Friday, November 3, 2023

Fear and Interviewing

"Aaron, do you have any sales experience?" 

The question hung in the air with no response from me. If this were a game show, I'd have been buzzed long before I spoke, but I had to assess this question.

Job interviews can be daunting for those on the autism spectrum. We can strive to be perfect which, at times, may make us overprocess the question at hand.

This was an interview for what I hoped would be my third job. I didn't interview at my first two, so this was a new experience, but in the back room of the mall videogame store, the setting reminder me more of a police interrogation instead of a place of commerce. It was cramped, and the manager was hovering over me with my resume in hand. It was as if he had all the answers, and in this inquisition, it was up to me to get the right answers but... what was right?

There had been about 20 seconds since the question had been asked. Sales experience? I thought back to my jobs and my first job that wasn't at a racetrack was at a bowling alley. Now, the question was, "did renting out bowling shoes count as sales?" 

When I present, I make sure to let my audiences know that, while our answers may be delayed, it doesn't mean we are "slow". Others may easily be able to rationalize an answer, but I was trying to determine what the meaning of sales were. 

I had the thought of, "why can't we talk about videogames because those I know.? Panic began to set in. I knew an answer was needed but I couldn't think of the right answer. To give an answer of anything I gave the response of, "I don't know." I then thought, "genius answer, Aaron, pure genius."

The next question surely would be about videogames but instead, out of leftfield, came, "Okay, I see you've worked at a racetrack so do you have any management experience?" 

He was right, I had been flagging for the Saint Louis Karting Association for six years, and when I was on track I was in charge of the operation of the race, but was this managing? I had corner workers I'd talk to during the race, but was this managing? I didn't hire them, but I could tell them to wave a yellow flag. More alarms in my brain started going off as I wasn't prepared for these questions, I wasn't yet diagnosed with ASD so I didn't know that overprocessing was a thing, and I most certainly couldn't come to a conclusion on the definition of management experience. 

"I... I..." I what, Aaron... what? I was screaming at myself internally as the adrenaline spiked and a panic the sorts of which I was unfamiliar with set in. For being such a simple question, I was locked up, unable to respond. So, again, I answered with a, "I don't know."

Last week as I presented to a wonderful, intensive program about employment for college aged individuals put on by Easterseals Arkansas, a person asked me about interviewing skills and the above story was the one I gave. I had never given the nuts and bolts of the interview in how I overthought simple questions which ended up with me giving non-answers. It might've been the worst job interview of all time, but as I ended the story, I told them that, somehow, I got the job. Once I had the job, I was a model employee and it turned out I had amazing skills at sales. 

Interviewing is an important part of employment, and it is one I've always struggled with. I always try to know all possible answers in advance, but when a question that is asked that is unexpected, it throws my whole system off. Think of my brain creating this wonderful, thousand-step dance, but to work it needs to have every step preceding each step to be the artform that it is. However, I doubt any amount of planning can truly let a person nail an interview on preplanned answers.

A follow-up question was, "Any advice on interviewing?" and I didn't know what to say. I wanted to give the perfect answer. I wanted to... and then I realized that such a profound question, this question of an event that all in this program will go out in the world and have to navigate, was much like a job interview for me. I overprocessed, I wanted to be perfect, and as I relayed that I also said, "Here's the thing... about the only thing the managers at where I interviewed noticed was my enthusiasm. I might not have had all the words, and I may have just said 'I don't know', but they picked up on my passion for the job. Don't lose sight of that should something go amiss in the interview. While managers may not say it, I firmly believe they will pick up on passion and enthusiasm so if you want the job, they will, I hope, see it and that will work in your favor.

Was that the right answer? I've wondered that for an entire week, but I know it to be true, and I hope all managers out there have that ability to see that an interview doesn't define the employee. For those that have interviewed me, I hope they'd agree.

1 comment:

  1. True.

    You were filling a need and "providing a necessary" as the Old English phrase goes.

    That's my answer to the bowling shoes - sales thing.

    And I am glad they noticed your enthusiasm.

    And there are enthusiastic people all over without work or jobs.

    What defines an employee?

    And I love the thousand-step metaphor.

    And your management style is very minimal. You let the flaggers get their heads once they have the information they need to know and the situational awareness.

    And overprocessing might look a lot like under-delivering to some people!