By Dan Coulter
Looking for a job when you have Asperger Syndrome can be frustrating. I spoke to a young man the other day who said, “I've done everything I'm supposed to do. I assessed my strengths and challenges, I got the right education, I worked on my social skills, I practiced interviewing, and I still can't get a job.”
It's not fair, but it doesn't have to be the end of the story.
Job NetworkingAfter you've done all the right preparation for getting a job, the most effective final step I've found is networking. You need to network your backside off. Don't know where to start? More about that later.
One of the most common obstacles to getting a job when you have Asperger Syndrome is that you're different. If employers focus on your differences, they may see you as someone who won't fit in. Fitting in is a big deal for hiring managers. They don't want to deal with problems that disrupt work, and they can equate differences with potential problems.
Even if you don't initially disclose Asperger Syndrome, you can appear different on your resume, or in the way you interview, or in what your references say about you.
But if you're recommended by someone the employer trusts, you're more likely to be able to show the employer that your contributions will outweigh any differences.
What employers want most is people who will be productive – who will do a good job, or a really good job, or an outstanding job. Especially if you have special Asperger-related interests and abilities, that could be you. Even if you're not a whiz at anything in particular, working hard at finding a job doing something you like improves your chances of getting hired. Networking is a way to get hiring managers to see you as being productive and solving workplace problems, not creating them.
Networking helps you contact people who can get to know more about you and potentially recommend you, helping employers see your strengths. Picture yourself sending out resumes and filling out online applications. Now picture doing that, but also having five or ten or twenty people actively looking for opportunities for you and recommending you. It's pretty obvious which is more likely to get results.
It's not always easy and it's not magic, but it's real.
Of course, you still have to do those things the young man I mentioned earlier did. You have to be ready to actively work to fit into a workplace, but you don't have to eliminate any and all challenging Asperger behaviors before you look for a job. You just have to make sure that your productivity will more than compensate for any reasonable accommodations that you need. And you need to work on being the kind of person people want to recommend. You've probably heard working on your manners and social skills can help you get and keep a job. But this can also help you find out about jobs and get recommended for them.
Now, let's get back to how to start networking. It helps to get instruction and help from employment experts. You can find them in organizations such as your state vocational rehabilitation department and non-government sources such as Goodwill Industries. I mention Goodwill because they have a great employment support operation in my area that job seekers can use for no fee. There may be other, similar organizations in your area that people in your state vocational rehabilitation department should know about. Near me, job seekers can sign up with Goodwill to attend training sessions on topics such as networking, workplace etiquette, how to prepare a resume and interview, and how to use Internet networking sites such as LinkedIn. The Goodwill job coach I met also sends out lists of potential jobs to the job seekers who've signed up for assistance.
If you want to start networking on your own, here's a set of steps to take.
1. Decide on the kind of work you want and make a resume that lists activities, accomplishments, and any previous jobs that are relevant to that work, or to working in general.
2. Practice your manners and social skills. The more pleasant and likeable you can be, the more you can make people in your network want to help you.
3. Make a list of all the people you know. (Let's acknowledge here that you may be networking for your child or your friend. If so, the job seeker should be as involved as possible.) Your list can include family, friends, teachers, work colleagues, members of organizations you belong to such as churches and clubs, and basically anyone you know.
4. Write a short pitch letter that includes the things you want your network contacts to know, such as that you're looking for a job, the kind of job you're looking for, and that you'd appreciate them letting you know if they hear of any jobs or businesses that might be a good fit.
5. Contact the people in your network and share your information. In some cases, you could actually send the letter and a resume. Where it's possible, you can talk to people in your network (or have your parents for friends do so), tell share the information you wrote in your letter, and give them a copy of your resume. You can print out copies and have a computer file that you can email as an attachment. It's good to put this computer file in a PDF format which can be read on almost any computer, but you can also attach a Microsoft Word compatible document or just include the text in your email message. Tell the people you contact that you'd appreciate it if they could share your information with anyone they know who might find it useful. People like to help other people, especially if it's easy to do. If someone hears about a job, it's nice to be able to say, “I know about someone who might be right for that job.”
6. When you visit with the people in your network, express an interest in what they are doing. Perhaps you can also do something for them. Networking works best if it's a two-way interaction.
7. If someone gives you a tip on a job, check it out and follow up to thank them whether you get the job or not.
There's a lot more to networking, but these are the basics. You can find more tips by doing an online search for “job networking.”
One final thought. This process can take a long time and you can't let rejection discourage you into giving up. If you get turned down a hundred times and get a job on application number 101, you'll still have a job.
It reminds me of something Ed Macauley, Hall of Fame NBA basketball player said, “When you are not practicing, remember, someone, somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him, he will win.”
Applying that to your job search, when you stop trying to find a job, someone, somewhere, is still trying, and he'll get the job you could have gotten.
The only way to succeed is to keep trying until you do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of the videos, “Asperger Syndrome at Work” and “Asperger Syndrome: Transition to College and Work.” You can find more articles and information on his website: coultervideo.com. (Note: Through November 12, 2014, all products on the Coulter Video website, including employment videos, are 40% off using the coupon code FALL during checkout.)
Copyright 2014 Dan Coulter Used by Permission All Rights Reserved