Presenting Yourself at the Interview

The employer liked your resume! You have been selected for an interview. You are excited but nervous because you know that often it’s often the candidate who interviews best, not the one with the best qualifications, who gets the job offer. Your goal is to persuade the buyer that you are the best fit for the job they’re trying to fill. Nowhere is this more important than at the interview.

Interviews screen out those who don’t fit into the corporate culture. You are being judged on qualities like attitude, appearance, confidence, personality, conviviality.

This is also your chance to check whether this organization is where you want to use your talents. Does the job fulfill your expectations? Are you compatible with the organization and the other employees?

Body Language

For spectrum individuals, issues with nonverbal communication and body language often cause problems projecting confidence. Their lack of eye contact sets off warning flags in the interviewer’s mind. He thinks, “Boy, I can’t quite place my finger on it, but that guy is weird.”

Remember to smile. Believe it or not, that makes a big difference. It makes you look self-confident, well-adjusted and happy to be there. Often the interviewer will make their judgment about the applicant during the first thirty seconds.

Dress neatly. Take care of personal grooming. Suck on a mint before your interview to make sure your breath is fresh. Try to greet people at the beginning and end the interview with a handshake.

Look at your interviewer. If you have trouble looking in the eyes, look at his nose. Eye contact shows the interviewer you are still on the same page. To avoid staring, remember to look away occasionally. Nod your head at appropriate times to show you are listening. Don’t interrupt, but listen till the speaker is finished. In this way, you can gather important information that will help you formulate better answers and ask intelligent questions.

Avoid sofas or plush chairs. Sit up straight and keep your feet flat on the floor. To convey your interest, lean forward slightly towards the person you are addressing. Keep your hands in your lap, unless you are taking notes. Don’t fold your arms; this is perceived as defensive or inaccessible. If you take notes, be sure you look attentive.

If you have habits others may find annoying, like rocking or shaking your leg, be aware of them and make sure they don’t crop up.

If the interviewer starts shuffling papers or says something like, “We have a million other candidates to interview,” that is your clue he/she wants to wrap up. Acknowledge that you realize time is about up. If you haven’t gotten a chance to ask your questions, do so now but make them brief. End by asking what part of your background they would like to hear more about.

Know yourself – your skills, talents, abilities, personal traits. List your accomplishments. Show the employer how your skills and abilities you bring will solve his or her problems and contribute to the organization.

Preparation is Your Best Friend

There is much you can do beforehand to make sure you make as good an impression as possible. Interview skills can be learned and practiced. Take classes and seminars in interpersonal communications, public speaking, and presentation skills. Learn all you can about interview and negotiation skills. The more you know about the process, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the more confidence you will exude.

With a friend, teacher, or mentor, practice body language. What’s your handshake like? It should be firm but not aggressive. Practice your answers to common interview questions. Tape record your answers, and listen for what you sound like. Pay special attention to the tone and volume of your voice.

Use self-talk to build confidence. In your home or car, before you go into an interview, tell yourself out loud why you deserve to get this job. This will help you to act with confidence even when you don’t feel like it. If you believe it, so will the person you are interviewing with.

Questions, Questions…

There are a million questions that the interviewer could ask you, so it’s hard to be prepared for everything. But lists of common questions abound. Prepare for these. If you are asked a question that trips you up, don’t be afraid to pause and think about it. You might even use a phrase like, “That’s an interesting concept. Let me think about that,” to give yourself time to digest the question. If you can’t think of an answer, it’s OK to say so. You can think of ideas and answer in a follow-up letter.

Learn the difference between qualifying questions and those meant to disqualify. The first are open-ended, like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why should I hire you.” The latter are meant to exclude you from the position. For example: “Are you willing to travel?” or “What are your salary requirements?” If you say you are not willing to travel, they’ll automatically disqualify you.

Do Your Research

Research will help you to prepare for the interviewer’s questions by gathering important information about the industry, company, salary, and position. The power of knowledge bestows confidence – something you’ll need to succeed in interviews. Find out about their needs and goals. What are they looking for in an ideal employee? Then, present yourself as a problem solver.

By researching the company you are applying to and similar company websites, you can find out what they are looking for and be better aware of experiences you have had that qualify you for this position. Researching similar positions will also give you salary information. You’ll be better informed about the market value of the skills and training that you bring to the table. This will help you maintain a positive attitude and negotiate with confidence.

When looking for industry, company, or salary data, the internet is your best source. It’s comprehensive, quick, and free. In addition to company websites, check out professional organizations and the myriad of job search resources. You can even search newspapers from various cities for job ads as well as articles about organizations you are interviewing with. Be aware, however, that much web information is biased. For example, while company websites give you much valuable information – the annual report, who the key people are, what public image they’re trying to present – they’ll only tell you what they want you to know. Always confirm any information you find on the internet.

There are many tools available in your public or college library to help you with industry and company research. The librarians in the business division and the job information center of your public library can help you locate this information. The time you spend in research may be the extra push you need to get to the top of the candidate pool.

Prepare a Career Commercial

The career commercial is your answer to the most common interview question: “So, tell me about yourself.” Keep the answer short. Take only one minute to summarize your major career accomplishments. At the same time, you want to peak the interviewer’s interest, set the tone, and direct the rest of the conversation.

Prepare your commercial by writing and revising until you get what you want, then memorize it. The repetitive speech patterns common to many spectrumites will work well for you in this exercise. Practice in front of a mirror, checking your facial expression, gestures, and tone of voice. Of course, you’ll have to adapt it to different situations. Tweak it for various interviews, and use a more informal version at professional conferences, business meetings, and networking events.

Prepare Stories

In addition to the commercial, have on hand several short stories that illustrate your major achievements and showcase important skills. For example, many employers ask about how one would handle a difficult situation or a difficult customer. Prepare a story of how you handled such a situation. Use these stories to respond to the interviewer’s questions. Begin with an overview of a situation, then explain what you did and how you achieved the goal. Like your commercial, these stories can be prepared in advance. They should be clear and concise – usually less than a minute. Write, revise, and rehearse.

Prepare Questions to Ask

You know that during the face to face meeting, you should actively listen, respond with interest, and ask questions. But, just what questions should you ask?

Open-ended questions are best; they elicit the information you are seeking, spur the discussion along, and put you in control.

Choose your questions to determine the responsibilities of the position and the needs of the company. Before the interview, learn as much as you can about the firm. If possible, determine the job titles of those who will be interviewing you, and think of questions to ask about what they do in relation to what you will be doing. For example, ask: “What do you consider to be the five most important day-to-day responsibilities of this job?” or, “What personality traits do you consider critical to success in this job?”

It’s important to have specific questions for each member of the interview team. Each of these people has a unique perspective about the company and the position. Even asking similar questions of different people enables you to gauge consistency of opinions within the organization.

Ask what attracted them to your resume. If you know the answer early, you will be able to tell what they’re looking for. Then, you can link your strengths to their priorities.

Ask, “Why is the position open?” This will clue you in on the fate of your predecessor. Did she retire? Was she promoted? In the case that the last person was terminated, you will need to ask additional questions to determine whether the company’s expectations for the position are realistic. Try to determine where they went wrong and what you would do differently.

Find out whom you will be reporting to. This answer will help you discern the power structure of the company. You can also ask about the duties and responsibilities of the position. To get an idea of their priorities, ask how much time will be spent in each area of responsibility. I also like to learn about communication channels within the organization.

Another way to ascertain their priorities is to find out what are the top three things they would like you to accomplish during the first quarter you are with them. In addition to telling you their expectations, this question can lead to an interesting discussion about various dimensions of the job.

After they ask you to share your strengths and weaknesses, turn the focus back on them by asking, “Please describe your management style.” The answer will tell you how compatible you are with your supervisor-to-be. If the interviewer will be your boss, ask him to define the model working relationship between an employee and supervisor.

You can also ask about training and advancement opportunities. Where will the job take you in five years? What are the opportunities for advancement in this field? Does the company provide ongoing training?

To avoid misunderstanding, ask if there’s anything that you could clarify before you leave.

Save salary and benefit questions until the end of the interview if you ask them at all. Asking these too early in the game gives the impression that your main interest is dollars, not the challenge or opportunity of serving the company.

At the end of the meeting ask, “How soon may I expect to hear from you?” This question makes your interest in the job evident, lets you know the time frame they are working with, and allows you to tailor your follow-up strategy.

Most candidates don’t realize that they’re judged not only by their answers, but also by their questions. Smart questions help you get a better feel for the job. They also show your enthusiasm to the employer.

Make the Interview into Show and Tell

A career portfolio can showcase your professional achievements. While a resume outlines your skills and abilities, a portfolio displays the results of your work, offering the prospective employer proof of what you can do. As a spectrum individual, this is even more important. You must compensate for impaired social ability by excelling in your field. The portfolio sells your work rather than your personality. It shifts the focus off you to your accomplishments.

For example, the education heading of your resume lists your degrees, certificates, and continuing education courses. Your portfolio expands this information by offering course descriptions and certificates, providing evidence for the items listed in your resume.

Artists and models have been using portfolios for a long time, but almost any profession can do the same. In my library portfolio, I included samples of library brochures, pathfinders, and subject guides that I designed, samples of Internet searches, newspaper clippings about the library, and fliers advertising library events. Secretaries can include samples of correspondence, spreadsheets, and other projects. Teachers can include lesson plans, sample tests and student evaluations. Programmers can make a demonstration disk. Blueprints and finished products, such as machine parts, can also be included. Virtually anything you designed, developed or produced can be part of your portfolio. The possibilities are limitless. Be creative. The items you include should illustrate your unique style, ability, talents, and potential.

Career portfolios give you a competitive edge; this is particularly important for individuals on the autism spectrum. By showing off your work, you take the emphasis off your personality. Remember, the portfolio is a sales tool. Analyze the audience (the company you wish to work for). What do they want? How do your skills and supportive documentation meet the prospective employer’s needs?

When applying for a job or a promotion, mention your portfolio in the cover letter. Once you have landed an interview, prepare. Look over your portfolio, and decide which items are most appropriate for the company and assignment you are interviewing for.

Bring your portfolio to the interview and have it ready. When the interviewer asks what you have accomplished, smile and say, “Let me show you.” This is your cue to get out your portfolio. Use it to answer the interviewer’s questions. If they ask about your career goals or future plans, take them to that section in your portfolio. If they want to know about your computer skills, show them computer-generated samples, demonstrating the skills they are seeking. Think of the interview as show and tell. Be selective. You don’t need to show everything in your portfolio — just the items most appropriate to the situation.

Brag about your accomplishments. Show them what you have done. Relate it to their needs and they will see how you can best serve their business.

Follow Up

Always end the interview by asking about the next steps. When you get home, write a follow up letter. Be meticulous about follow-up with phone calls.

In conclusion, be confident about your abilities and show enthusiasm for the job. Remember that interviewing is about selling yourself to the employer. You have to give them reasons to buy by explaining what you can do for them. Your job as a salesperson is to convince them that your product is better than the competition’s.

 

Yvona Fast, MLS is the author of Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-verbal Learning Disability: Stories and Strategies, (JKP, 2004) a career guide for individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning disability. The Polish language edition of this book came out in March 2008. Her work in learning disabilities and neurological impairments is based on her experiences and on interviews with individuals who live with these disabilities. She has authored two more books: My Nine Lives (2011) is a memoir she co-authored with her mother and Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals From Your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market (2013) is a seasonal cookbook. For more information, please visit www.wordsaremyworld.com.

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