Job interview advice – Situation

This article was first published with permission on Invisible Autistic.

In my previous post, I discussed personal hygiene and what to do with accessories, like shoes and jewellery. Things that may seem superficial but have the ability to get you rejected for a job before you even open your mouth.

This week we’re going to enter the danger zone: what to do when you arrive at the interview.

Strong currents sign

Arriving on time

“On time” is a terrible phrase when you have a literal mind. If your interview starts at 10:00am, then being “on time” does not mean walking in the door at 10:00am sharp. When planning your journey to the place where you’re having your interview, make sure to be there at least 15 to 20 minutes early. That’s excluding any extra time you may need to navigate traffic, deal with public transport, or making sure you’re not getting lost (tip: I always print out a map with street names of the surrounding area. Having a look around on Google Streetview beforehand is also a good way to familiarise yourself with the area).

The 15 to 20 minutes early is meant as your own private prep time. I’ll explain what you can use that prep time for in a bit.

Arriving too early

If you arrive much earlier than 15 minutes, walk around the neighbourhood for a bit, make note of any interesting features of the area so you’ll have something to use in smalltalk if needed. If the weather isn’t suitable for walking around, you can also go up to the receptionist or office manager (if they have someone like that) and say the following: “I’m sorry, I have an appointment with Ms. Jones and Mr. Smith at 10:00am, but I seem to have arrived a bit too early. Can you please let them know that I’ve arrived, but that I don’t mind waiting somewhere until the start time of the interview?” You can even say that you have brought something to read in the meantime, or things like that. It shows that you are self-sufficient but also take other people’s priorities into account.

Arriving too late

If you’re late: DON’T PANIC! If you’re not at the location 15 minutes before the start of the interview, call the company. This is really important (and also why those 15 minutes are so important to focus on). Tell them that you’re running late and that you’re really sorry. DON’T GIVE REASONS, except when they ask you why. To neurotypical people, reasons sound like excuses, even when you only want to explain. Just say “I’m so sorry, but I’m running late and probably won’t arrive until 10:15am. I know you have other responsibilities as well, so do you want to reschedule the interview to another date?” If you can’t give an estimate (because you’re thoroughly lost, again something you don’t want to say because it will make you seem helpless), simply say that you’re running late and don’t know what time you will arrive, so it’s probably better to reschedule.

Where’s the receptionist?

One of the things I really hate is when I arrive at a company and there’s no clear indication of who to approach. (Actually, I really hated that in my previous job as well, where we didn’t have a receptionist so the managers stationed my desk near the door. Just because I’m the only woman in the company doesn’t mean I want to drop my tasks as HEAD OF MY DEPARTMENT to welcome guests and sign for packages, thanks. Sorry for the digression). If there’s no receptionist or office manager in sight, walk up to the first person you see or knock on the nearest office door, and ask, “I’m sorry, I’m looking for your office manager.” Even if they don’t have one, this question will get you to someone who can guide you and help you settle in. Don’t ask for the person you’re having the interview with. You don’t want to meet them until you’re ready! Still, in very small companies, chances are everyone knows that someone’s coming for an interview, so they might end up getting the person who’s going to interview you. The rule here is to not assume anything, but ASK the next person you see what their name and their job is.

Prep time

Now, if all has went well, you’ve got 15 to 20 minutes to kill until the start of your interview. Use this time to go to the bathroom, make sure your bladder is empty, your palms aren’t too sweaty (use anti-perspirant to make them less so), and your clothing isn’t torn or stained. You can also use this time to swap your shoes in the bathroom if you’re not wearing dress shoes.

But the most valuable use of personal prep time is to make yourself feel confident.

Sound too good to be true? OK, here’s some official research showing that adopting a “power pose” before your interview will make you feel less anxious and more in control. Literally. Your intentional poses can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain (start watching at 10:20 for some examples of power poses). You can do this in the bathroom, or you can adopt some discrete power poses while sitting and waiting. Doing these will also prevent you from slouching too much, something that a receptionist or office manager will mention to others as you appearing uninterested before the interview.

Small talk

The thing so many of us dread. Because a lot of people find it hard, not just autistic people, you can find a lot of resources and information on how to do small talk, like this article on WikiHow or this article with tips from Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute (YES REALLY), but I want to highlight some examples of acceptable small talk in an interview situation. Be prepared to do small talk with the interviewer from the moment you shake hands until a few minutes after you’ve sat down!

Good conversation topics are:

  • the weather (corny but effective, especially if you relate it to your journey getting to the location, which can lead to you asking what kind of weather is the interviewer’s favourite and do they choose their holidays based on the weather)
  • the city the company is located in (do some research on things that make this city interesting if you’re not familiar with it, or mention how long you’ve lived there, which can lead to you asking where the interviewer lives and why they like living there)
  • some features of the exact area or building the company or office is located in (even if it’s an industrial park, say something about the amount of greenery, or the architecture of the building, or ask if there’s any good places to eat, which can lead to you asking what types of food the interviewer likes)
  • the interviewer’s career – this is a good one since it’s far easier to segue into the actual interview from here, and people love talking about themselves! Ask them how they ended up in their current position, what college they attended, what they love about their work. Do some research by seeing if they have a LinkedIn profile or other online presence. Google is your friend. But don’t mention that you already know the things they’re telling you because you looked it up! Let them do most of the talking.

In my next guest post, I will focus on the actual interview and what to say and do to make a good impression.

People giving high marks

9 thoughts on “Job interview advice – Situation

    • It never even occurred to me to look at suggested travel times! I always do my own calculations, or like Ben suggested in the original post, travel there on an earlier day at the same time to get an estimate of traffic or public transport connections at that time of day.

  1. The arrive “on time” thing (= 15-20 min early) has never occurred to me. Are you certain that is the norm?

    In that case I have been “too late” to every single job interview I ever had, because I have always made sure to not enter the premises until the time was up precisely. Because if I have to wait 15-20 minutes extra inside an unfamiliar company in a reception-like environment in a nervous condition than I can be sure to get totally worked up about every little sound and movement around me.

    • Every job applicant here makes sure to present themselves at the very least 10 minutes early. Magazine articles and books also stress this point. They always say that whatever you do, don’t make someone else wait for you.

      It’s not just book knowledge, though. I’ve sat in on job interviews as the “second” interviewer. Especially with trainees or people straight out of school, my managers tended to make remarks about their “lateness” when the candidate wasn’t sitting in the waiting area with a cup of coffee 5 minutes before starting time. People who got in “on time” would always need extra time hanging up their coat, getting offered a drink, and getting their CV and notebook out of their bag. That creates annoyance, which is not a good start to the interview.

      If waiting inside in an unfamiliar environment creates too much overload, that’s something you will have to take into account for your prep time. However, prep time is very important, for the reasons I outlined in the article. I work on my own nervousness by spending most of my prep time in the toilet, which is a more controllable environment than a large waiting area (and no, people will not think you’re a freak for spending 10 minutes in the toilet. Everyone feels nervous before an interview. I’ve heard stories from receptionists about people throwing up beforehand). On the other hand, receptions and waiting areas usually have more sensory friendly lighting and more comfortable chairs. But if waiting outside makes you feel more comfortable, then by all means do it! It’s about working with your disabilities, not against them.

      • I guess it gives you a really got view to have been sitting at both sides of the interview table. I had not idea that one was supposed to be early.

        “On the other hand, receptions and waiting areas usually have more sensory friendly lighting and more comfortable chairs.”

        I think receptionist/waiting areas are some of the worst places to be when nervously waiting for an interview because people tend to walk in and out, doors open and close, there are phones ringing, printers going et.c. Things that wouldn’t necessarily bother me under normal circumstances if I was used to the place but when nervous & hyper vigilant before an interview, every little sound and movement can seem amplified.

        Anyway… Needless to say I am not great at interviews. I think I need to find other ways to get myself work next time I need a new job than through a formal job interview with complete strangers, because I haven’t had luck with it so far and the conventional job advice (including yours… although it is good and targeted and everything) sounds totally overwhelming. Way to many things to pay attention to, like dress code, potential stains on jackets, potentially sweaty hands et.c. while also trying to be genuinely serious about the work itself.

        It is like a one-man (well, woman…) theatre performance where ones needs to manage everything at once including costumes, stage lighting, sound engineering, and the play itself.

        • It is a performance. And it is hugely stressful. I’ve been through that circus so many times and I hate hate hate it. But I made myself do it because it was the only way to get a job and keep a roof over my head.

        • By the way, the sensory stuff depends on what you’re sensitive to. Some people have problems dealing with sounds, for me lights are more important. That’s why I didn’t say reception areas are sensory friendly overall, they just have more sensory friendly lighting than toilets (usually).

  2. Pingback: Job interview advice - Situation | Interview Ad...

  3. Pingback: Late or Early: Make sure to arrive at the right time | The D Report

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