my husband said he was terrified of me when we first met) so looking people in the eyes feels like I’m challenging them and making it worse. It just feels unnatural to me. I try to compromise by looking at people’s mouths when they talk. No idea if this works, but I seem to leave a good impression.

      1. M.D.

        I’ve been using the “look at the bridge of the nose” trick for many years, but I still find that I can only speak if I can actually look away from the person (preferably up). It’s beyond frustrating, because especially in my area (the southern U.S.), looking away from someone’s face while talking to them is thought to be a dead giveaway that you’re lying.

        1. J.B.

          Hmm, that is hard. I tend to look at the interviewer while he or she is answering the question, then naturally look up and away when I’m thinking through the answer to a question. Can you try to do that and maybe insert the occasional pause and look back during the pause? Another possibility would be to go for interviews at places that do long list of questions with written answers (because they are often too busy writing to look directly at you). That is common in government but may also happen in other companies? Or if all else fails just have a script prepared to let them know, hey please don’t mind if I look away while answering questions – it helps me think through the words better.

      2. Pix

        I am not on the spectrum, but I feel you on the meeting the eyes thing. It bothers me! I find that focusing on, say, eyelashes, eyebrows, nose, any facial feature around the eyes, actually works okay for me, but it always started off as being nerve wracking.

      3. MsMaryMary

        A lot of people, on the spectrum or not, find eye contact awkward when they’re in an intense one-on-one situation like a job interview or a date. A friend of mine gave me a tip: look first into one eye, then the other, then at the person’s mouth. Switching the focal point prevents you from looking like you’re staring too intently, and people subconsciously interpret you focusing on their eyes or mouth as a sign of interest. I switch my focus whenever it starts to feel like I am staring awkwardly, but I believe the general rule of thumb is 5-10 seconds.

        1. SS

          I’m not on the spectrum and don’t consider myself socially awkward, but in situations like job interviews I find eye contact SO difficult! Am I making enough? Am I making too much? I realise you may find it even harder, OP, but rest assured it is something many people struggle with to some extent. It’s awkward!

    2. Lily Rowan

      I don’t know if this is helpful, but you could think about writing out answers to the worst questions like “tell me about yourself” in advance, so you are ready when they get asked. That’s not spectrum interviewing advice, just standard interviewing advice. Most people are not naturally good at answering those questions, but you can google up the 10 most common questions and do some prep work.

      1. M.D.

        I’ve tried that, but it doesn’t seem to matter what scripts I have prepared if my mouth shuts off during the interview. If I can’t speak my response, it doesn’t do me any good. I think it’s the real-time nature of the whole interaction that throws me off; my neurological setup just doesn’t work like that, no matter how hard I push it to.

        1. Evan Þ

          Have you tried practice interviews? It might not work for you, but they helped me build my in-the-moment confidence a lot.

          1. M.D.

            Yes. I have taken two full college courses focused on interviewing with others. I hoped that would help me overcome my inability to speak in these situations, but it has not.

            1. Lily Rowan

              Ugh, I’m sorry about that. And am sorry to have said only the most obvious thing, when of course you have tried that!

            2. Lance

              Honestly, I’m with you here; it seems like all the practice in the world can’t stop my brain from shutting down in the moment. What’s helped me out a little is taking a quick second to kick things back into clarity as best I can, starting with a simple hobby, then going from there. That’s been my best approach to that question, and, in a way, to those broad questions in general (which, yeah, just don’t click; I love the more specific ones where I actually have a good idea what I’m supposed to say). If I can find something that really works, I’ll be sure to let you know, but as of yet, it’s eluded me (same with the body language; mine is basically non-existent, in that I mostly just sit there unmoving).

    3. Trig

      For the broad questions, or any dreaded interview questions, the best piece of advice I’ve heard is to prepare scripts ahead of time. Pick your least favourite question, the one you hate and feel like you can never answer (mine is a tie between ‘what is your greatest strength/weakness’ and ‘why should we hire you, specifically, instead of the other applicants’), and spend some time writing out a short answer. Then read it aloud. Then write it out in different words, and read it aloud. Do this a few times. Do it again a few days later. Keep doing it until you have a smooth-sounding answer that you can deploy at will.

      Like a resume or cover letter, you might want to tweak it a bit based on the job you’re applying for, but at least you’ll have a base to go from, and seemingly-innocuous questions like this don’t block you.

      1. M.D.

        I’ve tried things like this, and also took a course in public speaking hoping that might help me. It hasn’t, though. I still have a neurological impairment over which I have next to no conscious control.

        1. Lynn

          I don’t know if this would help you or others, but one thing that helped my husband to prep for these types of broad questions was to have an automatic rephrase of the question for himself. So when someone asked “tell me about yourself” we practiced until what he really heard was “tell me three things that led you to apply for this job.” Because my husband worked on “hearing” the broad question as a more narrow one, he was better able to come up with a response.

    4. M.D.

      For those responding: I should add that I’m in my 30s, have taken a course in public speaking, and had many, many interviews and mock interviews, including two full college courses focusing on interviewing with others.

    5. Cordelia Naismith

      Regarding the “tell me about yourself” question — think of that question as your chance to direct the conversation. Before you go on the interview, figure out the one thing you most want the interviewer to know about you — your most impressive qualification or whatever it is. Then, when they ask you tell them them about yourself, talk about that thing.

      1. M.D.

        I have tried scripting my answers to these types of questions. I don’t find that it helps, because when the questions are asked during the actual interview, I lose my ability to speak.

          1. M.D.

            It does. I can even be looking at a prepared answer on paper and *still* fail to say it aloud. This happened to me just two weeks ago during a phone interview, which I am pretty sure I tanked. It’s like there’s a disconnect between my thoughts and my ability to produce speech, especially when I’m under stress.

            1. Jenna

              Ok, I have two things.
              One, when I temped, there was a skills test(you said this was easier? ), and then when they called to send me on jobs it was generally phrased as, “I have a position doing (whatever)at company X in city Y that pays (this much hourly) and the hours are from (this time to that). The job is for a three month period, covering someone’s leave. Can you do this? ” I could say “yes, I can” and they would give me more details and an address, or, “no, I can’t.”
              Second, if reducing the stress of interviews will help you speak, here are a few of the things that I do to keep my anxiety from paralyzing me in interviews:
              I always remind myself that some places are horrible to work at, and that I am also interviewing THEM. What kind of building is it? How do they maintain it? What are the employees already working there like? The people there are probably dressed in a way that you will be once you are working there. Is there a uniform? Do the expected clothes look like things you own? Do they look comfortable or like something that can become comfortable? Are your interviewers more dressed up than the other workers? (Yes, I distract myself by becoming an investigator in my head.)
              Think of this interview as practice for the next one. In order to become good at any skill you do have, you practiced lots, yes? This interview is practice, and not a final exam or life or death event. Just one more step to becoming better at handling what life throws at you. Here is a set of circumstances and the next time you run into these circumstances you will be better than you are now.
              For you, the interview is huge, yes, BUT REMEMBER for the company and the interviewers this is just a step in the process, and you are just one of many that they are considering. Just take each step as part of your process. Someone will get the job, but, it isn’t a horrific referendum on you as a person; they had a selection of people that they hoped would work, like tools laid out on the table, or keys. They picked the one that they thought would work or fit. It’s not you. You will fit in the right place when you find it.
              These may or may not work for anyone besides me, but, this set of things plus upbeat music and patting myself on the back for even getting to the interview stage really help me combat the anxiety paralysis that I am otherwise prone to.

        1. Cordelia Naismith

          I don’t necessarily mean to script it out in advance — just to realize that “tell me about yourself” doesn’t mean you have to give them your life story or a bunch of personal details. They want to know about your work self, not your inner, “true” self. That blew my mind when I realized it. I got much more comfortable answering the question after that.

          So you could answer it by telling them about the work achievement you’re most proud of — “Hi, I’m Cordelia Vorkosigan, and I recently won the Teapot Designer of the Year Award.” Then the subsequent conversation will be about the award and what you did to win it, as opposed to me giving basic biographical details like “Hi, I’m Cordelia, and I’m from Beta Colony. I went to school at [school name] and studied [subject]…uh, yeah, that’s it. I’m not very interesting, I guess.”

          I don’t know if that helps you or not, though. I’m not on the spectrum. This realization helped me, though, so I thought I’d share.

          1. M.D.

            Oh yes! I understand that a personal history would be inappropriate to a work interview. It’s more that the interviewer’s act of asking the question somehow throws a big rock into my mental stream and just… dams it up, or sends it trickling off in fifteen different directions. I stop being able to process speech, and it doesn’t seem to matter *what* I have prepared or how much I practiced.

              1. M.D.

                It is in the sense that mutism is often equated with lack of competence, so that works against me in a pretty significant way. Things would be so much easier for me if people were more patient, and if written communication were more acceptable on a cultural level. It is so, so hard for me to form sounds and concentrate on motor control enough to do “correct” body language, but writing/typing is very, very easy for me.

                1. nonegiven

                  I’m wondering. Assuming the job is non customer facing, is it possible to ask for an accommodation in the form of an email interview and skills testing as a substitute for speaking to an interviewer? Does anyone know if something like that is ever done?

                2. halpful

                  mutism fucking sucks.

                  mine’s a lot milder; in my last interview, I felt it coming and said something like “I’m getting too nervous to think, can I have a minute?” – then I drank lots of water and spent a minute or two pretending nothing existed outside of my pencil and paper. I think I got my hand moving by writing out their last question, and by the time I was calm enough to speak again, the paper had notes for an answer. :)

                  usually I don’t handle it half that well, but, well, now I at least know what successfully avoiding it looks like.

            1. Camellia

              How long does this last? This happens to me occasionally, especially in the afternoon when I am tired, and I’ve learned to say, “Well, my words just left me, give me a minute.”, and I scrunch my brows a bit and look up/away from the person (to make it look like I’m thinking and not just sitting there, um, waiting) and after a breath or two or, yes, sometimes three, I can start talking again.

              Would or could something like that work for you?

                1. M.D.

                  Environmental stimuli, too, come to think of it. Noises, lights, things moving around in my field of vision, etc.

                2. AnonAcademic

                  From your posts it sounds like you are trying to make your speech behave neurotypically and it just won’t cooperate even with a lot of work. Can I ask why you view it as something you need to “fix”? Maybe it’s just a feature to work around, such as by using a communication device and/or letting employers know you sometimes need a long pause to gather your thoughts/words. It sounds like you would need that kind of accommodation in the job anyhow so maybe dealing with it from the start of the interview process might help you find an employer that’s a better match, and if it’s out in the open maybe that will help with feeling stressed about or during the interview also.

                  Best of luck!

                3. M.D.

                  Personally, I *don’t* see it as something I need to fix. I think if I could get accommodations similar to what you suggest, I would be fine. However, I can’t even get accommodations like that at school, even though my neuropsych strongly recommended that I be allowed to communicate in writing/via a computer. The disability office shrugged and dismissed me as “high functioning” because of my grades. I’m not sure how I would go about requesting something like that at work, let alone during the interview process, without being told that my disability disqualifies me. If there’s some way to do that, though, I would love to explore it.

                4. Lily Rowan

                  I wonder if you could say something when scheduling an interview, though? Like “Occasionally I have a brief physical problem speaking, so I just wanted to give the interviewer a head’s up that I might need to take quick break during our conversation.” Would something like that give you enough cover to come back and finish, or is it longer-lasting than that?

                5. M.D.

                  I could try that, but I’m not hopeful that an interviewer would agree to that when they have 50 other equally-qualified candidates who don’t have speech problems and the job lists “oral communication” as a requirement. I have been told repeatedly that if I can’t speak aloud, I will simply be passed over for people who can.

                6. Jules the First

                  If it’s something your neuropsych recommended as an accommodation, you should be able to ask for it in an interview without negatively affecting your chances. Can you ask your neuropsych for some help finding words to express the request? Or what about exploring some of the newer text-to-speech software?

                7. SS

                  Whoever is telling you that if you don’t speak aloud you’ll definitely be passed over is unhelpful and misleading! It probably does harm your chances (it sucks and it’s not fair, but that’s the reality) but that doesn’t mean you literally will not get any job. There are plenty of deaf/hard of hearing people with jobs and I’m sure there was a letter here not long ago about an applicant who required a signing translator for an interview (speaking of which, resources for deaf/hard of hearing people might be helpful?). I imagine the worry that if you don’t speak you won’t get the job could only be making things worse, so try to keep this in mind.

                  Depending where you live, employers are most likely legally required to make accommodations for you (admittedly some are dodgy and don’t do this, but plenty do!). Your chances are probably better if you target bigger organisations as they’re more likely to have experience making accommodations for other employees and also to have the resources to do this easily. I work at a very large government agency and there are so many people here who need special accommodations and it’s not an issue at all.

                8. Candi

                  Okay, I would push back on that bloody disability office. They’re being either ignorant or lazy.

                  There are many, many people like you that are intelligent, have the madz skills, can knock the work out of the park -and have a disability that needs accommodation. Including verbal and speech disorders. “High-functioning” as crap-all to do with it.

                  Your grades have nothing to do with whether you need speech accommodation. And the office needs their heads -politely and professionally- figuratively thwapped until they get it.

                  Go ahead and as for interview accommodation. It’s no different then the deaf asking for an interpreter or the blind asking for the policy manual in raised text or Braille.

    6. Marisol

      OK, for this: – I have difficulty making eye contact AND focusing on listening/speaking with the interviewer

      I will pushback on this a bit and say I don’t think sustained eye contact is necessary. I have an introverted streak and a mild case of adhd, which means that I am almost incapable of making eye contact at the same time that I am trying to process what someone is saying. This is not a problem. I am friendly, and smile and make eye contact at the beginning of the dialogue, then when I look away as I listen to what they are telling me, I incline my head toward them or make some sort of body posture or gesture that signals that I am giving them my full attention. Sometimes I might even say something like, “I’m listening, I’m just giving thought to what you are saying” or something like that, but usually, if your full attention is on someone, they can perceive this, regardless whether or not your eyes are actually meeting theirs, so most of the time it’s not necessary to say anything. And generally it’s my ear that is turned toward them as I look away, so that’s a pretty clear indication that I am listening!

      When it is my turn to speak, or when there is a conversational break, I make sure to meet their eyes again, to give the transaction a sense of completion. (A silly example that comes to mind: if I order fast food, I say hi, make eye contact, and smile, but as I order, I am usually thinking aloud to the cashier about what I want, with my eyes sort of rolled upward in a look of contemplation. Then once I have articulated my order, I can bring my attention back to the cashier as I pay, thank them, and look them in the eyes as I smile.)

      I have always done this, and never knew I had adhd until recently, but always assumed that the way I interacted conveyed, at worst, a sort of quirky, “absent-minded professor” quality, and at best, a very smart and thoughtful person. I do well on job interviews and am generally socially successful despite having an introverted streak, and all the weirdness that comes with having adhd.

      I read somewhere—gosh I wish I could remember where, maybe it will come to me later—that this sort of conversational “looking away thoughtfully” gesture conveys a sort of gravitas that will make the others take you seriously.

      So eye contact is one thing I would not stress over, as long as you can manage to read the conversational cues well enough to make eye contact at *certain points* in the conversation.

      And if you make constant eye contact without looking away, that’s REALLY weird so don’t force yourself to do that.

      On another note, I think that generally, socially successful people understand that relating to people is a constant negotiation where people articulate their needs, and respond to others’ needs. So if you have a need for something, you just mention it and see if the other person is willing to meet it. For example, you might say, “I’m on the autism spectrum, so the question ‘tell me about yourself’ is difficult because it is so open-ended. That said, I’m happy to answer any specific question you have. Are you wondering about anything in particular?” A script like this addresses your need for a specific question, while addressing the interviewer’s need to understand why you are deviating from social norms. (Now I wouldn’t necessarily use that specific script but it’s the only example I can think of off the top of my head.)

      Hope something of what I’ve said is useful.

    7. Indywind

      Socially successful, and employed, neurodivergent person here. I don’t have an official AS diagnosis but I do have many characteristics in common with folks who do, and suggestion that help them have helped me, so perhaps what helps me may help others as well.

      My suggestions for you are:
      If you have good references, don’t wait for a hiring manager to get round to checking them in an interview process, lead with them. Ask references who have the most perspective on your employable skills, and those who have connections in fields or organizations where you might work, if they would be willing to network for you. They can contact their acquaintances and recommend you, so that when you meet a hiring manager, that person will already be aware of your reference’s opinion and be more inclined to give you consideration.

      If you suspect a work trial would show your skills favorably, volunteer (or work for less than your target pay, as in a temportaty student or intern position) for a limited-time or -scope task you are confident you can do well. The organization you volunteer for may consider you for employment thereafter, but if they do not, you will still have an accomplishment you can point to in other interviews, and may connect with another reference who can network on your behalf.

      When you interview, if you are concerned that your behaviors/manner may prejudice the interviewer against you, give a brief, positive and nondemanding explanation up front: “I have neurological differences that affect my facial expression, posture, and speech. I have difficulty making eye contact and sometimes lose my voice for a short time, especially when I’m nervous–like in a job interview wher eI want to make a good impression. This doesn’t affect my ability to listen, understand, or [do whatever kind of work], and I hope it won’t be a problem during our interview. If I should lose my voice, please just be patient, I will respond as soon as I am able.” Or something like that.

      I *don’t* think you should say that your characteristics are normal for folks on the autistic spectrum, because (a) your specific diagnosis is not immediately relevant — the same would be true if your differences were due to some other diagnosis, or illness or injury; (b)mentioning a specific diagnosis often seems to prompt their stereotype of Autistic Person (or whatever) rather than evaluating you yourself, and (c) it’s not true that these behaviors are typical of (all) people on the spectrum; though we have some commonalities, we’re also quite diverse, and the idea that “thus and such is how autistic people are” contributes to stereotypes that limit understanding (such diagnosis and support for girls and women until recently) and opportunities (such as work that’s not focused on math or tech).

      You might have more success in responding to broad questions if you think of them as being narrower questions for which the interviewer is accommodatingly allowing you to choose how to narrow and focus the question into one that you can answer. “Tell me about yourself” can actually mean “Tell me how your personal characteristics enable you to fulfill the duties of the job you’ve applied for” or “Tell me about how your principles and previous experiences prepare you for constructively handing difficulties” or something like that. You don’t need to try to guess exactly which of potentially infinite more-specific questions is the one the interviewer really means. (ETA: I see others gave this perspective below, so here’s a bit I don’t think anyone else mentioned.) Part of what can make such open-ended questions extra stressful (at least for me) is feeling like there is suddenly Too Much to Process and at the same time I’m under pressure to Answer Immediately and Correctly. If I felt the need to pause to collect my thoughts, or if I found myself at a loss for words/unable to speak, it increased the stress in that moment and virtually ensured I would lose my voice AND my train of thought. But, if some of the pressure was relieved, I could manage to think and speak enough to relieve it still further (by saying something like, “hmm, let me think about that a moment”), and after a few moments I could answer composedly.
      Way to relieve pressure that helped me:
      If the interviewer (or the person I’m talking with; this is an issue for me in non-work stressful conversations also) assured me it was perfectly fine and expected to take time to think before answering, and didn’t act impatient when I actually did so.
      If I told myself (and believed it) that pauses before answering were expected and fine.
      If I told myself (and believed it) that looking away or doing an unobtrusive fidget to help me calm and think, were expected and/or fine, and would not lead to me being misjudged as dishonest, distracted, etc.
      If I thought of the Dreaded Broad Question as an attempt to make me comfortable/ allow me to respond in a way that was comfortable ( because apparently most people love to talk about themselves) and took it as permission to respond in way that actually was comfortable to me, that is, by waiting until I could make words before answering.
      If I remembered that most other people (particularly neurotypical ones) at least somewhat do social mirroring, and will reflect back to me the general emotional tone or attitude I express… so if I treat the ways I respond under stress ( e.g. losing my voice, dropping eye contact, fidgeting or getting extra still) or my other differences as unremarkable and no problem, they are likely to take that attitude at least somewhat as well.

      Actually that last bit has been one of the most helpful things I’ve done in general, not just in interviews or other “on the spot being judged” situations, but just going about life. It is *simple* but far from *easy*, given all the conflicting messages about What it Means to Be Different.

  18. C Average

    I am on the spectrum–not an Aspie, though. (I have nonverbal learning disorder.)

    I notice that a great many of your self-criticisms involve your looks, and since some aspects of your appearance are within your control, it might make sense to focus on appearance and grooming first. I know I tend to perform better when I’m not anxious about how I look, and the same might be true of you. Note that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the way you look, or that prospective employers are necessarily focused on your looks! I’ll bet you look fine, and I’ll bet others also think you look fine. But if you’re worried about how you look, you might be able to make a few small tweaks to feel more comfortable in your own skin.

    The unibrow can be waxed (it’s fairly inexpensive and not that painful). Do you like the glasses you’re currently wearing? If not, maybe some new frames would be a good investment. You say you’re worried about the amount of makeup you have on. If you have a friend who’s good with makeup, or if you have a department store nearby with a makeup counter that does free demos, think about getting some tips from someone else to reassure yourself that the makeup you have on is within prevailing norms.

    Are you wearing clothes that are comfortable and attractive? I know that I can’t wear things that are constrictive–they make me anxious and twitchy and take my focus away from other things. So through the years I’ve built a sort of uniform for myself–an A-line dress with a cardigan and flat shoes–that I know looks nice on me and that doesn’t make me feel anxious or constricted. If you have sensitivities to tightness, texture, labels at the neckline, and other aspects of clothing, as many people on the spectrum do, make sure that what you’re wearing works for you and isn’t causing you anxiety or discomfort. Those feelings can bleed into your interactions with others, including prospective employers, and make them feel uncomfortable, too.

    Do you have adults who can help you navigate job-hunting and who could, in a pinch, provide you with transportation? Parents, friends, relatives? If so, ask them to review your resume and maybe even role-play interviews with you. It will feel contrived and silly to go through fake interviews, but it will help! Even if you’re skeptical, just try it.

    Finally, think about the kinds of jobs you’re seeking. Are they things you can imagine doing and would like to do? If so, why? If not, why not? Try to visualize yourself in that workplace, doing the tasks related to the job. Keep tweaking that image until it comes into focus. You want your prospective employer to look at you and think, “This girl could totally do this job.” And, corny as it sounds, that starts with YOU thinking, “This girl could totally do this job.”

    Good luck! You’re asking good questions and you’ve come to a great place to get advice.

    1. justsomeone

      Adding to the bit about makeup, because it’s one of my passions – LW Do NOT use Youtube or Instagram to help you get a baseline for makeup. C-Average has good advice here, but I’ll caution you that “free” demos often come with the expectation of a purchase. If you have a Sephora or Ulta nearby, you can go in and ask an associate to advise you on makeup for an interview. They don’t charge like regular makeup counters at Macy’s would, and will give you advice based on a wider variety of brands, instead of just the one they’re repping. Since you’re young and unemployed, Ulta might be the best place to go, if you have one nearby, because Ulta sells both high end and drug-store brands, so they can help you pick colors and products for any budget. For interviews, I’ve found that foundation, a teeny bit of blush, simple black or brown eyeliner (no wing) and mascara are all I need. Maybe I’ll do a layer of a neutralish eyeshadow. You don’t need to get fancy.

      1. Camellia

        Yes, Ulta is where you want to go, and great drug store lines are Milani (especially for eye shadow and blush, and their 2-in-1 foundation is supposed to be awesome), Rimmel (great primers), and NYX (in general). I love makeup and can recommend all of these. And if you buy something and don’t like it or it doesn’t work for you, you can easily return it and they are fantastic about it; in other words they don’t give you a hard time about it, they just quickly and simply refund it.

      2. Chickaletta

        Agree about the online tutorials, especially the ones made by teenagers and twenty year olds. They’re almost always over the top and often have bad techniques and advice, so avoid using them as an actual reference.

        When it comes to makeup at the OP’s age, less is better. Do the minimal to help yourself look polished and like you care, but don’t try to alter your appearance. You should be able to hold all of your makeup at once in your hands.

        1. Jenna

          If makeup is needed, I usually stick with foundation, simple minimal eyeliner, mascara, and lip gloss. Sometimes I use a setting powder. My goal is that particular look that some people mistake for no makeup at all.
          If you go this way, invest in makeup that really matches your skin tone and will last all day and also not mess up your skin after. You aren’t using lots of products so spend a little more attention on the ones that you are. Ask for help in the stores.
          If you hate one of the products for ANY REASON then go ahead and ditch that one. It’s your face! If you try another, then tell the sales assistant what you didn’t or don’t like about the previous one.
          Sometimes a tinted moisturizer is all you want.
          Some people are happy with just lip gloss or lipstick.
          Some people only put on a bit of mascara.
          Find what works for you in your particular situation and that you can deal with applying and wearing.

      3. Sarah in Boston

        Also check out eyelipsface (elf). They sell mostly online but can be found in Target and sims drugstores. I’m nowhere near an expert but I’ve learned a lot (and had fun) with ELF because it’s so cheap that I didn’t feel pressured to choose just the right shade or product. I just tried a lot of stuff and kept what worked for me.

    2. DJ

      With your eyebrows, I’d suggest getting them professionally done at least the first time. You can maintain with tweezers after. That is pretty much what I’ve done (as someone with “a bit of a unibrow”).

      I’ve found Beautipedia to be extremely helpful when it comes to choosing products because they rate products based on effectiveness (ie you don’t want mascara that clumps) and if the ingredients are good for your skin (where applicable). The makeup isle is so overwhelming, being able to narrow things down is just wonderful!

      Also, while not on the spectrum, I was very much a late bloomer when it came to makeup, clothes, etc. I was lucky, one of my sisters wasn’t. So, even though she was younger, I would still get her advice on such things (and, on occasion, I still do). You aren’t alone with that. Take some time to learn and figure out what you want and need.

    3. Not So NewReader

      How we feel about the way we look DOES impact our self image and in turn can impact our actions.
      So you are not wasting your time, OP, by trying small things to beef up how you feel about your looks. Consider it a good investment. Don’t go overboard. Implement one or two ideas and WAIT. See how those one or two ideas are working out for you. Later decide if you like them or dislike them. Toss what you don’t like, then try one or two more ideas.
      Do it slowly like this, that way you can figure out what is working and what is not.

    4. SS

      I belong to a Facebook group called The Make Up Social, the members are really helpful so if you have any questions about grooming and beauty you should think about joining. I’m useless at makeup but get lots of good advice there, so it’s definitely a good place for a beginner. (Tip: if you post anything, upload a photo with your post to make sure people notice it.)

    5. Candi

      LW, there is also no harm in trying different products until you find the ones that feel exactly right.

      I am hyper sensitive to anything on my face. I very rarely wear any kind of makeup due to that.

      If you’re uncomfortable in your makeup, it will distract. Make sure what you use is comfortable for you.

  19. Catherine from Canada

    Wow. Great question. My experience is not at all similar to your’s, but I hope I can help a little.
    I’m a late diagnosis Aspie – I’m 58, was diagnosed two years ago – so have spent most of my life trying to “pass”. Mostly I gave up, got married, had six kids, built a house in the country and stayed home. But I also wrote. First letters to the editor, then freelance, then on contract from home, and now on contract in an office (I’m a tech writer for a telecommunications firm. Tech writing is good, it’s mostly solitary work.) Every step of the way has been both terrifying and exhilarating.

    Girls and women with Asperger’s tend to have Anxiety and anxiety. Small wonder, as well as it being part of just the our brains work, we walk on eggshells wondering what we’re going to do “wrong” next! But the thing is, while Asperger’s doesn’t show, anxiety really does and it usually looks like some kind of unreliable.

    What I finally learned – with therapy – was that no one notices my mistakes as much as I do, that everyone makes mistakes not just me, that mistakes are not the end-of-the-world-terrible-and-everyone-will-hate-me. Same goes for what I’m wearing, how I walk, what I say, how I say it, and a whole bunch of other things that I worry about.

    I have found that visualizing every step of a new situation helps. Even if it doesn’t go the way I imagined it, I can cope with a change from A to B better than every moment being A-through-Z and having to figure out what to do.

    I have found that doing things by myself is easier than having someone else along (for support) because then I have to pay attention to their reactions and behaviours as well as my own. I am only nervous when my husband is driving, I drive fine on my own. I prefer to travel on my own. I do better grocery shopping and fixing a computer problem on my own.

    I have also found – counter-intuitively – that admitting that I am nervous, or anxious helps. It’s a little bit like admitting that it’s cold outside and putting on a coat rather than saying “I wish it were still summer” and spending all day shivering.

    That’s all I’ve got right now (and yes, I’m worried that it sound stupid and incoherent and not at all helpful). Good luck with your job search, I encourage you to keep learning and trying.

    1. Fabulous

      >>”It’s a little bit like admitting that it’s cold outside and putting on a coat rather than saying “I wish it were still summer” and spending all day shivering.”

      I love this.

    2. Jenna

      I’m 48 and female, and though I was never diagnosed as aspie I find so many similarities between descriptions of aspie things and the way that my mind works that I do sometimes wonder.

  20. Michaela

    Oh, my fellow spectrum girl, I feel you. It is hard out there. So here is point one: deep breath. You’re gonna be okay.

    Here is what I’ve got:
    – eye contact is both as important as people say it is and much less so. “Darting” eyes read as untrustworthy, and that’s what happens a lot to me when I try to force eye contact. So I mostly look at the space between people’s ears and their shoulders, which is close enough that people don’t think I’m avoiding eye contact, and far enough away that I don’t have to flinch away from it as fast as “real” eye contact. Taking notes during an interview or meeting can also be helpful, since it gives you something else to look at.
    – practicing interviews is agonizing and essential. Start with a friend who won’t mock you, and start with a few questions at a time. Level up to practicing with a career counselor or a teacher or similar. Your parents are probably not going to be the right people to practice with; they know you and your mannerisms too well. Don’t get to the point of reciting memorized answers, but not feeling like you’re in totally unfamiliar territory will help.
    – in your practice, ask people to pay attention to your body language — are you hunched over? are you making gestures that are invading other people’s personal space? things like that are hard to notice from the inside, but they make a big difference.

    And I repeat: you’re gonna be fine.

  21. the gold digger

    I have no advice to offer, but I did see these videos and they made me so happy. There are employers who want to have an inclusive workplace and they create an environment where everyone can thrive. The supply chain VP at Walgreen’s has a son who has disabilities. He is keenly aware of the challenges that his son and others face and built a distribution center designed specifically to accommodate persons with disabilities. It is so neat. (It is also one of Walgreen’s most productive DCs.)

    http://www.dcvelocity.com/dcvtv/news/2057658540001/

    http://www.dcvelocity.com/dcvtv/news/2057658530001/

  22. Mortis Rose

    Female aspie here! OP, you sound exactly like me when I was looking for my first job. Good news–if you’re well groomed (clean business-like clothing, shower, good breath, and deodorant!), your appearance shouldn’t be as big of an issue as you seem to be worrying it is. I’m proof of that–I’ve never worn makeup unless it’s unavoidable and I tend towards the masculine end of the work-clothing spectrum. I’m now in the early days of a great career I love!

    Seconding all the comments about finding someone to practice with. Do you have a university near you? Lots of universities (and some high schools, too) have people available for practice interviews and other career help, like resume proofreading and referrals.

    My other bit of advice is to practice on your own. Practice in a mirror if you can. Record yourself, if that’s an option. It’ll be weird and uncomfortable, but keep doing it. Speak clearly and try to modulate your volume so it’s not too soft or loud (this was a huge problem for me, to the point where I took theatre classes to learn how to speak loudly and not mumble).

    Look up common job interview questions and answer guides. Write your answers down, then practice saying them out loud until you can say them without tripping over your words. Not only will this give you some fallbacks for if these questions are asked, but you’ll get practice on faking confidence. It’s neat how confident people will think you are if you speak in a clear, firm tone of voice.

    Practice saying the first sentence you’re going to say when you greet your interviewer and the last thing you’ll say as you leave. First: If you haven’t been introduced yet, introduce yourself. After that or if they greet you first, “It’s great to meet you. Thanks for having me here,” is a good standard way to set the discussion moving. Last: follow up with a “Thank you for speaking with me. I’m looking forward to hearing (your decision/more about Teapot Enterprises).” Eye contact sucks, but try looking your interviewer in the eye at the start of the interview and the end of it.

    Let me know if you have any other questions, OP! I’d love to help out a fellow aspie :)

  23. MegaMoose, Esq.

    Since a lot of your questions had to do with appearance, here’s my take as a somewhat unconventional looking woman: when it comes to interviews, aim for as unremarkable an appearance as possible. If you’ve got something unconventional about your appearance that it’s important to you not to change or that cannot be changed, it’s even more important that everything else be as neutral as possible. For my part, I am overweight, do not wear makeup, and have red hair. Sadly, the first and second can be negatives, the third not hugely but it does stand out. So when I interview, I make sure my suit is freshly dry cleaned, wear nylons, polish my shoes, keep my hair cut fairly conservatively and the color newly refreshed and a natural-looking shade. I wear lipstick but have decided that my discomfort and inexperience with makeup outweighs the benefits I might gain.

    Of the things you brought up, some of them are absolutely non-issues (no one will notice the size of your feet unless they’re visibly too large or small for your shoes, no one is noticing your ears unless you’ve got some Spock level point going on), some are probably non-issues (glasses are pretty much invisible these days unless the style is waaaaay out there, your hair color is only a factor if it’s not a “natural” shade and the extent either of these matters at all varies a lot), and some do matter to greater or lesser degrees.

    That doesn’t mean that there’s a single right way to do everything though. I think of it as a balancing act. Like I said about myself, I know that not wearing makeup and being overweight is unfortunately (and unfairly!) going to influence how some people see me. I’ve thought about it and decided that the first makes me uncomfortable so it’s better to keep with what I prefer, and the second isn’t something I can address with any kind of speed so I might as well try and forget about it. I try and compensate by sticking to very conservative clothing. I can already see other people with lots of good advice on that front, so I’ll end with a good luck and hang in there!

  24. De Minimis

    Since no one else is going anon I guess I won’t either, I am on the spectrum and didn’t realize it until my 30s.

    Many people on the spectrum do well with systems and rules/procedures. Try to view the advice given here on AAM as a set of procedures for finding a job, almost like a game. It’s not a perfect system and it may not be a case of “Do all these things and you’ll get a job,” but it will give you an advantage over people who don’t. It’s tough to find a job as a young person in general.

    I try to be hyperaware of my mannerisms and how I’m presenting. It’s something else I try to view as a sort of game–it’s a sort of roleplaying of being a confident, professional person.

  25. Jialis

    I’m the parent of a child with Autism, and one thing I have always pressed upon him is to seek work that values his Autistic traits, rather than forcing himself to act neurotypical. Some Autistics can – depending on a variety of factors, they can adapt better than others. Some can’t, or simply don’t want to. In that case, look at jobs that would value your traits. For example (and we’re talking entry-level jobs here since OP isn’t even 18 yet), a dishwasher, a file organizer,library shelver, animal caretaker (doggy daycares, dog walker ~ many Autistic people thrive with animals), stocking shelves, recycling depot, and so on. As time goes on, you can look into more professional jobs that value your thought process.

    Realistically, Autistic people struggle with regular interviews because much of it is based on what seems counter intuitive, even downright painful (eye contact, emotional connections). That must be terribly difficult. I wish you the best of luck, and please know that there is nothing “wrong” with you or how you look, it’s just a different way of being and you’re outnumbered. But there are lots of people like you, and lots of paths you can take. You can, of course, always work towards better adjusting in this world that you are outnumbered in. But until then, take your strengths for what they are!

  26. Collarbone High

    Slightly OT, but depending on where you live, not having a car really could be a deal-breaker. I think this is more true with younger employees because a) typical teenage jobs have odd hours that don’t coincide with commuter public transit and b) managers know from experience that people who have to rely on friends/family/off-hours bus service for rides often end up being late or missing shifts. Even if the employee is conscientious, their ride might not be.

    1. Escape

      I agree 100%. In the town where I grew up, if you didn’t have a car, you weren’t getting to work unless you had a dedicated parent willing to drop you off and pick you up. There was one bus service that only ran through downtown (where there were barely any jobs for teenagers, anyway), and maybe four taxis.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger

      OP, if you think this might be the case with you (e.g. interviewers have asked you “Do you have a car?”) then it might help to go into interviews with a brief explanation of how you’d plan to get to work without one. “No, but I live only two miles away and have a bicycle” (as long as you’re not in a snowy climate) or “No, but I’m familiar with using the bus system and found out that the 35 takes me directly here,” along with something like “I always leave home early to make sure I get to commitments on time – the only time I was tardy to school last year was the day of the blizzard” would help assuage these concerns.

      There also are jobs, like delivery driver, that just flat-out need a car, but I assume you’re not applying for them.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.

        “As long as you’re not in a snowy climate” unless that snowy climate is the Twin Cities. We’ve got absurdly hardcore bikers here.

  27. Aspie librarian

    As someone on the spectrum, married to someone on the spectrum, with two (possibly 3) kids on the spectrum, and other immediate family members on the spectrum…well, I first just want to say that the spectrum is wide and varied. Do you have anxiety about job interviews? How are your organizational skills? Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are?
    Self-reflection, especially as a young adult on the spectrum, can be a real challenge. My strongest advice would be to talk to some people you trust about strengths and weaknesses. And also to practice interviewing. It’s painful for sure, but very worth it. Once you have a sense of your strengths, play to those – look for jobs that play to those strengths. I haven’t found eye contact, for example, to be much of a deal breaker if you’re applying for jobs that suit you and have worked on answers to common interview questions.
    Also, depending on where you live, there may be relevant resources for job hunting with Autism/Asperger’s.
    Finally, cut yourself a bit of slack. A. Job hunting really is hard for everyone. And B. You will get better at this over time. It took me years to get into a successful career – now in my late 30s, I seem to have finally found my niche and real success.
    Finally, if you have any more specific questions, I’m happy to give you my email.

  28. Lillian McGee

    I hired and supervised a young woman who was on the spectrum. She interviewed very well and she clearly put a lot of effort into preparing herself. I think it also helped that I knew people on the spectrum in my personal life and so I understood that behaviors that others might consider unusual or off-putting in an interview setting (such as avoiding eye contact) wasn’t something I should be concerned about.

    Another thing she had going was a very good resume and an excellently written cover letter. I already had the impression that she was a well qualified and well written candidate and it would have been ridiculous of me to overlook that in light of some slight behavioral quirks. She was an excellent employee! I miss her a lot but she outgrew the job and went on to bigger and better things.

  29. Ruthie

    I can’t speak from personal experience about autism, but I can speak as a professional with mental illness and some challenges that are consistent with those of individuals with diagnoses on the spectrum. I also have some experience working in the disability community.

    My first piece of advice is to know when a job isn’t for you. This could mean that you may not be ready for any job, or you may not be interested or ready for a specific job. My interpretation of your letter was that you were looking for a job because your peers all seem to have one. If you don’t need or, or aren’t excited about the jobs available near you, it’s okay to wait. I got my first job after my freshman year of college, a year in which I did a lot of maturing. And not insignificantly, I was living independently of my parents. I only say this because you mention unusual parents, but I know I would not have been successful in a job if I was still living with my parents and relying on them for support and rides to work.

    My second piece of advice is to seek out career resources for people with disabilities. The Department of Labor sponsors CareerOneStop Cebters that offer all sorts of resources. Make that your first stop. They’ll have things like training and job postings. There are also programs that place individuals with disabilities. I know his might sound a little strange if you’re not someone who thinks about disability a lot, and some people assume these programs are only for people with intellectual disabilities, but I’ve been placed with interns from a local program and they are among the brightest and most effective colleagues I have ever worked with. My favorite thing about my career so far has been watching then launch theirs.

    I also want to recommend looking for volunteer opportunities to gain some experience with skills and working in a workplace environment. Think about what your passionate about, then contact local organizations and ask if they need volunteers. Smaller independent organizations are often easier to volunteer for, and are less likely to have anxiety-provoking volunteer application processes. So if you like working with animals, skip the nearest humane society and search for smaller rescues in your area for volunteer opportunties.

    Finally, I just want to reiterate that appearance usually doesn’t play a role in job applications, so long as you appear neat and professional. Or you’re working somewhere ridiculous like Abercrombie and Fitch. Chances are you’re not applying somewhere that care, so try and focus less on your appearance and more on interview skills suck as keeping answers short and focused, eye contact, active listening, etc.

    1. seejay

      Maturity is a huge thing too. I started university when I wasn’t ready (too young) and spent three years just making a mess of it and on academic probation the entire time. I eventually dropped out before they could kick me out and then another three years in low-paying secretarial jobs before I finally buckled down and went back, and gave it another three years before graduating with a computer science degree with honours. Sometimes you do need that kick in the pants and some time to grow up and realize what it takes. There’s nothing wrong with that either, just try to recognize it early on before you wrack up three years of debt!

  30. Aspie Tech Writer

    I found that volunteering helped. It gave me a chance to see what the work world was like and what was expected of me as an “empoloyee,” while at the same time not being as stressful as a paying job. I earned experience in my field (at the time; tech writing came later), good references, and a ton of experience in things that Aspie have a harder time learning!

  31. seejay

    I wasn’t on the autism spectrum as a teenager but I did work a *lot* when I was a teenager and what I found was that I did best when I worked in jobs that I enjoyed and played up to my strengths in areas that I was comfortable in, so things that really didn’t feel like work. This sometimes meant being a bit creative with thinking out of the box and not necessarily listening to my parents about what the more conventional teenagers were doing. Other girls were babysitting, I hated that (I didn’t, and still don’t, like kids and dealing with them stressed me out). My mom tried to get me to do yardwork and lawn mowing instead… nope, also hated that because it was *WORK* and sweaty and gross and uncomfortable and loud and painful. One of the things I did excel at was delivering newspapers because it let me ride my bike in the summer (I LOVED THAT), I could schedule my own hours (within reason), I could take as many routes as I could handle and go as far as I wanted, I could take friends if I wanted, as long as I delivered all the papers, I dealt with money directly and felt like an adult doing money management (I was really good at math and I liked that part of it), in the winter when I had to walk, I could bring my dog and listen to my walkman and not have to deal with people most of the time. When it did come time to collect money, I did have to deal with people face to face but I wound up learning my regulars and they weren’t strangers eventually so I was comfortable with them. If I didn’t want to talk to them though, I could just collect and move on. I loved that job because it fit a lot of things I enjoyed doing.

    Sometimes you do have to go outside your comfort zone though, so try to take it as a learning experience and see what can take out of it! If you can find something in an area that you know you’d enjoy just to start out with, even if it’s volunteer work, you might want to give that a shot as baby steps.

  32. AndersonDarling

    I was diagnosed with Asperger’s five years ago, so I managed to get through life without knowing that was why I was different. So my advise is, first, remember that you are not that different. If you step back and look at people who get jobs, then you will see that there are people who are very, very weirdly unique and they all are working. So don’t beat yourself up about being unique, you can still get a job.
    Second, I understood that interviews were like a play and I was a character interviewing for a job. I don’t know if everyone else thinks this way, but I believe that a person interviewing is behaving differently than they would in a normal work situation. There is more etiquette and restraint. I behave more polite and attentive when interviewed. I’m playing a role. It may help to watch videos of good interviews and mimic those movements.
    Third, I used restraint when interviewing. I could talk and talk about my thoughts and ideas, and I could wear my favorite edgy accessories so the interviewer would know I am cool and different…but that’s not the time for it. Be cool later on when everyone gets used to you. When you meet someone for the first time, go easy on them. Dress simply and give focused, simple answers.
    Lastly, understand that the outcome of the interview is not up to you. If someone else got the job, it doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or you should have done something differently. If someone has more experience, then there was nothing you could do about it. There will be rejections, but rejections are not failures.
    No worries, there is a place for you! And it will be awesome!

    1. AndersonDarling

      Oh, and when I had interviews for school/jobs, my friends would say, “Remember, Don’t be Weird!” I knew exactly what behaviors they meant, so it wasn’t insulting, it was actually a very helpful reminder. I didn’t have a label of Asperger’s back then, but I was “Weird” with an awesome capital “W.”

  33. AspieFriend

    I’m on the spectrum myself, and wasn’t diagnosed until well into my professional career, so I feel your pain, but knowing where you’re coming from is SUCH an asset! I agree with other posters — research, research, research! Even books that aren’t Aspie-directed, but are written for women in the workforce, are super helpful (like The Confidence Code, I loved it).
    Another big piece of advice is an approach a la A Field Guide to Earthlings (another great book), which is reminding myself that I’m probably overthinking many of their reactions. (Keyword: probably.) We Aspies are acutely aware of the things that make us different because we intrinsically feel them and have recognized ourselves as different our entire lives, but, most people, especially professionals interviewing a lot of applicants for a position, just don’t have the time or energy to put as much thought into ourselves as we do. If they sigh when you said something, it’s probably because that’s a “mental and emotional reset” for the human brain, and interviewing a ton of people is exhausting. Also, people who don’t spend their lives acutely aware of other people judging them are, by extension, much less aware of the impact something like a sigh can have on the other person in the conversation.
    Lastly, maybe most important: Accept and love yourself! It’s the most difficult suggestion, too, but goes a long way. Having Asperger’s is part of who you are, so own it; different isn’t always bad, and there are a lot of strengths that come with the territory. Asperger’s could mean “obsessive focus”, but that also means “diligence and extraordinary (by definition!) attention to detail”. “Obsessive interests”, or “strong internal motivation”; if you’re doing something you enjoy, you’re not going to require constant pay raises to be interested, you’re interested because that’s how your brain works, and it is an asset — work it!! You may feel different, but an employer may also see that as bringing independent and unique thinking that’s difficult to find otherwise. Utilize the things that make you (us) different — that’s what makes you, as a candidate, stronger in many ways than the majority of applicants, and you are an AWESOME candidate because of that, one they won’t come across often!

    (P.S. I agree with previous commenters, eye contact is one of the toughest parts for me because “doing it wrong” can come off as untrustworthy, etc. Unless you’re sitting really really close to the person, they probably can’t tell if you’re inspecting *their own* face for signs of a potential unibrow, focusing on one iris to pick out all of the different colors in it like a picture on the wall, or other variations that can make it more like analyzing an object versus emotion-laden eye contact.)

    1. Jenna

      I expect that my own perceived eye contact got better after I took a life drawing class. After that I was looking at shapes, and not thinking quite as hard about trying to meet someone’s eyes.

  34. Norman

    I’m not on the spectrum, but my cousin with whom I’m close is. She went through very much the same thing when she was a teenager applying for jobs. She is now an extremely successful professional (like, has won famous awards for her work). I remember very well the thing that helped her most: practicing interviews. A lot. Like she did 10 or 15 practice interviews when she was 16. But she didn’t just do them with people she knew well or was comfortable with. Her advisor at school (I think it was a special ed resource person, but I can’t remember for sure) set her up with teachers and staff at her school who she did not know and were willing to volunteer to help so that the experience would be more like a “real” interview. A friend of my parents, who my cousin didn’t really know, also did one of her practice interviews.

    I highly recommend this. She was so much more comfortable in interviews after all the very realistic practice.

  35. Government Worker

    I’m not on the autism spectrum, but what stood out in the OP’s letter is not just that she’s asking a lot of questions that are probably *not* what’s keeping her from getting a job, but that the letter doesn’t include any information about some of the most critical aspects of getting a job, including what kinds of jobs OP is applying for. Here are a few things I would ask instead:

    – Am I applying for jobs that I qualify for (truly entry-level, it sounds like)? Do I think I could do these jobs well?

    – Are there other kinds of jobs I should be considering? A paper route, shelving books in a library, being a barista, and being a camp counselor are pretty different day-to-day experiences.

    – Do I know anyone who might be able to recommend me for a job? Do I know anyone who might want to hire me for an informal job to gain work experience (like a neighbor hiring you as a dog walker or a relative hiring you to do some filing or prepare large mailings at his small business)?

    – Do my application materials (resume and cover letter or online application answers) portray me in the best light and as a qualified candidate? With no “real” job experience, highlight whatever positives you have: volunteer work, school activities, informal jobs, a good school record, etc.

    – Where in the process are things going poorly? If you’re applying to a lot of jobs and never hearing back, that’s different than if you are getting interviews and then not being hired and will point to different issues that you might need to address.

    – What resources are there to help me find a job? Other commenters have mentioned quite a few – community colleges, etc.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Good stuff.
      OP, you should like them, too. It’s a two way street. And you should be okay with the work you are doing. So that means you ask questions such as, “What would my average day look like?” This way you can figure out if the job is for you or not. If someone offers you a job that you think is not for you, then politely decline.

      I get a sense that you are trying to mold yourself into someone who will fit in their space. So it’s important to keep in mind that this goes both ways, it is okay for you to look at them and think, “Can I actually work here day-after-day-after-day…?”

  36. AnonymousAndroid

    Another late-diagnosed person here.

    A few things I’d think about if I was starting over:

    1) Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not particularly good socially, then don’t try and get into something where networking / social interaction is a measure of success. Equally, don’t be too led by all the articles out there saying that someone with Aspergers needs to be a computer programmer, if that isn’t your skill set. And don’t expect too much from a first job, it will probably be a bit crappy / boring – that is normal!
    2) Consider being open about your diagnosis as early as possible in the interview process. It excuses a lot of the perceived ‘weirdness’ and helps with any workplace adjustments you might need. If someone doesn’t want to employ you because of this, it probably isn’t the right fit anyway.
    3) Competency-based interviews can be your friend, because they tend to use fairly standard questions. Think of a few scenarios that could be ‘tweaked’ a bit to answer different questions.
    4) Don’t be ashamed of being yourself. You have things to offer to an employer. Remind yourself before interview what they are – and never be so grateful for being offered a job that you forget interviews are a two-way process. Employers have to offer you something you want, too; it isn’t just about their needs.
    5) Interviewers generally don’t notice as much about your personal appearance as you think they will. Wear appropriate and comfortable clothes (so you’re not distracted) and have good personal hygiene. That’s pretty much it :-)

    Good luck!

    1. woman on the spectrum

      I wouldn’t do #2. It puts both you and your interviewer in a really awkward place re: discrimination laws

      1. AnonymousAndroid

        I suppose it depends on a) where you are (I’m in the UK, and don’t think disclosure would cause issues with our discrimination laws) and b) how you present / whether you need accommodations. Personally I’d prefer for interviewers to realise I’m on the spectrum rather than putting my lack of eye contact / quietness in group situations to a lack of confidence. But that’s just me, and the industry in which I work (where interpersonal skills are considered extremely important). Other people’s experiences may be very different :-)

  37. Sal

    Not on the spectrum. But here are some quick answers:
    Is it because I’m a girl? –Most likely not.
    Is it because of my stutter? –Not unless it’s something like answering customer service calls.
    I have a slight unibrow – should I tweeze it? –Only if you want.
    I have Asperger’s – do they know that, and are they not hiring me because of that? –They don’t know it, but you’ve gotten a lot of good advice about how Asperger’s can affect you in this situation and what you can do to put forward the impression you want to.
    Should I get some sort of facial surgery or other medical procedure to make me look “more professional”? –Christ, no.
    Is it my poor math skills? –Could be, if the position involves doing math.
    My loud, sometimes flat-ish voice? –Unlikely but possible, if the position involves interacting with people in a congenial or gentle or whatever way that your voice doesn’t work with.
    I’m not blonde – does that matter? –No.
    Do they know about my slight mental health issues? –Not unless you or someone else tells them, or it’s apparent in talking to you.
    Is it something to do with my unusual parents? –Not unless they know, have met, or interacted with your parents. Or you bring them up.
    Is it my weak back? –Not unless the job requires lifting or carrying.
    My weak arms? –See above.
    My weak hands? –See above; add typing.
    My big feet? –Not unless the job is being a foot model.
    Is it my height? I mean, I’m pretty tall. –Not unless you’re trying to be a jockey.
    Do I seem too indecisive? –Could be. It depends on how you’re coming across in the interview and what they need. Too impulsive? –Also could be. It might be worthwhile to think about the stories you are telling in the interview or the language you are using to describe yourself in cover letters/resume/interviews.
    Is it the fact that I have to wear glasses? –Not unless you are trying to be a pilot.
    Am I not wearing the right colors to interviews somehow? –This is not the problem.
    Am I too extroverted? –Unlikely.
    Does my not having a car matter? –This very well could matter. Depends on the job and the area.
    Should I be wearing more makeup? Less makeup? –Only if you want.
    Do they know I have to take meds, and is that why? –Not unless you tell them.
    Is it my teeth? –Almost certainly not.
    My dark circles? –No.
    My slightly pointed ears? –No.
    Do I need different earrings? –No.
    Different skirt? –Only if it’s too short.
    Bring a pen? –Sure, why not.
    Am I over-thinking this? –. . . yes? A little? More to the point is that you’ve got some actual potential issues scattered among things that are definitely not an issue. Ears? No. Skills, interpersonal style, personality traits? Yes, those are relevant to whether you’re a good (or the best) fit for the job you’re applying for. Focus on those, I think, and you may see more success. (I’m kind of hoping the laundry list was meant for a laugh!)

  38. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    I haven’t read every comment, but I wanted to be sure to point out that on applications when they ask about transportation, it’s generally asking if you have a way to/from work. If you’ve been answering “no” on whether you have transportation, that could very well be getting your applications passed over.

    If you know that you can get to work reliably, then you answer “yes” that you have transportation. Unless you are applying to things that will require you to drive (such as pizza delivery), they don’t care if you have your own car, they just want to know if you can make it to work.

    1. Jenna

      Yes, this! They want to know if you can get to work on time reliably. If they ask, “Do you have reliable transportation?” As long as you can get there on time, say yes. That’s what they care about. It does not matter if you take the bus, or walk, or bike, as long as you can get to work on time, reliably.

  39. Volunteer Enforcer

    Ooh. OP, as someone with SPD (very similar to Asperger’s) and two years experience, I think I can weigh in. Try practicing interviews with family members, and asking for advice on how to improve applications to sound more relatable to hiring managers. Try finding advice on the internet, such as the National Autistic Society. Ask for advice from people who you trust to be honest, and who know you. Try building coping techniques for interviewing, such as imagining you’re somebody else. Be upfront with interviewers, whilst also not making a big deal out of it, and suggest a few advantages as well without saying any downsides, e.g.: “I have Aspergers, which means I have great computer knowledge and attention to detail.” Tweak this to fit yourself. Saying this kind of sentence sealed the deal on my first apprenticeship. Best of luck to you, I know it can be stressful and frustrating, but you will land the right job in a culture that suits you.

  40. Bunny

    Hello, my friend.

    I went through half my professional career knowing something was ‘wrong’ but not knowing I had non-verbal learning disorder until I was 40. I will be 43 next week. Some doctors say have Aspergers; others say I don’t. It’s hard to tell at my age, and there is debate in the medical community if NVLD should be separate from Aspergers or not.

    No matter, I feel comfortable talking to you.

    You are fine the way you are. I went decades thinking I was broken. I’m not. I’m just fine the way I am; I function in this world; I make more money that most people in my state and in profession. I’m not saying that to brag, because it took me a VERY LONG TIME TO GET HERE. I’m saying that to tell you that you have talents you need to find. Mine is writing. I’m a journalist.

    You have an advantage I don’t. You know you have a ding in the fender. So what do you have to be afraid of? What else could happen? Pffft. You have been through and learned more than so many other people your age. You are heads and shoulders above them. Go into those interviews knowing your strengths, one of which is the ability to conquer adversity. Know that you have extremely unique talents. My brain is wired in such a way that I have a near-genius verbal IQ and an memory better than 93 percent of population. I try not to focus on the fact that I cannot add.

    Don’t be afraid to ask for help. One of my mistakes in life was being afraid to look stupid. Now I’ll just say: look, this is not one of my strengths. Can you help me?

    And try to find a support group. Here in Boston, we have the wonderful AANE. Link: http://www.aane.org/ I bet if you called them, they’d recommend you to a similar group in your neck in the woods.

    Also: r/aspergers or r/aspergirls, believe it or not.

    PS. I can’t dress myself so I just wear a simple black wrap dress to interviews. You don’t need surgery. You’re probably gorgeous. Gorgeous people never know they’re gorgeous!

  41. Christina

    I don’t have Autism myself, but I remember the frustrated feeling of job-hunting in high school. All of my friends seemed to land jobs but me! One of the ways I got my foot in the door is through volunteering. I volunteered on the weekends at the public library, a place I really enjoyed. When an opening came up for an entry level position, the staff encouraged me to apply, because they had already seen me in action. I got the job, and as they say, the rest is history.
    I encourage you to think about any areas you really enjoy–working with children, books, animals, photography, etc. See if there are any organizations looking for volunteers and see if you can start helping. Even if you don’t get hired at that organization, often you can use your volunteer experience in future job applications.
    Big Hugs! You will be awesome!

  42. Nienke Posthuma

    Hi Fellow-Aspie,

    Writing you from The Netherlands, so if I make any mistakes in my English, it’s just because it’s my second language.

    There. That’s my best advice. Tell them about your situation, be honest about it, without making a fuss or drama or something like that.

    Around Chrismas, there was a very happy newsitem in the Netherlands. ‘Every person with ASS can work in ICT!’. Well, I do have ASS (Asperger, in my case), but I am very bad at fixing computers or building app’s, websites and stuff like that. I am quite good at demolishing computers (I just throw them out of the window ;-) ), but very bad at the fixing-part. So I was upset about the newsitem, and thought it was very stigmatising and incorrect.

    I decided to write an article about it, and sent it to the 3 main newspapers in The Netherlands. I wrote about how incorrect it was, and that I wanted a job to. I told what I was good at, and what I wanted to do. What my strong points were, and how I deal with my weaknesses. One of those newspapers decided to publish the article.

    Afther publishing, the CEO of a IT company decided to invite me for a cup of coffee. He said that he wanted to talk with me. Halfway through the meeting, he offered me a job.

    I was honest and brave enough to tell, and it paid off. I got a contract for six months, and right now, I have my second contract!

    So, my advice is: be honest about it. They’ll probably get that there is something, and if you tell them, they’ll probably feel better about you than when you try to hide it or something.

    1. Expat

      I’m also an Aspie in the Netherlands and I respectfully disagree with your advice to disclose your diagnosis right off the bat. This is doubly true in the US, where I have also lived and worked. I’ve had some very negative experiences in doing so… Every other knucklehead who’s seen Rain Man thinks they’re an expert on the spectrum. I’ve been told I’m not “retarded enough” to be autistic. I’ve also been told that I’m too incapacitated to have a real career, and that I’m unfairly occupying a job that could be held by a normal person. I’ve been asked what it’s like not to have feelings. I’m sure there are other stupid remarks I don’t even remember right now.

      That said, I’ve had some very good experiences as well. My current boss knows I’m on the spectrum and has been very kind and understanding about it, even going so far as to answer my questions as to how she handles social matters at work that I find difficult. My advice would be to listen and observe your working environment before disclosing, and only disclose when you think doing so will improve your ability to work with someone.

      Also, in the US, telling someone you’re autistic during a job interview will probably be seen as TMI. This can also be true in the Netherlands, though Dutch culture is blunt by nature and you’re more likely to get away with it.

      1. AnonymousAndroid

        I think it depends a lot on how your autism makes you ‘present’ to others, though.

        I know in my case I prefer to disclose, because it is quite obvious there is something going on. I can be slow to respond to questions and although I can make eye contact, I can’t listen while doing so. And if there is a group assessment, I can’t process what’s going on quickly enough to make any sort of point.

        If you didn’t know I was on the autism spectrum, I’d be marked down for having incredibly poor self-confidence (this happened a lot before I was diagnosed). Once people know, then they tend to understand more.

        (Disclaimer: I’m in the UK, so there’s an additional reason to disclose, as then there’s some legal protection against disability discrimination. Not sure if that’s the same in NL or US)

        1. Expat

          This is an excellent point. I can pass as neurotypical, albeit eccentric, so the calculation might be different for me than it is for someone else.

          I’ve also been given the feedback that I come across as having horrible self-esteem, but for me this was actually very useful. I asked which of my mannerisms gave that impression (why is everything always about eye contact?) and then made a concerted effort to change them.

          Of course, not everything can be changed in a timely manner. I feel like my skin is coming off after more than a few minutes of standing in a room full of overlapping conversations, so I peace out of parties and conferences more quickly and more often than I’d like. I’ve tried very hard to reduce my sensitivity to such situations over time, but honestly, I think I’ve made it worse rather than better. This is an example where it helps a lot that my current boss knows, as she is willing to help deflect “Why did Expat leave so early?” type questions.

          The decision to disclose is a tricky one, and it’s very much dependent on the interaction between your autism and your environment.

          1. Candi

            Depends on who you get when you report.

            I’ve noticed that there’s a type of social thinking that regards government and corporate entities as similar to the creature from The Blob -a single oozing entity where each glob is an identical part of the whole.

            But they’re more like anthills or hives, with lots of individuals. These individuals have minds, hopes, fears, are giving or selfish, willing to help or protective of their own little fiefdoms.

            There’s those who will use all the wiggle room in the rules to help a polite caller, those who only punch a clock regardless of the attitude of the people they are dealing with, and all sorts in between.

            So when you file a report, you may hit the worker who follows procedure to the letter, the one willing to take an extra step or two, or the one who doesn’t give a flying leap and doesn’t care about doing the actual job. Not Always Working is full of such stories.

            Sadly and anger-inducing, hitting one of the last when filling a report hurts the filer, and in a meta sense, everyone who depends on the department. Go to bat and strike out, I get that failure happens; but please do your job by stepping up.

    2. Not So NewReader

      NP, just wanted to say I think you are awesome. I found this inspiring, by your actions and your good attitude. I bet others felt inspired, also. Thank you for sharing your story.

  43. Marisol

    Firstly, yes, get the unibrow tweezed. Go to a professional salon to have it done the first time, and then maintain it from there. Alternately, you could spend some time reading tutorials online or looking at demonstrations on youtube and do it yourself. Just be sure not to overtweeze—err on the conservative side. It is an easy maintenance kind of task, akin to keeping one’s fingernails neat. In the ancient Roman times, unibrows on women were considered extremely attractive, but today, they are out of fashion for both women and men (and I would advise a man to pluck the unibrow as well).

    On a more substantive note, can you get the resources to pay a coach, preferably someone who specializes in Asperger’s, to advise you about this? I don’t know much about Asperger’s but based on what I do know, I fear that advice given here could be applied too broadly, when what is needed is someone who can interact with you in person and help you evaluate your needs, then teach you how to approach this situation with a little nuance. Not sure if that explanation makes sense but I hope it does. I’m a still a little groggy this morning.

    Although she is not a specialist, I learned a lot of interpersonal skills vis-a-vis business from my lifecoach and highly recommend her: http://barbaradeutschs.com/

  44. Sophia

    Not on the spectrum myself but I have watched several friends and/or clients on the spectrum deal with the question of how to identify and get work. The most successful seem to incorporate something they really love and are wildly knowledgeable about into that work, i.e. someone who loved sci-fi books got a bookstore assistant job, someone who was incredibly smart about wine started a wine store, someone who had practically memorized the entire work of the architect Inigo Jones got a filing/office assistant job at a medium size architecture company. When you are genuinely in love with teapots that can shine through and give an employer comfort in bringing you on board. Real passion about the company’s work can be pretty rare. Getting a young person who loves what that company does is a plus for all.

  45. anonycat

    vocational rehab (state run program) has helped my son. They work with employers by paying his wages while the employer teaches the new worker all about work. It’s usually a few months per stint, but he can use voc rehab for a couple years. They can also help paying for parts of college/tech school for him! It’s worth checking into whether it’s available in your state.

  46. Dan

    OP certainly has enough self awareness to list the things that might be wrong. Of the things she writes, here’s my take:

    She’s tall, extroverted, and possibly speaks loud. (Note that she makes references to all of these things in her post.) If she’s on the autism spectrum and misses non-verbal cues, I can see a LOT of room for unconscious (or even conscious) bias slipping in. This comes across to me as a very imposing woman.

    As others have mentioned, doing taped mock interviews with people who know how to interview is imperative for the OP. I could certainly be wrong in my assessment, but of the laundry list of things she lists that might be getting in the way? This combination sticks out.

  47. Expat

    Being an autistic woman is not easy, and I thoroughly empathize with how difficult and stressful you find job interviews to be. I think you’ve gotten a lot of good advice already, so I’ll limit myself to a few bullet points:

    -Try to look at jobs that play to your strengths. That’s different for every person, whether or not they’re on the spectrum. Personally, I do best in jobs which involve little (preferably none) customer interaction, where I work closely with a small team, and where I can apply my ability to think analytically about data systems. I also love computers, though of course that’s not true of everyone on the spectrum. It’s worth thinking carefully about the kinds of tasks that you like and for which you are well-suited.

    -Regarding interviews, prepare, prepare, prepare. Anticipate interview questions and practice answering them at home. Avoid memorizing your answers, but having thought them out in advance can really help. Also be sure to have a few questions tailored to the job itself. This is good jobhunting advice for everyone, but I think it’s especially important for Aspies.

    -Regarding social skills and body language in general, you’ve already gotten some great advice regarding eye contact, but I’d like to throw in my own suggestion: Watch British TV. As someone who was almost completely blind to facial expressions, shows like Downton Abbey really helped me a lot, since half the communication between characters is nonverbal. Pay careful attention to how each character’s face changes and link that to the emotional content of whatever is happening in the plot. Actually I recommend doing this in your real life conversations as well, but video is nice because you can pause and rewind as needed.

    -Develop a social algorithm. At first, this will involve listening more than you speak. Small talk happens in fixed patterns, which can be deduced via observation. Listen not just to the questions that people ask, but also how they answer them. Imitate the body language and tone of voice of the people around you, with particular attention to context. Context, context, context. People speak and behave radically differently in office meetings than they do when lunching with coworkers. A joke that might be fine between friends after hours should be carefully considered before workplace use. If you’re not certain whether a comment is right for the context, it’s best to remain silent.

    (I sometimes get in trouble with fellow Aspies for giving this advice. It’s arguably unfair to have to work so hard to compensate for who you are, and some people will say that you shouldn’t have to pretend to be neurotypical to succeed in the workplace. My response is that very little in life is fair, and that adapting to the world is an essential survival skill. People who expect the world to adapt to them will always be disappointed.)

    I wish you well, LW. My last bit of advice is to persevere. If you have any of my natural stubbornness, you can turn that to your advantage. It’s normal to feel discouraged and depressed when you can’t find a job, but don’t give up. Life is an endurance game, and if you play your cards right, each disappointment can teach you how to keep going a little longer.

    1. snuck

      (I sometimes get in trouble with fellow Aspies for giving this advice. It’s arguably unfair to have to work so hard to compensate for who you are, and some people will say that you shouldn’t have to pretend to be neurotypical to succeed in the workplace. My response is that very little in life is fair, and that adapting to the world is an essential survival skill. People who expect the world to adapt to them will always be disappointed.)

      I’m with you. You can’t change the entire world all the time, and especially on small short social contacts you aren’t going to build the relationship that would allow changes in attitudes to happen… learning to play along is also you doing your part in sharing the load – we all have to work at it… NTs, neuro diverse etc… have to find ways to have the doors open and spaces for the conversation to occur and if I bring the tea and you bring the biscuits (it’s an analogy! we both bring something to the table) then… great things can happen.

      I’ve just had to have a rather forceful conversation with my 5yr old son about why he can walk around singing “Stupid school for STUPID PPPPPPPEEEEEOPLE” hahahhaaha… He has to do his bit about not being an annoying git too!

  48. Expat

    Oh yes, one last thing: avoid therapists who specialize in autism. My experience with them has been universally negative. In general, their attitude is that people on the spectrum will always struggle with social interactions and body language and there’s nothing to be done about that. The most practical advice I’ve gotten is “Just leave if you feel overwhelmed”, which is about as useful as a screen door in a space ship. I think you’re better off seeing someone who specializes in social anxiety, since they start off with the attitude that social skills can, in fact, be improved, and can give concrete suggestions on how to do that.

    1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)

      OMG. I once had a therapist who told ne that my career struggles were because I didn’t have a “simple” job like assembly-line work; I couldn’t handle anything more complex.

      I *did* once work on an assembly line; I loathed it, was bored out of my mind, and was fired after two weeks because I wasn’t any good at it. On the other hand, I managed to graduate from a fairly demanding college cum laude.

      I left her office in a rage and never went back.

      1. Expat

        Boring me with overly simple tasks is the most reliable way to get me to underperform. Good for you for walking out on her, and congrats on your academic success.

    2. Guest

      Is this why my dad and his wife have raised my half-sister to believe that because she’s on the spectrum she is very disabled and not capable of a lot that “normal” people can do? Because of the autism therapists? Disheartening. I know from those I know that those on the spectrum have so much potential, they just might struggle a little harder to reach it.

      1. Expat

        Psychologists have done poorly by people on the spectrum throughout the course of history. (I recommend Neurotribes as a great book on the subject.) Don’t get me started on ABA. But there’s plenty of myths and misconceptions that can’t directly be attributed to institutionalized bigotry in mental health care.

        I consider myself blessed that I wasn’t diagnosed until my 30s. It was a mixed blessing, since the social problems I had as a child were considered disciplinary issues, and I was sometimes treated very harshly by teachers who were convinced I was just obnoxiously recalcitrant. But at least I wasn’t raised with the idea that I was handicapped and would never amount to much.

    3. snuck

      Find good ones!

      There are good ones….

      We (as a family) work with a Floortime specialist who is much more open… with my child with Aspergers… I’m not sure of it’s application as he gets older…

      And yes… seek specialists for other things…. Anxiety, executive function skills etc.

      Read up on neuro diversity… and social behaviours… go to the training courses that are aimed at the speech therapists and learn alongside them if you want.

      I agree social skills can be improved over time… no one is stuck in concrete! And while most adults are pretty set if you work diligently you will learn new ones – expats do it all the time in new countries….

  49. Jill

    I work for an urban public school district. We have a School-to-Career program specifically geared for our special education students (the autism/aspie spectrum falls into this category). The program includes individualized coaching for students on how to interact with hiring managers and how to conduct one’s self professionally. WE also work with area businesses to place some students in entry level jobs that pair well with their needs and abilities.

    Assuming OP has not yet graduated from high school, it is worth seeing if her public school district’s special education office have a similar program. Even if OP is home schooled or goes to private/church school, many states require services to be provided to ANY student in the jurisdiction for free. And the services are to be provided even if the student doesn’t have an Individualized Education Plan (a legal thing, for special ed students). Please don’t be discouraged, OP. Working with teachers or specialists who are trained in Special Education can help teach you some strategies you may not be aware of.

  50. Guest

    I don’t at this point have any advice to contribute, but would like to say how much I appreciate the letter, response, and comments as my half-sister is on the spectrum and dealing with much the same thing in her attempts to become independent in life. She hasn’t been served well by her parents, who haven’t prepared her for this – very sheltered life where she was told she couldn’t do so much due to being on the spectrum. I’m now trying to help her where I can, so I’ll be reading the comments eagerly.
    Come to think of it, I do have one piece of advice based on my experience with my sister. Her parents dressed her…somewhat oddly – think poor fitting prairie dresses, very shapeless clothes. I do think it’s a good idea for anyone on or off the spectrum to be aware that they should do their best to wear more current clothing that fits at least decently. The clothing my sister wore doesn’t change who she is and her abilities or potential, but it will affect how others view her.

    1. Lindsay J

      On that note – one of the most difficult things I have had to learn is that how other people view you is important.

      I used to get annoyed in school when teachers said I wasn’t paying attention because they didn’t think I looked like I was. I really was. But I needed them to believe I was. So I had to learn how to look attentive, and then look attentive.

      I didn’t understand why it mattered what clothes I wore to an interview, etc. Obviously I am the same person when I wear dress pants and when I wear jeans. But I needed to show people I respected the process, and workplace conventions in general. So I had to wear dress pants.

      I liked my coworkers. But they thought I didn’t because I didn’t say hello or goodbye to them. They couldn’t know what was in my head, they only knew how I acted, so I had to learn to say hello and goodbye to them (even though they could plainly see when I was entering and leaving).

      I guess my point is that in my mind, facts were important, and appearances weren’t. I thought I would automatically be okay in the working world because I was smart and hardworking. But that’s not enough. You don’t get a chance to show that you’re smart if you show up to an interview wearing jeans, or if you slouch and look like you’re not paying attention in the interview – you just get written off. Similarly, I’ve learned that if given the choice between someone that knows everything but is rude or unpleasant, and someone who would need a little more help in the role but is pleasant to be around, most people would much rather work with the less competent but pleasant person.

  51. Expat

    As an aside to Allison, reading this blog has been enormously helpful for coping with my Asperger’s. It’s really helped me gain a better understanding of workplace norms, identifying situations where I should be assertive vs conciliatory, and provided very useful diplomatic phrasing. Even better, attention is paid to WHY a given behavior is or is not appropriate in a certain context. Sometimes it can be hard to parse which norms are particular to American culture and which are more generally applicable, but that’s to be expected. It’s been a terrific resource for me.

    1. irene

      I jumped to reply my own before reading the 211 comments already posted, but I have to agree with Expat!

      I started reading AAM about 9-10 months ago and went through a lot of the archives and I’ve found immediate improvement in my ability to get along in the workplace, especially when I was recently promoted from first-level, part-time receptionist to a major element of the development department (which I wouldn’t have even felt confident in asking for, except for this blog, and support from the commentariat on an open thread back in June).

  52. Tabby

    I read books about the social rules of work I’ve done this for years. mom was shrewd in this topic and told me about them for years. I’m 36.

  53. Jack the Accessibility Guy

    Aspie here working in government in a somewhat people-heavy position. Something I’ve had a lot of issues with are stims and body language. I tend to stim a lot (“fidgeting,” roughly) and I ended up bringing a small rock that I can touch when I’m getting too fidgety to work. I also have a lot of issues controlling my body language – I often think of some things as a game where I have to say, look at someone in the eye at certain points – as a way to “pass.”

    Do note that in the US Asperger’s is considered a form of disability legally and so you have some legal protections.

    1. snuck

      Have you seen the kickstarter for the Fidget Cube… I might have four on order :P I’ll add a link in the next comment so it doesn’t get stuck in moderation :)

      1. Insert fake name here

        I’ve seen it and I want a stack of them XD . I tend to collect small objects for fidgeting with though. The ever-present one is a little piece of satin ribbon – I just like the feel, it’s something I can easily hide in my hands and doesn’t make any noise.

  54. C'tri

    29yr old Aspie here, I get you.

    I’m going to assume you’re not having trouble getting to the interview stage, but if you are my suggestion is recruitment agencies. They often offer great advice about your resume and suchlike, sometimes even interview coaching.

    My advice for interviews is as follows:
    1) act. When I’m in a professional situation with unfamiliar people, I try and take on the mannerisms of professional people from movies.

    Combine the adapted persona with your own experiences and self to create this professional “self”. Once you have a job you can ease out of that over time around colleagues.

    2) rehearse. They often ask competency questions. “Give an example of when you worked in a team”. For these I’ve found the best examples tend to be non standard settings with relatable goals. My favourite answer to team work or team leading is to talk about my time playing in National Lasertag championships.

    It gives them an “oh that’s exotic” reaction that piques interest before giving a textbook answer that’s exactly what they’re looking for professionally.

    3)
    I’m just going to answer your questions from the OP on the subject

    Is it because I’m a girl? – unlikely
    Is it because of my stutter? – in a customer facing roll, that can be a detractor
    I have a slight unibrow – should I tweeze it? – I am the last person to ask about appearance based judgments, so I won’t answer this
    I have Asperger’s – do they know that, and are they not hiring me because of that? – high odds they don’t. Female Aspies show different common symptoms from males, and over time we get better and better at blending in socially. Almost everyone I’ve told in recent years has been surprised to discover it.

    Should I get some sort of facial surgery or other medical procedure to make me look “more professional”? – no, professionalism is generally from mannerisms, clothing choices, and makeup (don’t go overboard and you’ll be fine). Face shape has nothing to do with “professional appearance”

    Is it my poor math skills? – not unless you’re applying for roles that use maths on a regular basis

    My loud, sometimes flat-ish voice? – maybe, try mimicking your conversational partner’s voice level. Join an acting club if there’s one available, that shit is gold for us.

    I’m not blonde – does that matter? No

    Do they know about my slight mental health issues? – No. The most obvious trait in an interview is confidence or a lack of it, which comes back to acting if confidence is a problem

    Is it something to do with my unusual parents? – no, and parentage is not a typical subject for interviews, stay away from it.
    Is it my weak back? – do you slouch? Try avoid that, straight back is good.
    My weak arms? – no
    My weak hands? – no
    My big feet? – no
    Is it my height? I mean, I’m pretty tall. – I’m not qualified to offer commentary, it wouldn’t to me
    Do I seem too indecisive? – maybe? Being decisive is good. make a decision and stick with it unless a reasonable challenge is mounted by an external entity.

    Too impulsive? – can be yes, if you’re concerned about this in interviews I suggest always spending a minimum of 2 seconds thinking about questions you haven’t prepared the answer to in advance
    Is it the fact that I have to wear glasses? – doubtful
    Am I not wearing the right colors to interviews somehow? – I’d ask a fashion advice forum
    Am I too extroverted? – generally speaking an extroverted person is going to offer more in an interview. This is a good thing, but be careful you aren’t over sharing. If unsure, play cautious.
    Does my not having a car matter? – in my country, no. In some countries yes.

    Should I be wearing more makeup? Less makeup? – fashion advice forum is my suggestion
    Do they know I have to take meds, and is that why? – no, and probably not
    Is it my teeth? – probably not, but teeth and lips get a lot of attention when speaking. keep relatively white and you’re good.

    My dark circles? – under your eyes? Maybe, often associated with tiredness, which is not the normal state for someone. Makes people wonder why.

    My slightly pointed ears? – no, honestly that actually sounds kinda cool

    Do I need different earrings? – fashion advice forum

    Different skirt? – as above

    Bring a pen? – always have a pen, and if possible with your pocket arrangement, a small notepad looks good too

    Am I over-thinking this? – this kinda shit doesn’t come naturally, so you are putting in the same amount of thought that I would expect. It’s good that you are considering all these things might be variables.

    The important thing to realise is that they cannot see beyond your surface presentation. That’s your appearance and your mannerisms.

    They cannot know about issues and meds and all that crap unless you choose to bring it up. Your brain is still developing, and will continue to do so for the next 7-8 years or so. One of the things that doesn’t kick in till very late is the ability to “see things from their point of view”.

    It is possible to hack it with enough mental discipline and practise, it’s a great skill if you can get the hang of it. Using movies, TV, books as source material it’s possible to get a baseline for how interviewers think, and what they look for.

    Build yourself the persona of an interviewer and look at yourself.

    It’s tough doing all this at 17. Practice, and it will become easier.

  55. Stitch

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but I just want to say THANK YOU!!!!! to everyone that posted advice and to Ask A Manager. My oldest is 17 and I have been wondering how to help him get a job. For various reasons college isn’t in the books for him right now, so a job moving towards independence would be what he needs most.

  56. snuck

    I have significant traits of Aspie, but probably/possibly not over the line (and at 40 I’m not in a rush to find out), I’ve had a successful career in large corporates in upper middle management running large scale projects, business analysis and so on. My son is Aspie for sure and similar to me as a child. If I’m not Aspie I have a lot of the traits, including sensory issues, face blindness, inability to read emotional/social signals like others (they overwhelm me) and at times I’m too blunt/excessively logical etc… (I’m also female)

    When I was younger I had issues getting jobs too. I was always neat, tidy, on time etc… but didn’t know how to stand like others, while I’d jump and do what I was supposed to perfectly I wouldn’t sit around and chatter with the others etc… it meant I had a long string of jobs where I was let go from them for crazy reasons “Didn’t smile at every customer so not giving every customer the same level of service” (Target cashier) and “your till was out, we know it wasn’t you, but it was your till, we know who it was but it’s your responsibility to manage your till”(in a bakery job where we would serve thousands of people a day and people would jump on other people’s tills all the time) and “You perform your job role well but don’t seem to fit well with the team” (admin jobs)… eventually I learnt that it was me, but wasn’t… I just don’t do a) customer service well, and b) I wasn’t really a team player (in fact eventually I embraced this and got a tshirt that said “Does not play well with others” as a personal joke). I had friends, I was social, I was a scout leader and a member of the volunteer emergency services…

    What did it for me was realising my strengths and seeking work in those areas. At nearly 18 this is going to be hard because it’s entry level job time – and that means lots of hanging out with others and doing entry level tasks. If you know what you are good at then follow that up, and if you know what you aren’t good at then look at jobs through that filter too… no point putting in for customer service if you are like me and don’t want to be chirpy friendly all the time (and that’s not necessarily an Aspie thing! Lots of people aren’t good at lots of jobs – normals aren’t good at everything, they have their good and not so good stuff too).

    So… find out what you are good at, and start volunteering in groups where you can show these skills. For me it was data analysis. I started in call centres asking surveys… moved up to telco call centres (where my whizz PC skills were very in demand)…. and then got a risk management position (rare to jump from call centre to corporate, but I had the skills to do what they wanted – analyse data and identify at risk, and my sales in the call centre meant that I’d learnt the way to handle people by then to get what was wanted). It wasn’t smooth sailing – eventually I moved around slowly over about 8yrs into a senior project role working at a national level on massive regulatory issues that had national impact – but to get there I had to work hard, I made mistakes (and owned them) and I found myself in a small team (yay less people!) doing most of my work by telephone (hurrah less faces!) and on regulatory projects (so not a lot of schmoozing as much as “well this is what we have to do so how shall we do it?” Someone else was good at the interpersonal, and a third person was good at the nasty engineering projects… between the three of us we did great).

    What are you good at? What sorts of groups of people do you find it easiest to be friendly with? Is there some job roles that have solid guidelines about how they are performed (my telco call centre had a script)? And… if it goes south don’t take it personally – neuro diversity isn’t well understood or accepted yet and people really make it hard for Aspies (they will easily forgive people who obviously have an issue, but they hold people who aren’t obviously different to a standard that might not be reasonable – this doesn’t mean you should tell everyone you have Aspergers, but if you find you are having problems it could be worth disclosing to a manager who is sympathetic in a calm way).

    And then… when you narrow it down… can you look at the other people already doing that job at the level you would enter at (and the level above, always good to look one step above). How do they dress? What do they look like? How do they act when they get to work, when they are there, when someone else approaches them to ask a work or non work question, what do they do in break times etc. If you can find a couple of people to emulate that could help you fit in easier…

    If you like being outdoors and are good at gardening maybe a job in a hardware or gardening store or a plant nursery or on a landscaping team… if you like computers and data and getting things right maybe a data entry style job (medical coding maybe?)… if you are someone who likes kids and working with them maybe a child care position (or your local Autism association might run programs and need youth workers)… You like retail and selling things? Then a job in a smaller niche business where your Aspie traits won’t brush up against the mainstream public as much (geek shops, specialty stores, small businesses) or places that are so busy and have a set script that it won’t be as noticable (fast food). Lots of different options beyond these!

    All your questions? It’s too hard to know. Other people don’t know what’s going on inside your head unless you tell them…. if you are applying for jobs in places where there’s a very high physical standard of presentation then your appearance could be part of it (but no job is EVER worth plastic surgery!) but that doesn’t mean you have to go for those jobs…

  57. EAW

    The Washington Post ran an article just last week about young people with autism and job-searching: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/youre-autistic-you-know-you-can-do-a-good-job-but-will-employers-listen/2016/09/22/412956bc-4dca-11e6-a422-83ab49ed5e6a_story.html. You won’t find any magic bullets in it, but it does mention a few organizations and companies that either work with or hire people on the autism spectrum. I know The Arc (http://www.thearc.org/) has chapters across the country – maybe they’d have something that’s helpful? More generally, I would think that if you can find autism-focused organizations in your area, they’d likely have tips or maybe even programs that could help. Best of luck!

  58. irene

    I’m on the spectrum, but I didn’t know until I was in my 20s. I’m 32 now.

    Do you know someone with a small business that you could work for part-time? My first jobs were all with people I knew who needed someone a couple afternoons a week to do small tasks. I bombed any kind of outside interview (I never even got called if I had to do an online personality test first), but the people I knew were aware of my social awkwardness and also that I was a hard worker, and I got to get job history and skills that way.

    I’m only on my 2nd “real” job. I had 2 or 3 small part-time learning the rope gigs in high school, then I decided to challenge myself and got a job at the mall during university (the only one that didn’t have an online pre-test, and it’s the one that called me – I don’t think they expected me to actually stay for over 6 years, and I probably shouldn’t’ve), then a temp office job, and now my current job (where I have been for 7 years and just got a major promotion). I got my current job because one of my mom’s friends was hiring a temp to fill in for a crunch time, and while I was there a similar position opened and they asked if I wanted to stay on.

    A lot of the social skills stuff is just practice and learning. I have trouble remembering to actually do the things I’ve learned, so I could probably be better off than I am. But just watching other people and experimenting to study responses when I mimic is always helpful. I’ve never worried about my appearance and don’t wear makeup or anything, I just make sure my clothes are generally tidy and clean and appropriate to the occasion (I stick with boring midrange mall stores like Ann Taylor, so that it’s easy to dress – I have no idea how people do personal fashion and I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out), and I read a lot of advice columns (even when they aren’t particularly relevant! lots of understanding of how people work and what’s appropriate behavior) and novels. I also learned a lot about work etiquette from asperger’s forums and communities, and of course in the last year AAM has been super good for me.

    My mom is an HR professional so I ask her for help navigating work stuff a lot. She laughs at me sometimes because I have little rules and descriptions based on what I see that maybe aren’t exactly common ways of looking at worklife… of course now I can’t remember all the ones she has remarked on, but Coworker Friendliness Points are always on my mind, I have a mental list of things that earn or lose points and really it’s just normal social niceties I guess? but i have to remember to do them so I have a little running tally in my head, and it makes it easier to work with other people if I have a lot of points saved up, or if I mess up and I’m accidentally rude or something, I have my mental list of point-earning things to make up for my mess up. I mean, things like saying good morning or having a stash of ibuprofen and chocolate and mints and stuff in my desk for sharing or asking for advice/opinions about things that don’t really matter.

    OH and clearly aspie behaviors: if you have certain stims or behaviors that you worry are making you stand out, you can change them! You might not do away with the behaviors altogether, but you can turn them to something else. I got myself to stop sucking my thumb as a teenager by holding my thumb inside my fist. I learned to modulate my voice better by constantly singing along with the radio or mimicking the NPR stories. Plus, sometimes it’s just age? as I got older, I’ve learned better what kinds of things bother me and also have had more practice at learning how to blend in. I’m by no means great, but unless I’m having a particularly bad day, most people would never know. And I can’t remember the last time I looked into someone’s eyes while talking to them. (By which I mean: I don’t. Eyebrows, ears, cheeks are all close enough!)

    Maybe I don’t have the best advice. I’ve only had 2 real jobs in 12 years and I didn’t really start feeling confident and capable about my autistic nature until recently, and you’re just starting out in that space when I didn’t have any coping skills or even knew why I had so much trouble navigating the world compared to my peers. But you’re on a good start, reading AAM and asking for advice!

  59. lyssinflannel

    I would say that paying close attention to social cues may be beneficial for you. A good friend of mine has a situation much like yours, so I understand what it’s like to interview and be turned down without truly knowing why. But, I can tell you my good friend now has two jobs that she really loves and totally deserves. She worked hard to get there, and you’ll get there, too. While I’m not on the spectrum, I do have a stutter. When I say about I know what it’s like to interview and be turned down without truly knowing why – I truly know what that feels like. I graduated college right when the economy tanked and it took me a long time to get where I am today, and I think that I beat myself up entirely too much along the way because of my stutter. Yes, I know I was a perfect fit for a lot of the roles I interviewed for and I also know the reason I didn’t get them is because of my speech. I know how painful that realization is and how hard it is to overcome. I used to hide my speech and do whatever I could to keep my interviewer from knowing because I was ashamed of it and thought they’d assume that my having a fluency problem automatically correlated to my being a poor employee. Then, when interviewing for my current job, I stopped caring. I was having a very tough few months with my speech and fighting it was becoming too exhaustive. So, I advocated for myself and announced that although I do stutter, it has never impacted my work or performance. And I rolled with it. And you know what? I think I impressed my now-boss because saying something like that isn’t easy, regardless of the circumstances. My best advice would be to keep up your hard work, and don’t try to be anything or anyone you’re not. Something will come along – I promise you!

  60. Insert fake name here

    The more I read about ASD the more I feel like it describes me particularly well. But I am not diagnosed so probably best not to take my advice as coming from an Aspie, just see if it makes sense to you.

    I found that practicing interviews really didn’t work for me. Invariably the person playing the interviewer part was as awkward about it as I was and tended to cope with that by being either too serious or not at all serious which just led to me second guessing my answers and feeling more embarrassed about my ability to come up with them than if I didn’t practice at all. Not great for my confidence. Instead I read a lot about common interview questions and example answers even right before the interview and making up answers that fit the same style but adapted for my circumstances in my head. That was I could mimic things about the scope and style of the answers to fit the situation. My first interview ever I didn’t do that and it was a disaster – they started by asking me to “tell us a little about yourself” to which I initially froze then ended up giving the poor interviewers my life story (born in, grew up here, siblings are, parents do this, went to school here etc etc). I also pay a lot of attention to the interviewers behavior so I can adapt mine to match (i.e. relaxed/joking/smiling or serious/analytical or friendly but conservative).

    I’ve seen a lot mentioned here about eye contact and it’s also something I’m bad at – though I generally answer my “greatest weakness” questions by saying that I am shy which conveniently excuses it while being pretty unimportant to my field. I’ve noticed that less eye contact can be fine if you make it at strategic times – when first meeting/shaking hands, for a few seconds each time the interviewer starts to talk, briefly before and slightly longer just after answering a question is what seems to work for me (like others I find it almost impossible to think about my answers while maintaining eye contact). Also reading up on how much eye contact is normal really helped because it lessened that feeling of ‘argh I feel awkward meeting your eyes so you must be feeling awkward about it too’.

  61. SebbyGrrl

    It’s been said already in a lot of ways but once more –

    There is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. It is none of the reasons you wonder and also all of the reasons.

    This site bears out that navigating the workplace is CRAZY. And equally so in different parts for neurotypical and people we call ‘Normal’.

    I’ve met A LOT of ‘normal’ people in the work place who are awful.

    So while some suggestions like having your eye brows professionally done and how to otherwise polish yourself are true and great (I get my nose waxed ;[] makes me feel tons better about my appearance) in reality you are probably pretty alright/good to go in the appearance dept.

    We all have weaknesses, you not your arms and back – if it’s truly a lack of strength/muscle tone, look at ways to build that strength. I am a big gal and I have been doing pilates for 13 years now. It’s the only thing I have ever loved and been able to build a practice in because my teachers accepted that weight loss or body type wasn’t my measure (or theirs) of success.

    I managed a studio for a while and 3 of our teachers each had one student who was on the spectrum. One had really weak legs and feet and that made him wobbly and unstable – they worked at it and he graduated college and got a fairly physical job. So maybe check out pilates – but there are crazy people there too so your mileage may vary.

    What I am trying to say is actually to my 18 year old self – if you have properly prepared as best you can, be clear about that and even if you fail to get this job there is a job for you and there’s nothing “Wrong about you as a person” in this it’s challenging for a lot of people and the rest are mostly fibbing if they say it’s always easy.

    Sometimes you do every single thing you need to do and you do it perfectly and the result is not successful – the result is not successful – but you are successful.

    One last thing, what f you planned to fail? Engage in a job application process, do all the work but plan to fail, maybe even challenge yourself to 3 failures in 2 weeks or get really into it and plan to fail 10 job processes.

    Planning to fail and living in that framework while it’s happening and expected is some how freeing. I did this with a friend who couldn’t get a date. He planned to ask 3 girls out in 7 days and fail each time. Girl 2 was a success and they dated for a couple of years. I’m thinking there may be something magic in that process that agrees with your aspie-ness and might help you up and over the current hurdle.

    You can do this!

    Everyone here is rooting for you! Please update us with your results!

    1. Seven If You Count Bad John

      You posted this while I was writing mine :) Pilates is a good suggestion. So’s yoga. So’s aerials (I know we’ve got at least one other aerialist who comments here.)

  62. Seven If You Count Bad John

    I have two things to suggest I haven’t seen mentioned yet. The first is a tumblr called “Social Skills for Autonomous People” that is owned by a person on the spectrum and has tons of good stuff for people who have all sorts of issues (there’s quite a bit for people who have chronic illness and other physical disabilities in addition to mental and neurological misfires). I’m neurotypical, but I’m “awkward” as they used to call it, and I find a lot of helpful tips in there.

    The other thing I noticed in these comments is that while there is good advice on grooming and polish and so forth, nobody has brought up the thing the OP says about “weak back”, “weak arms”, “weak hands”. I don’t have any way of knowing whether you’re objectively weaker than average, of if you feel you *ought* to be stronger/more nimble/etc, or if this is because of an existing physical condition that means you’re just going to be weak. But in terms of low-hanging fruit, being weak is a fairly straightforward thing to address. A program of strengthening excercise doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, and making progress in such a program can help with self-confidence, how you carry yourself (so you present with confidence), and so forth. Obviously, do what’s appropriate and reasonably fun for your physiognomy (I for example, have exercise-induced asthma, so jazzercise cardio is pretty much out of the question, but I can lift weights.)

    The cool thing about strength training is you make progress very fast at first before you plateau. So if “weakness” bothers you, you can probably do stuff to become stronger. It might not directly lead to you getting a job, but what the heck, it at least takes that concern off the table.

    The above is all predicated on OP not having some chronic condition that precludes strength training, of course.

  63. Julie Noted

    OP, good on you for writing in. You’re clearly very conscientious which is a HUGE positive. As someone mentioned upthread, the fact that you’re reading a workplace blog at 17 is awesome.

    I also want to second everyone who said that there’s nothing wrong with you or your appearance. Please don’t let the ridiculous beauty standards society projects at young women make you believe that you have to drastically alter the way you look to be acceptable to an employer.

    Lots of good advice here on subtle social communication tricks. I wanted to add a couple from my own experience, for what they’re worth. I have a couple of immediate family members who have Aspergers; I don’t but I think it’s fair to say that my own instinctive social skills are below average. (Gotten a lot better with deliberate learning and practice!)

    Something I noticed that I do, if I’m not sure that someone has really understood what I’m saying, is to keep talking and making the same point several times in different ways. I used to do this a lot because (in my head at least) I was trying to convey complex concepts and if I didn’t get obvious positive receptive signals from the listener mid-sentence, I assumed I hadn’t made my point well enough. To the listener it probably comes off as verbal diarrhoea; maybe even an unfocused, rambling mind. Once I realised that I was doing this, I decided to take a different approach: make my point and give the listener the benefit of the doubt. If they need me to clarify, they will. It’s been really effective – I’m accused of talking too much less often, and credited for making good points more often. Yay :)

    A different thing that I’ve noticed with my relatives: if they’re enthusiastic about something they’ll talk non-stop, not allowing space for anyone else to contribute to the conversation; but if something doesn’t excite them they will speak in flat monosyllables or zone out altogether, with a glassy-eyed expression. Middle ground is the way to go! One family member got knocked back for a job they were well qualified for because the interviewer felt that they didn’t really want the job. Discussing the interview, I can see how that impression came about. When a question about non-core tasks came up, my relative’s response was a lifeless, resigned “yeah, I suppose I could do that”.

    I’m not suggesting candidates should pretend that their life’s dream is stacking shelves or filing or sweeping or whatever mundane tasks are associated with the job they’re applying for — and *ever* job has its mundane side — but a positive ‘not a problem’ attitude assures me that I won’t have to cajole my employee into doing anything they don’t think is fun or interesting enough. In my line of work it’s documentation. I don’t need my team to love documentation, but it’s critical to quality control and I need people for whom quality matters. So for the uninteresting stuff, candidates who can say “I recognise that X is important because of Y and I’m committed to doing that well for you” get a big tick from me.

    Best of luck. Let us know how you go!

  64. Tick Tick

    I once interviewed someone who was Aspie. He told me in the interview that he had aspergers, he didn’t think it would be an issue in the role and that he was always open/welcomed feedback, that most social situations are fine but that he if he comes off in the interview its just interview nerves playing into his aspergers.

    I thought that was a really straightforward and reassuring thing of him to say. I wasn’t at all concerned about it but the fact that he mentioned it and his openness to people letting him know if he missed social clues was nice. He didn’t get the job because we found a stronger candidate with more experience but he was a strong candidate.

    I don’t know if that helps any but its the only contribution I can think to give you.

  65. abankyteller

    OP, my young child has autism. He is very bright but worries often. Your letter has given me a glimpse into what I imagine his future might be like. You sound very anxious and I know firsthand how much anxiety can affect your life. I hope you’re all right.

    I want to echo some comments above, about practicing with a trusted adult, and that you are just fine the way you are and please know you are beautiful.

    If you feel like you can, please show your letter to your parents. If you were my child and feeling this way, I’d want to know so I could help you.

    Good luck in your search! You’ll get a job, I promise!

  66. Machiamellie

    I have Aspergers, and I wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 39. As a result, I worked for 20+ years without knowing why my behavior was different, and being constantly told that my body language and other communication was “wrong.” I had to adapt and learn the “right” way of doing things, if I wanted to keep working – and I did jump around quite a bit during my career.

    I’ve found that I’m very adept at learning how I’m supposed to behave and mirroring it. For example, my natural tendency in meetings is to cross my arms and look at my notes or the table as I think about what I’m hearing. But I was told that’s “wrong,” so now I look at my coworkers and try to look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I can maintain the “right” behavior for the length of a meeting, then I take time to decompress and go back to being me.

    I’m also very good at interviewing. I’ve learned the right way to behave, look them in the eye, shake hands, smile, etc. I can maintain it for an hour or so for an interview.

    I can’t recommend enough that you play-act with someone you trust, both as the interviewer and the interviewee, until you’re comfortable with how you can behave in the situation.

    I actually work in the HR world (I know, weird for an Aspie) so if the OP would like to talk with me privately, I’m happy to help. Alison can get in touch with me and I can give her my contact info.

  67. Hazel Asperg

    Autistic thirty-something here, who has had about a dozen different jobs. I didn’t get my first job until I was 22. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 27.

    It’s so stressful, isn’t it? Not being able to read others’ body language means we miss out on so much information that others seem to pick up so easily, and so we can start to doubt everything about ourselves. I can entirely empathise.

    In my experience, what worked in order to grow my confidence was lots of volunteering. It taught me ways of behaving in professional work environments, what kinds of behaviour to exhibit, how to be polite and helpful and courteous, how to take orders and – crucially, for me at least – how to try to put my ego aside and get on with the job at hand. Volunteering means less pressure – you aren’t risking monetary income; your work will be far less pressured; you may be able to have specific help and training from people experienced in helping those with Autism.

    It can take a time to learn to establish appropriate relationships with coworkers and different kinds of appropriate relationships with managers. These are the things everyone needs to learn, but for us it is harder and takes much longer.

    Best of luck. It can happen. :)

  68. Heina

    Hi, autistic adult here. I’ve managed to “pass” as quirky but because I wasn’t diagnosed as a kid, I’ve had burnout as an adult, which makes it harder for me to keep doing that. Here is what I wished someone had told me as a new worker.

    I apologize if I repeat anything said upthread as I stumbled on this very later and can’t bring myself to read all the things. Also, if you have follow-up questions or want support from me or other autistic adults, I don’t mind if you contact me (I’m very easy to find online, you can google just my first name and I’m right there).

    First off, I’m going to disagree a little with Alison here. As an autistic person, a phrase like “relatively neat and groomed” can feel intimidatingly broad and meaningless. Generally speaking, we autistic types tend to care less about appearance than allistic folks do, which can be a problem. For me, what has worked for interviews has been erring on the side of formal. Not suit-level for a casual job, but nice slacks and button down, or a decent dress with a blazer. You can always get more casual as is appropriate at that workplace, but going more formal to compensate is harder.

    Secondly, allistics tend to care less about efficiency and more about perceived friendliness and performative emotional investment. That means that even if you do a perfect technical job of something, they won’t be satisfied if they don’t think you care. Doing a good job should be enough to prove you care, I know, but they want you to do things like complain, chat, sigh, smile, and so on as appropriate. Otherwise, they think you’re not invested.

    Thirdly, allistics hate blunt expressions of what they perceive to be assumed, delicate social norms. This is relevant in the workplace if, say, you casually mention the power dynamics that exist between a supervisor and an employee (I have done this and it wasn’t at all hostile, but the perceived audacity in my declaration of something obvious to others was a problem).

    Fourthly, beware of casual workplaces in the sense that they are never as casual or friendly as they will tell you they are. A more structured or traditional workplace may have some drawbacks, but they are more likely to be upfront with you about what is OK or not OK and what they expect you to do.

    Last, but not least, I hope you take heart. Being autistic may not seem that way right now, but certain aspects of who we are really help us later in life. My ability to consciously read a room (rather than relying on that magic that allistics have that we don’t in terms of somehow knowing what’s up without thinking about it), quickly decode and explain assumed norms, and literal nature have helped me to climb upwards in my field (technical writing) fairly quickly.

  69. Morgan

    I’m on the spectrum, although my official diagnosis is PDDNOS, not Asperger’s. Eye contact is key in interviews, and something Auties oftentimes have trouble with. If you can’t focus on the eyes, look at the bridge of their nose. They won’t notice a difference. Try not to fidget, but if you must, do something like squeezing your hands under the table or rotating your foot – NO ROCKING OR HAND FLAPPING. On a general note, bring a folder with a pencil/pen, a pad of paper, and two copies of your resume. At the beginning of the interview, shake the person’s hand, sit down, and say “I brought a copy of my resume in case you need it,” and give one of your copies to them. Take notes on your pad of paper with any details you might find important. Also bring a set of questions to ask the employer when they say “Do you have any questions for me?” I usually write them on one page of my pad, number them, and then number the next few sheets so I have a whole page to write each of the answers. You can look up good questions to ask online. With this strategy I managed to land 2 jobs without any prior interview experience. Hope this helps!

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