By guest writer Jackson McMahan
Navigating the job market can be a daunting task for anyone, but if you're neurodivergent, it can present a unique set of challenges. Being neurodivergent can impact nearly everything in your life, such as how you learn, how you communicate, and how you manage tasks. This means that traditional job interviews, which are often designed with neurotypical people in mind, may pose obstacles for neurodivergent people.
Everyone has a right to meaningful employment, and being neurodivergent should not be a barrier to achieving professional goals. With the right preparation and strategies, neurodivergent job seekers can not only overcome potential challenges but also leverage their unique strengths to stand out in a competitive job market.
This blog post will shine a light on these challenges and, more importantly, offer helpful advice for navigating the job interview process. The advice in question will include what to do before, during, and after the interview, plus some tips for seeking support and accommodations.
Understanding How Being Neurodivergent Impacts Job Hunting
Before listing the strategies for successful job interviewing, it's important to understand the neurodivergent spectrum itself. Neurodivergence covers many conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. Each of these conditions comes with its own set of traits, strengths, and challenges, and will impact the job search and interview process in different ways. For example, someone with ADHD might excel in high-energy environments but struggle with maintaining focus during lengthy interviews. Similarly, an autistic individual might have exceptional attention to detail but experience difficulties with nonverbal cues.
It's important to recognize these individual differences because they impact how you approach your job search and the types of roles and work environments where you might thrive. In addition, understanding your unique strengths and challenges is the first step toward effectively communicating them to potential employers. Whether it's your ability to think outside the box, your high level of focus on tasks at hand, or your extraordinary creative skills, these attributes can be valuable assets in the workplace.
So, whether you're in the early stages of understanding your neurodivergence or have known about it for a while, remember to focus not only on the potential challenges but also on the unique strengths you bring to the table. And as you move forward in your job search, let this understanding guide you toward opportunities where your talents can shine.
Preparing effectively for a job interview is important for all job seekers, but it can be particularly crucial for neurodivergent people. After all, a neurodivergent person’s communication difficulties can make talking to someone else (especially a stranger) more difficult. The following steps can help you feel more prepared and confident going into your interview.
Understand the Job and Company
Begin by thoroughly researching the company and the specific role you're applying for. Go beyond the job description and look at the company's culture, mission, recent projects or achievements, and any available staff testimonials. This information can help you understand what the company values in its employees and provide you with valuable context to relate your skills and experiences to the role during your interview.
Prepare for Typical Interview Questions
Next, prepare for common interview questions. This can include general questions like "Tell me about yourself" or "Why do you want this job?", as well as behavioral or situational questions that ask you to draw on your past experiences. Practice framing your responses in a way that highlights your strengths and relevant skills. Also, consider potential questions related to your neurodivergence. Think about how you might explain any accommodations you may need without focusing solely on your challenges.
Match Your Experience to the Job Description
When looking at a job description, you will see what employers expect from people applying for the position. You can use this to your advantage by creating answers to expected questions that blend your past experiences and existing skills with the job description. It helps make it seem like your past experiences have prepared you for this job you’re applying for.
Rehearse and Role-Play
Consider conducting mock interviews with a trusted friend, family member, or career coach. They can provide feedback, help you improve your responses, and reduce anxiety about the real interview. Practice managing eye contact and non-verbal communication during these mock sessions as well.
Create a List of Questions to Ask the Interviewer
Having your own set of questions shows you're engaged and interested in the role and the company. These could be about the company culture, expectations, growth opportunities, if you can work from home, or specific details about the role. If you want, you could even try asking them while rehearsing the interview questions.
Basically, pre-interview preparation is about ensuring you feel as comfortable and prepared as possible. By understanding the job and the company, practicing responses to common questions, rehearsing how you are going to answer questions, and planning for potential sensory triggers, you can walk into your interview ready to present your best self.
Tips and Strategies for Interview Day
The day of the interview can understandably bring a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Here are some tips to help you manage the day effectively and perform your best.
Strategies for Before the Interview
Plan to arrive early for your interview. This gives you time to compose yourself, adjust to the environment, and prevent any stress related to being late.
Use Stress Management Techniques
Prior to your interview, employ stress management techniques that work for you. These could be deep-breathing exercises, listening to calming music, or a brief meditation session.
Listen Carefully and Ask for Clarification When Needed
Make sure you understand the interviewer's questions fully before responding. If you didn’t understand the question, then ask the interviewer to clarify it.
Let the Interviewer Know if You Need a Minute to Think About it
There is no guarantee that you will be able to answer every question quickly, so whenever it seems to be taking a while to come up with the perfect answer, let the interviewer know that you need a minute to think about the question before you can answer it. Just remember that this isn’t permission to take too long answering the question so try to still answer the question sooner rather than later.
Convey Thoughts Clearly and Succinctly
Structure your thoughts before speaking to provide clear, concise responses. If you tend to veer off-topic, gently remind yourself to return to the main point.
Manage Nonverbal Communication
Manage your nonverbal cues to the best of your ability. If maintaining eye contact is challenging, try looking at the interviewer's nose or forehead. Practice a firm handshake and observe your posture to show confidence.
If you struggle to listen while also maintaining eye contact, if you’re comfortable, it’s okay to own it and say something like, “I realize that eye contact is expected here, but I can focus better on what you’re saying while I’m looking away. It doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”
Other Strategies for During the Interview
Demonstrate Your Strengths
Use your responses to highlight your unique strengths. Discuss past experiences where you've used your neurodivergent traits to your advantage.
If you are interviewing for a job in which a portfolio of your work is appropriate, make sure to present this in an attractive manner. Showing an employer you can do a great job rather than telling them is infinitely more powerful.
Emphasize Why You Should be Hired Over Other Candidates
Remember that this interview is your chance to highlight what makes you a great candidate for this job, so make sure to mention what you can uniquely bring to the table over other candidates.
Explain Your Challenges When Appropriate
If you end up discussing your neurodivergence, frame it positively by focusing on your abilities and how you manage your challenges.
Ending the Interview
As the interview concludes, thank the interviewer for their time and ask about the next steps in the process. This shows your continued interest in the role and helps you know what to expect moving forward.
With these strategies in place, you can navigate the interview day more comfortably, showcasing your abilities and suitability for the role. The key is to stay authentic, making sure the interviewer gets a clear picture of the unique value you bring to the table.
The period after a job interview can be just as important as the preparation and the interview itself. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this stage.
Reflect on How the Interview Went
Take some time after the interview to reflect on your performance. Consider what went well and what you think could be improved. Reflection can be a powerful tool for personal growth as it helps you learn from each experience to better prepare for future interviews.
Send a Follow-up Thank You Note or Email
A few hours after the interview, or the following day, send a thank you note to your interviewer. This message should express your gratitude for their time, reiterate your interest in the role, and may briefly highlight a key point from the interview that made the role or company particularly appealing to you.
Be Patient When Waiting for a Response
The waiting period after an interview can be nerve-wracking. Try to stay patient and keep in mind that hiring processes can take time – often longer than job candidates prefer. If you do not receive a response after a considerable amount of time, you can try sending a polite follow-up email asking for updates.
Know How to Handle Possible Outcomes
The period between ending the interview and learning if you got the job is a period of uncertainty. At the end of this period, if you receive a job offer, congratulations! If not, try to avoid being discouraged. Rejection can be an opportunity for growth. If comfortable, you can ask the hiring manager for feedback to understand how you could improve in future interviews.
Remember, each interview is a learning experience, regardless of the outcome. The post-interview phase is an opportunity for growth, gratitude, and perseverance, as you continue to navigate your job search.
Remember that for most people, job hunting is a numbers game – the more jobs you apply for, the more interviews you will have, and the more likely you are to land a job!
Seeking Support and Accommodations
Navigating the job search and interview process as a neurodivergent person can have its unique challenges, but remember, you're not alone. There are resources and support systems in place to help you. Moreover, advocating for your needs is not only permitted but is also encouraged.
Self-Advocate and Ask for Accommodations When Needed
Self-advocacy is an important skill. Don't hesitate to ask for accommodations during the interview process if they will help you better demonstrate your capabilities. This can be anything from requesting a quiet interview room to having questions sent in advance to needing a moment to compose your thoughts during the interview.
Know If, When, and How to Disclose Your Disability
An important thing to remember about requesting accommodations is that you may need to disclose your disability while doing so. The Job Accommodation Network is a phenomenal resource on everything related to disabilities and employment, including your legal rights.
How and when you disclose your disability is a very individual thing, so make sure to research this ahead of time and have a plan. If you don’t want to disclose your disability, then try emphasizing the benefits and outcomes of accommodations over your disability when requesting them.
Look Up Resources Available for Neurodivergent Job Seekers
There are many resources available to support you in your job search. Career counselors and job coaches specializing in neurodivergence can offer personalized advice and coaching.
There are also numerous online communities, support groups, and forums where you can connect with other neurodivergent people who are going through the same process. Online resources, books, and webinars can also provide valuable information and strategies.
If you have struggled in the past to get and keep a job, your state’s vocational rehabilitation program can probably help! Just Google “[my state] vocational rehabilitation” to find out how to contact them. Then reach out and ask to be assessed for services. You do not necessarily need a formal diagnosis to qualify.
The job search process can feel daunting, but remember, you have strengths, rights, and resources available. Advocating for your needs and seeking support when necessary are not signs of weakness but are steps toward securing a workplace where you can thrive.
Navigating the job market can be challenging for neurodivergent individuals, but with the right strategies, they can overcome obstacles and showcase their unique strengths. By understanding how being neurodivergent impacts job hunting, preparing effectively for interviews, employing communication and stress management techniques, and reflecting on their performance, neurodivergent job seekers can increase their chances of success. It's important to stay authentic, highlight strengths, and address challenges when appropriate.
Navigating the job market and the interview process as a neurodivergent person can seem daunting, but remember, your unique neurodivergent traits can provide valuable skills and perspectives in many work environments. Remain confident in your abilities, be patient with the process, and most importantly, never stop advocating for yourself. You have a unique and valuable contribution to make in the world of work. Be bold, be proud, and let your neurodivergent flag fly high!