In the August 7, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we discuss what employers need to know about your autism.
My son is a college graduate on the autism spectrum. Should he hint at his disability on his resume? Interviewers are surprised when they first meet him, and the interview goes south.
This is a tough call. A good answer depends on being able to assess your son’s condition, which I obviously cannot do. But I can offer an example that might help you think about this in a useful way.
A resume “on the spectrum”
A young man approached me after a presentation I did recently and raised the same question. He quietly disclosed that he’s “on the spectrum.” Through conversation I quickly learned that this Millennial is articulate, friendly, smart, self-motivated, a bit nervous but focused. His social skills are good. While I could see evidence of autism, I also saw the kind of enthusiasm and acumen I’d want in a job candidate.
We discussed his work skills in some detail — he’s an accountant — and I learned enough that I’d recommend him to an employer for a job interview. But you can imagine that if all an employer sees is his resume with a disclosure that he’s autistic, the employer might reject his resume out of hand. (That might be unfair and inappropriate — and possibly illegal — but it’s what happens every day.) And that’s the problem.
A resume — for anyone, not just for a person with a disability — is an insufficient representation of who they are and what they can do. It’s a poor “marketing tool” no matter how well it is written. (See Resume Blasphemy.) I’ll tell you what I say even to top executives with stellar credentials: Your resume cannot defend you.
Your resume cannot defend you
What do I mean by that? Every resume raises more questions and concerns than it can possibly answer. A manager reading a resume thinks thoughts and draws quick conclusions — on average, in just six seconds — that we cannot imagine or anticipate. So, it’s not prudent to trust that dopey document to get us a job interview.
If your son discloses that he’s autistic on his resume, we cannot predict the outcome. An employer might make the worst assumptions and ignore him altogether. Or, they may bring him in so they can check off a box on their Equal Opportunity report, without hiring him. Of course, it could also lead to a hire, if the employer genuinely believes in staffing diversity. It’s hard to guess, and you shouldn’t try.
What your son should do is maximize his chances of getting a job interview by getting referred and recommended by someone the employer trusts.
Personal referrals can recommend and defend you
My guess is there are jobs where your son would perform well, even if he requires some accommodation. (For more information about accommodations, read this report: Employees with Asperger Syndrome.) By getting referred to such employers through a personal connection, disclosure of his autism would be done in a frank but supportive way. In other words, the person making the referral can both endorse your son and defend him when questions about autism arise.
For example, “John is on the autism spectrum, but I can vouch that for the job you’re trying to fill, he’d be great. I give him my personal endorsement.”
That breaks down the wall like no resume can. It eliminates the surprise factor. Someone the employer trusts is disclosing the disability, but in a useful context that emphasizes John can do the work and would make a good employee. Whether a job applicant has a disability or not, this is what any good employer wants to know first and foremost. It’s what leads to job interviews and job offers.
Avoid surprises, avoid rejection
When something on a resume surprises an employer, it often leads to automatic rejection. Likewise, you don’t want an interviewer to be surprised. You want them to know exactly who they’re about to meet — someone that a trusted contact has endorsed and recommended.
So my advice is, don’t rely on a resume that cannot possibly defend or advocate for your son. Only someone who can personally recommend him can or will do that. I know it’s hard work to line that up, but this is the exact same advice I teach to executives at the top business (MBA) schools including Wharton, Cornell, Northwestern, UCLA, Harvard and Rutgers. No one can afford to rely on a Word document to “get them in the door,” whether they’ve got autism or not.
Get past the obstacles
Please don’t assume that lining up a good personal recommendation is a daunting task. It requires work and effort, but it’s the critical first step toward landing a new job. You might find the suggestions in this article a good start: Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course. It’s helped many people get past all kinds of obstacles.
Discrimination in hiring is illegal. If your son believes an employer has violated the law, he should consult a good employment attorney. But his goal should be to find an employer who’s goal is to hire good workers — and my goal is to offer advice that will help your son get past obstacles that might keep him away from employers who’d love to fill a job with a good applicant.
I wish your son the best.
If you have a disability, how do you manage your job search to avoid bias and rejection? How can this reader use personal referrals to get in the door?