Finding a new job while on the spectrum
May 26, 2017 5:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm a middle-aged, low-support autistic woman, and I need a new job. The trouble is, my condition makes me really, irredeemably bad at all the things you need to get a new job--networking, getting references, interviews, making a good impression on new coworkers. How can I begin to approach this?

First off, let me say that I'm currently in therapy with a fantastic therapist, but there is only so much that can be done in one hour a week, particularly when I have problems besides this one.

I also realize that the things I listed--references, interviews, etc.--are really hard for everyone, but they are not only difficult for me, I am actively bad at them. I will walk into a situation such as an interview with my most wistful, hopeful attitude about it ("you're prepared; let's just see how it goes") and within minutes, totally bomb it by blurting out a non sequitur. I also have a tendency to gradually start melting, the longer I stay in a situation, to the point where I feel dazed and incoherent.

I was able to get my current job, many years ago, because I looked good on paper and the person interviewing me was literally checking and replying to email during the interview. I would love nothing more than to get a quiet little job as a secretary or something along those lines for a benevolently distracted boss, but sadly you can't search for those terms on job search sites.

The worst part is that in reading blogs and forum posts by other autistic people, the consensus seems to be that in order to succeed with this condition, you must become indispensably good at something. I've spent my life trying to do that and failing, thus making me even more despondent about the situation.

I really need to earn $17-18 an hour in a lower COL area.

Does the hive mind have any advice? Are you a successfully employed autist, and how did you make it happen?
posted by whistle pig to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I would love nothing more than to get a quiet little job as a secretary or something along those lines for a benevolently distracted boss, but sadly you can't search for those terms on job search sites.

But you can find them by cold calling or cold e-mailing. I see from your previous posts you are good at research and writing. You can always call places and say, "Do you need a researcher or a writer?" If they say yes, ask, "can you can pay $17 or $18 an hour?" If they can, arrange a time to go to the interview, if they can't, ask them if they have any research or writing projects they would be interested in getting done on a total fee basis (process cost plus day fee).
This process allows you to narrow your search to a mileage radius so you're not doing too much traveling, which should make life easier for you. Don't forget that if you're working for yourself you'll need to file quarterly. An option you might consider is transcription. I have a friend who started on Fiverr and makes $18 per 15 minutes of tape. Law firms, medical offices, and others use transcription services.
posted by parmanparman at 5:53 AM on May 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thanks, parmanparman. FWIW, I actually trained to be a proofreader for court reporters, and have spent years trying to work as a freelance writer, but find that when I'm setting out to find work I get hopelessly overanalytical and bogged down. I don’t know if it’s an executive function thing or what. I’m not good at the hustle. I also would need to earn a lot more than $17 or 18 an hour, due to self-employment taxes. All of which is not to dismiss your comment--I would love to do work like that, but haven’t figured out how to do it.
posted by whistle pig at 6:20 AM on May 26, 2017

Have you thought about starting with a temp agency? Let them know you are not very social but a hard and thorough worker that will excel at jobs others might find "boring." You might be able to use this route to find a temp-to-perm situation.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:22 AM on May 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Would temp work work?
posted by aniola at 6:23 AM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

At the risk of thread-sitting, I will mention that I'd considered temping before, but it seems to be universally viewed as a bad idea to willingly move from full-time, permanent employment to temping. However, in my case maybe it makes sense?
posted by whistle pig at 6:40 AM on May 26, 2017

No, do not quit the job you have just to go temping! That's a very, very risky gamble.

What you can do is sign up with any recruiting agencies in your area and let them know you are looking for full-time, permanent work. The recruiter can then send you on interviews and you won't have to quit your job until you get another offer.

I recommend reading Ask A Manager - that column is absolutely awesome when it comes to job-related questions. Today being Friday, Alison usually puts a "free for all" question thread up, and you can ask this question there to get some targeted work-related answers.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:52 AM on May 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have terrible anxiety and don't do well at all in interviews. Also not a networker or a hustler. I've had extremely good luck with temping, because I can demonstrate that I'm a good employee through my work, rather than through talking or charisma or whatever. If you interview with a company for a temp assignment it's almost always short and focused on your abilities and time management. I smile a lot and dress professionally and that seems to be enough. Tell the agency you don't want a client facing role and like detail-oriented work - that should get you placed in quieter environments.

Temping is great because you get a chance to really evaluate a position and organization before you work there on a long term basis.
posted by Stonkle at 7:07 AM on May 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not diagnosed, but I'm either on the spectrum or dealing with something similar. You sound like me when I started interviewing! I got past it by just interviewing a lot, especially for jobs I didn't think I could get. It's easier to go into monologuing-mode if you don't actually feel like your livelihood is on the line, and interviewing is one of those rare times where monologuing is a good thing... :)

For what it's worth, I am a researcher in the private sector; my company is similar to a research institute or think tank (though our mission and funding model are different). Something like that might be a good fit for you if it's available where you live. You said that you get bogged down because you're overanalytical; that's what my job pays me to do...
posted by capricorn at 8:13 AM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe just come out with it when they say, "Tell us a few things about yourself!" (usually the beginning). "I'm interested in this job because [quickly prove you did some research into the employer]. I sometimes suspect I'm not quite neurotypical, which makes me good at a few things [example, example, example], and it means [then list quickly a few things that might happen in the interview that if they weren't warned might startle them]. Also, I like sailing, I'm a huge fan of tomato sandwiches, and I trained my dog to find truffles in my back yard." So it's not the most important thing about you, it's one quality, and it's mixed, like everything else. I have a friend who has this interview problem. I often wish I could interview for him. Without exception in evewry job he becomes indispensable, but it's rare that employers give him a chance, we suspect because he has that monologue thing. It is exhausting, but that shouldn't mean he's unemployable. Listen for two minutes and you learn and learn! It infuriates me that people don't see what's going on and see past that one obvious weakness (which, viewed from another angle, isn't even a weakness) to his even more obvious and valuable strengths. Agree that you should go on many many interviews for practice. Agree that leaving fulltime for temp doesn't sound like a good plan.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:31 AM on May 26, 2017

Since you are not good at hustling and you definitely should not leave a full time job for temp work, I suggest, as I did for a question a week ago, that you consider finding an advocate to front your job search. This strategy explicitly tells employers:
1. You are on the spectrum but you are employable, vouchsafe guaranteed through this third party. It could be your therapist, an independent living non-profit in your area, or a combination of the two.
2. You have access to support outside of work that could conceivable assist you and employer in bettering your performance in role over time.
That said, neither one of those things may actually create the opportunity of a role for you by itself. So my suggestion is that you go to a recruiter with this package: reference from therapist/independent living support worker in PDF; work samples in PDF; resume in word format without your name or contact information; resume in word format with your name and contact information; and, further references to contact as PDF. What you are asking a recruiter to do is find you a permanent, full-time equivalent position.
Since you are looking for $18-per-hour, they are looking for a job paying $37,440 or above. The recruiter would earn a commission between 15% and 30% to fill an open spot, meaning a payoff for their hard work of between $5,600 and $10,000. That should get a recruiter interested. What's in your favor:
1. You've had your job for many years, so there's no question that you are employable and able to hold down a job once you're in it.
2. You are bringing with you support that even the most amazing non-spectrum person simply does not have.
3. You are admitting your failings and showing how you are working tirelessly to improve yourself, which is what all employers want to see.
Don't go exclusive with one company but go out and really review the market locally. There are probably temp firms that will laugh at the idea but you have to press them to see your potential using your support team as a conduit. Remind them these are not helicopter parents, they are people you trust, regularly consult on improving your outlook and coping skills, and who are there when needed - something that most candidates simply do not have and never considered assembling. It will take some hustle but a great way in is one question: "Are you looking to improve your company's profile as an equal opportunity recruiter?" No, and ask why not. Yes, arrange a meeting at their office. Tell them if they are successful in landing you a permanent role, you will do a public testimonial for them after the rebate period finishes.
Good luck!
posted by parmanparman at 10:06 AM on May 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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