My questions:

  1. What should I do differently (if anything) going forward?
  2. Who can I contact to rectify this issue, without coming off as someone who is just upset they were declined?

In a recent application I received the following question:

Please describe any special job related skills and qualifications acquired from employment, other education or volunteer experiences, etc.  Do not include experiences which would indicate race, religion, sex, national origin, genetic information, disability or age or any other status protected by law or regulation.

(Earlier the application mentioned that "disability" included autism.)
I replied:

Please ask about as I have strengths that I can not include in this application (per instructions)

I was declined an interview.
While there are countless reasons that I may have been declined, it bothers me that, unlike competing neurotypical applicants, I was denied the opportunity to demonstrate a real strength of mine due to how that is tied to my "disability."  Individuals with disabilities usually overcome their limitations by having strengths in other areas.  Both the dedication to overcome (and not be defeated) by ones weaknesses, as well as the additional strengths and how they can apply to the position, are valuable demonstrations of one's fitness for a specific position.
I understand this is a symptom of a larger issue.  The company feels the only way they can protect themselves from a discrimination lawsuit and be an "equal opportunity employer," is simply to prevent their hiring employees from even having the option to discriminate (rather then the much more difficult task of training their employees correctly).  I understand that my situation is both an unintended consequence as well as probably the "lesser of two evils."

Is there a better way for me to handle this in the future?  Can I state my answer differently?  Who should I contact at the company to pass the FYI that I was likely not given a "fair" chance at demonstrating my skills as opposed to someone without a disability?  Can I present this information professionally without seeming like I am pouting that I was declined?

mmcconkie's picture

What would the goal be to reaching back out to the company? If you would be reaching out in order to try and get a second chance for this position, I wouldn't recommend doing so. I think that you're right and (unjust as it may be) it would come across, as you pointed out, as pouting that you were declined. I don't see this as a viable option to getting hired in this position. 

Now if you are wanting to reach out to try and solve the larger problem with the company of potential discrimination, you can try to reach out to their HR department to see if you can find out why you were not allowed to move forward. Hopefully they can provide some light on the questions as well as provide the opportunity for you to give them feedback. When you reach out to them you could write something along the lines of, "Thank you for the chance to apply for this position. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to continue through the hiring process. Would you help me understand why I was disqualified from moving forward? I'd like to verify that I wasn't unfairly discriminated as well as improve for future applications." This will come across as polite, but using the word discrimination will grab HR reps attention and hopefully prompt a response. 

For your future applications, let's see how we can craft that answer. What are the strengths that you're hoping to get across in that area? The answer you provided above makes it apparent that there is a discrimination opportunity, and that's going to be a problem ongoing in similar sections on other applications. Let us know the strengths you want them to understand, and we'll see if we can craft that answer without showing the opportunity for discrimination. Honestly on most of the applications I have filled out I've left that section blank (but maybe that's a lost opportunity on my part).

I hope this is helpful! Good luck on your job search, and way to go on developing additional strengths! Keep up the great work!



emeraldinspirations's picture

Thank you for the info mmcconkie,
No, I am no-longer interested in the position.  Outside of the e-mail informing me that they were "unable to offer [me] an interview at this time" (very professional), the whole process was ("standard," but) degrading and unprofessional.  I don't want to work for an organization that handles people this way, or treats their hiring managers as incapable of being professional.
My intention is to try to get someone to understand how their approach left me at a disadvantage to those who do not have "disabilities."  Maybe helping one company's HR department to see this does a "drop in the bucket" for fixing the underlying social/political issue.  But it might "mean the world to that one starfish" who applies in the future.
As for a different way to state things ... "Overcame weaknesses by leveraging strengths" is really just a waste of characters.  Both the strengths that I utilize, and the weaknesses I overcame are directly tied to my "disability" and therefore being vague is my only option.

mmcconkie's picture

I can understand the desire to want to change the company so that hopefully in the future others don't have this same problem. I think that you can email the HR department to hopefully start influencing that change using the language recommended previously. 

Looking at the strengths you are wanting to emphasize, I think that I would recommend leaving that portion of the application blank. Unfortunately you are right, and that without the context those skills would be very vague. Now that only means that they would be too vague for this section. I do think that those skills would be great to include right within the resume if the position specifically requires those skills. And in the case that the position does specifically require those skills, you can include specific examples about how you have demonstrated those skills. That's how you'll be able to capitalize on those amazing strengths without being hindered or being vague. 

Thanks for the clarification! I hope that the job search goes well for you. The Interview Series may be an additional help to you as you look at applying and interviewing for these positions. 



timrutter's picture

There's some really good stuff in there mmcconkie.

As for the original questions, I'm going to reframe this slightly.

Firstly, if that company is so terrified of discrimination then that's probably an organisation that you won't do well at and enjoy. Whilst annoying, it's quiet likely a bullet dodged rather than an opportunity lost. Chasing answers will probably be a wasted effort and raise risk flags with the company.

As for how to answer these sort of questions without 'terrifying' the hiring organisation, instead of tying your behaviour to your 'disability' (I hate that description as well), just stick to showing your demonstrated strengths and behaviours. Why you're good at it is not the point, it's the fact that you are good at it and can prove it that gets you hired.

Hope this helps looking from a different angle

Tim (A fellow Aspie)

emeraldinspirations's picture

I agree I likely "dodged a bullet," but I don't see how to demonstrate these strengths that are either attributes of Aspies or are the very action of overcoming the weaknesses that Aspies struggle with.  Ex:

  • Hyper Focus
  • Desire for consistency (or attention to detail)
  • Overcoming communication difficulties
  • Overcoming environmental difficulties
  • etc.

It is like saying prove to me you that you ran a marathon, but without mentioning that you trained hard, set goals, measured your results, what your time was, or any direct reference to running in any way.  You can't "run" a marathon without "running."

mike_bruns_99's picture
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You've had some good answers above. Here is another perspective, and I'm sorry if this comes across as direct or harsh.

I think the question was reasonable, but you didn't answer it. I don't see any problems with the company. They want to treat everyone the same. Not penalize people with disabilities, but not give them extra benefits.  They simply want the best person for the job. Irrespective of gender, race, religion, disability, etc.

Your strength needs to relate to your ability to do the job. Not your disability. 

You need to fully answer the question in a way that relates to the job and the company. A strength is a strength. While harsh, the company simply doesn't want to care about the disability. They didn't discriminate because of your disability. You didn't show a strength that would help you to excel in the job.



Steve-O's picture

Next time, give your strengths.

There is no requrement to explain their origins.




falkb's picture

I agree with Steve-O and would extend it thus: Instead of describing the origins of your strengths, in your application and interviews, showcase how you have applied these strengths in previous jobs to achieve positive results for the company: Achieved [success] by applying [strength].

The interviewing series and the resume workbook are resources that describe in detail how to do exactly that. (I have no affiliation with MT other than as a customer).


sheahant's picture

I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder level 1 (High Functioning Autism) in March 2018.

I've thought this topic a lot, having changed companies and disclosed at both of them. Here are some of my views, particularly towards question 1, "what should you do differently in future".

Must we disclose?

While feeling an urge to disclose for a number of reasons, I have exercised caution, and have also considered the advice from Mike & Mark saying "a person is entitled to an honest answer for any question to which they are entitled an answer".

Ultimately, while I would like to credit all managers with entitlement to an answer about ASD, the truth is that there are people out there who are operating on outdated understanding about what it means to be on the spectrum, and for someone to be on the spectrum at work.

I believe there are people who will practice unfair discrimination if given a chance to do so. Applicants and directs do not really get to interrogate managers on this subject, and cannot be assured that they will not be given an encouraging response while being quietly crossed off a list.

Thus, I don't see disclosure as any sort of universal obligation.

If not disclosure, then what should we do?

We can skip disclosure, and either say nothing, or we can talk about our behaviors and traits.

For example: In interviews, I spoke about successes managing small groups of directs while saving greater emphasis for my successes doing focus work on high-tech products as an individual contributor. I spoke about my capacity to deliver my best outcomes when afforded the opportunity to work for long periods with intense focus.

Once I had an offer, I also took care to ask questions about the working environment and assure myself that it is not sensory-hostile, because that had contributed to a complex of difficulties in the previous role.

Once in my new role, I continued to address my traits as necessary, e.g. by talking about my preference to work with Noise Cancelling headphones, my difficulty remembering faces etc.

I knew, should my traits cause a problem or be interpreted particularly negatively, there was also the option to disclose and request accommodation.

In Summary

After exercising caution, after observing my coworkers and after long reflection - in both workplaces I reached a decision to disclose my diagnosis. People were supportive and I have been satisfied with the experience. Things are going fantastically well in my new position - though if my manager had been his polar opposite, so would be these outcomes.