This article was first published with permission on Invisible Autistic.
In my previous post, I discussed some of the unspoken rules around the clothes you wear to an interview.
This week, I want to focus on something that I still struggle with myself: personal grooming. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Apparently it’s fairly common for individuals (both children and adults) on the spectrum to have problems with personal hygiene and grooming habits. I seriously have no idea why this is so. It might be related to hyper- or hyposensitivity (not wishing to be covered in artificial scents like soap and shampoo and deodorant, or not being aware of your own body odour), or it could be something more cultural and social in nature. There’s a lot of social pressure to say that you shower every single day (and sometimes twice a day), but I know for a fact that not everyone does so. Yet people won’t ever admit that, because of the stigma attached to lack of personal hygiene. For myself, I feel perfectly comfortable showering every 3 or 4 days at most. I don’t think people have ever noticed.
For a job interview, however, it’s important that you look and smell like other people.
Wash your hair the day of your interview. You don’t need to worry about styling, this is completely optional. As long as it doesn’t look greasy you’ll be fine. If you are worried about your appearance, you can go to a hairdresser a few days before your interview and get your hair cut and styled. DON’T under any circumstances get a haircut on the same day as the interview. The stray hairs will drive you absolutely bonkers and you will look like a crazy person constantly trying to pick hairs out of your neck. Trust me, I’ve done this.
Make sure all your clothes are freshly washed, with no visible stains or tears. Bring one or two safety pins for emergencies. I usually only discover a hole in my jacket 5 minutes before the interview is about to start. Stains are harder. If you discover a stain right before the interview, one option is to go to the receptionist or office manager (if they have someone like that) and say “Excuse me, I’ve just discovered a stain on my jacket / trousers / skirt. Do you have a wet cloth or some wipes so I can try getting it out?” It may sound counter-intuitive but they won’t be at the actual interview and therefore won’t judge you on accidents or not being 100% prepared. In fact, if you thank them (about 3 or 4 times max) and apologise for the inconvenience, they will see you as an approachable, sociable human being with a normal amount of nervousness. Everyone is nervous before a job interview, right? So that’s a good tactic to get the office manager or receptionist on your side. And believe me, that helps.
Put a small anti perspirant stick or roller in your bag or in your outer jacket. I know sticks may feel icky but sprays are usually too big to carry around with you. And you’re going to need anti perspirant, not deodorant – because deodorant is usually only perfume and nothing else. Sometimes, when I’m really nervous, I even dab some anti perspirant on my hands about 15 minutes before the interview so my hands won’t feel too sweaty when I’m shaking hands. Don’t do this too shortly before the interview though, because it might feel too dry. 15 minutes is a good time frame and will give you the opportunity to wash your hands if by accident you’ve used too much.
With many thanks to Ben Forshaw
This is something I was not aware of, even though I am a ferocious nail and nail bed biter. Your hands — and nails in particular — are likely to get noticed. I don’t know how the interview people do that if my attention-to-detail, notice-irrelevant-information autistic self doesn’t. But it’s probably one of those uncanny senses that neurotypical people have to immediately notice things that don’t conform to a certain standard.
So, here’s the advice. For men, nails should be short, neatly-trimmed and clean. For women they should be neat and clean, but can be short or long. What does neat mean? No ragged edges, no bleeding. If painted or false then they should have an even finish (I’m also a ferocious nail polish chipper, so I can attest to that one). Best to avoid nail decoration that’s too flashy or trendy, like very bright colours or patterns. If you habitually bite your nails so they appear untidy, Ben recommends getting a manicure close to the interview appointment: within a day if possible. I’ve never had a manicure but I can definitely see that working. My additional advice: avoid doing DIY or anything with sharp knives in the days leading up to the interview. Plasters and bruises are not an attractive look.
Here’s where there is a huge difference between men and women. As a man, you’re not supposed to wear any make-up at all, but women are regarded as social misfits when they don’t use any. I hardly ever use make-up myself, but I made an appointment with a make-up artist last year to explain to me how to apply all that stuff properly and what would work with my skin colouring and so on. Because I just couldn’t figure it out. When I wear make-up, I notice that people tend to take me more seriously. It’s silly but it works. So I would definitely advise any women reading this to invest in a (private) make-up tutorial and some products. You don’t have to slather your skin with crap, but some mascara and eyebrow pencil will already make a difference. Take your time to figure out what feels OK on your skin, I find that powders feel less sticky than creams. But even if you have sensory issues, a make-up artist can actually help you find products that don’t feel icky. Still, don’t worry if this is something that you simply don’t feel comfortable with. It helps with a job interview, but it’s not as important as clothes and hygiene.
Again, no jewelry for men. Watches and wedding rings are OK but if you have any other jewelry, take it off. For women, it’s again the exact opposite. I never used to wear jewelry but I have noticed that especially in job interviews with other women, this tends to set me apart as unfashionable and nonconformist. Even men to a certain degree prefer one or two pieces of discreet jewelry to none at all. The easiest option is to invest in a matching necklace and bracelet. You can even use a bracelet to unobtrusively stim a little bit when needed. Silver, gold, and wood coloured necklaces and bracelets work with nearly all outfits. Stay away from big chunky costume jewelry or jewelry with too many gemstones, however, unless you have pretty accurate fashion awareness.
This is a difficult one. If there’s any industry-specific footwear, like safety shoes for workshops or wellies/rubber boots for farm work, then that’s of course perfect. But overall, I would say leather shoes for men and (moderate) heels for women. However, a lot of autistic people have issues with uncomfortable shoes, especially autistic women and high heels. I personally like them because: toe walking! In public! Without comments! But not everyone does and that’s OK.
The most important thing is that you can walk on them and that your shoes don’t pinch your feet during the interview because that’s distracting. Leather shoes or brogues can be very stiff, especially if you don’t walk on them often. Suede is a bit more supple. Canvas sneakers, like Converse or Vans in a solid colour, are an acceptable alternative. I would advise against other sport shoes, especially white ones, unless you really can’t walk on anything else. A workaround is to wear your normal shoes to get to the interview and then change into your nice shoes just before. However, that definitely poses the risk of pinching or other uncomfortableness, so only do that if you’re sure the other shoes won’t drive you insane within an hour or less. Try it out while sitting on the sofa at home if you’re unsure.
Two last tips: make sure your shoes are absolutely clean (especially sneakers), and never ever wear open toed shoes or sandals, no matter how hot the weather is.
That wraps up my advice on clothes, accessories and grooming. It all sounds very superficial, but it helps to not get rejected before the interviewers even hear what you’re capable of. I had a job once doing data entry at an HR department, and I’ve seriously seen interview reports where a candidate got rejected for wearing the wrong kind of shoes. I would love to hear if you’ve got any similar stories or tips to share!
In the next post, I’ll be looking at what to do when you’re early or late for the interview, how to greet everyone, and other situational pitfalls.