Dear Coach Joan,
It was delightful meeting you on the plane when we were both flying East. And thank you for suggesting that I write in with my concern. My husband is an engineer and in the last few years he’s worked as a contractor which has required him to interview for new positions quite frequently. He’s an excellent engineer but he is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of trouble with interviews. He would like to get a permanent position but again, those are tough to find.
I appreciate any tips on how to help him with interviews and negotiations. I suggested we hire you to work with him one on one but he has too many fears of meeting with a coach.
So glad you followed up with me. As we discussed, I have worked with clients who are on the autism spectrum and I feel they are very much like clients who happen to be very shy, introverted people. When it comes to interviewing and establishing relationships on the job, the following skills are really important to learn and practice. I can understand he might not want to work with a new person, a coach, a stranger. But luckily, he has you and I can guide you in some skills areas to focus on:
- EYE CONTACT: Eye contact is #1 because it is a necessary skill for all occasions where one has to meet with new people. And it just takes practice. You can really help your husband by reminding him to smile and look right into the person’s eyes, that the new person will also be exploring his face to find that it is friendly and open to conversation. This is a KEY point. Remind him that everyone has some level of apprehension about meeting new people. If he focuses on making the other person feel comfortable, with a warm smile and looking directly into their face with eye contact, it will ease the situation on both sides. Yes, practice, practice, practice. I suggest you start with unthreatening situations like with a waiter in a restaurant or a clerk in a store. First model the behavior for him and then let him try. Over and over and over.
- MARKETING HIMSELF: It’s vital that he be able talk to the skills, contribution and impact he can make. That is why people will be hiring him. Work with your husband on key things he is going to say about himself. He must know and practice articulating the top three strengths/capabilities he brings to a work situation. For instance, he can talk about being: (1) a reliable professional who always follows through on his commitments, (2) a hard worker committed to lifelong learning, and (3) his technical/industry specific skills like programming languages that he is familiar with. He could also mention that he worked at certain companies or on certain projects for X amount of time and the key contributions he made.
- PAY/NEGOTIATIONS: This is an area that people on the spectrum and shy people often have problems with. They are shy and often uncomfortable about negotiating and asking for money and or other benefits. You need to do the research to find out the range that is appropriate for his skills and talents. Then you must practice having those conversations with him. For instance, if they offer him $20 a hour and his last contract was at $50 an hour, he must practice saying, “I earned $50/hour for the last two-years and that is the normal hourly fee for the work that I do.” And discuss with him what an acceptable range would be. Also, help him to research and prepare to discuss benefits including insurance, vacation time, flexible hours and other relevant things he wants.
- QUESTIONS: Work with your husband to prepare intelligent questions that show he has researched the company, industry and or product/service area. He needs to both respond and initiate questions.
I am not an expert on the autism spectrum but I am familiar with prepping people, including very shy people, and very introverted people, for job interviews. Remember, the most important thing is adequate practice and preparation. Clearly, the interview situation is much easier for people who are natural extroverts, and 75% of people in the USA are extroverts, but for the 25% who are natural introverts, and for those on the autism spectrum, it can be difficult, indeed.
Good luck to you, Lori, and it sounds like your husband is lucky to have you in his corner!