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The Dreaded Job Interview

Tips for Parents or Caregivers with a Young Adult on the Autism Spectrum

By Mikayla Haas, Research Coordinator and Helen Genova, PhD, Associate Director, Center for Autism Research, Kessler Foundation


woman with a boy near a laptop
Co-author Mikayla Haas interviewing a young adult

As we watch our children grow into adults, obtaining and maintaining employment becomes a meaningful goal for them. Unfortunately, finding and keeping a job can be an exceedingly difficult goal for a young adult with autism to achieve. The job interview process is one of the main barriers young adults on the spectrum can face when trying to gain employment.

At Kessler Foundation, we are investigating ways to improve job interview skills in youth on the spectrum. We’d like to share some tips that we’ve found successful in helping their journey to employment:

  1. Identify their strengths. Our research shows that young adults on the spectrum may be unaware of their positive attributes. Consequently, when asked about their strengths, individuals on the spectrum may not know what details to share, though those details are what the employer is really interested in knowing! You can help young adults on the spectrum identify what makes them unique by helping them make a list of all their positive qualities and talents they would bring to a job. Not only does this help their self-esteem and confidence, but it will also help them during a job interview. They’ll be prepared to answer an employer who asks them to share what makes them a good fit for the position. This is an important first step in helping your teen prepare for an interview.

  2. Relate their strengths, talent, skills, and experiences to the job. Everyone has strengths. For example, your teen may be an amazing piano player, excel at bowling or play a mean game of scrabble. But will those strengths help when applying to work at a bakery? Individuals with autism may have many amazing experiences, interests, and talents that they want to share, however, the employer is only expecting them to share things that are appropriate and relevant for the job! To help young adults understand this concept, we recommend that you ask them what skills they think might be needed for their chosen job, and how their skills would be put to good use there. Try discussing these ideas during a regular conversation before actually practicing job interview questions. Brainstorming together will help when they have to come up with answers on the spot.

  3. Practice! Practicing is a terrific way to help your teen prepare for an interview. In fact, our research shows that repeated practice several times a week can really help someone prepare for a job interview. One way to prepare is to role-play where you are the interviewer and your teen is the applicant for a particular job. As a parent or caregiver, it may be hard to give direct feedback to your teen. Rather, envision answers you’d like to hear as an interviewer, and then explain your reasoning to your teen. Importantly, try to stay positive so he or she is encouraged to keep trying without getting discouraged. Practicing will help them feel more comfortable and confident when they are actually on the interview.

  4. Flip the roles. Try role-playing, but instead of your teen as the interviewee, have him or her interview you. This activity helps your teen see the interview from someone else’s perspective, a skill that may provide needed insight to teens on the spectrum. Make the activity fun by offering unexpected answers, and then ask why your answer may not have been successful. Be sure to ask what he or she thought of you as an applicant (and if you got the job!).

Job interviews are a part of transitioning into adulthood and although they can be stressful, they don’t have to be! Using these tips along with other basic preparation like researching the company, planning what to wear in advance, and practicing good hygiene for the appointment, can be an effective way to reduce the pressure.

Your teen or young adult may qualify to participate in one of our studies to be trained for job interviews at no cost to you. Click here for more information!