Getting off the elevator

Today’s article is a guest post from CJIQ fan Zac Morris.  Whilst reading my book he emailed me about my section on interview technique, and specifically about being confident and outgoing with your interviewers as often candidates can appear hostile either intentionally or unintentionally.

 

Zac is on the autistic spectrum and correctly felt that my articles didn’t take into account what interviews and the process is like for someone with autism.  I think it’s something that isn’t spoken about enough and I felt it was best for Zac to do a post to talk about the situation in his own words.


I discovered Sam through his blog post: “Why I hate Spring”; something I reference when discussing Java frameworks with people. I recently purchased his eBook: “JAVA INTERVIEW BOOTCAMP”, which has been an extraordinary resource. When I purchased the eBook, I was signed up for a matching email subscription, which is why I received the email below…

In Sam’s book, “JAVA INTERVIEW BOOTCAMP”, several elements in the Soft Skills and Interview sections rubbed me the wrong way, but when taken as a whole, the positives outweighed any negatives. Unfortunately, when I received this email it brought up some of those feelings of being rubbed the wrong way.

I had never interacted with Sam; I didn’t even know if he was actually involved in the creation of this email, or if it was part of a marketing company, but I decided to take a chance with a very basic response:

—- On Sat, 28 May 2016 Zac Morris<zac@zacwolf.com> wrote —-

So you’re saying you hire only Extroverts?

 

I was actually surprised to receive a response:

—- On Sat, May 28, 2016 Core Java Interview Questions <hello@corejavainterviewquestions.com> wrote:

Hiya Zac,

Thanks for the mail, and I’m gonna alter my text based on this.

It’s absolutely not an extrovert thing and I should specifically cover that. My main point was that a surprising number of candidates are actively hostile/ it’s not because they’re introvert, usually the opposite.

 

Introvert candidates are great (and very common). If someone’s quiet because of nerves you can tell straight away and it’s the interviewers job to make them feel more comfortable and work with them to get the best idea of what they would be like to work with.

Let me know if you have any other Thoughts or questions,

S

 

While I really appreciated the response, I still felt Sam was missing my point…

You see, I am on the autistic spectrum (“Ultraviolet”/Highly Functional), which can result in me being overwhelmed by certain situations. ​ At 48, I’m very practiced at coping at a professional level. I have approximately 30 years of work experience, 26 of those with fortune 500 companies; my last non-contract position was 15 years with Cisco Systems, working full time remotely from home.

I decided back in September 2014 that it was time for something different, and having never had much trouble finding work, I gave my notice and decided to take a few months off for some personal projects. Unfortunately, between working from home all those years and taking time off, I’m finding my coping skills to be a bit rusty. On top of that, I’m running into more challenges, even downright roadblocks, in the marketplace than I expected.

Ten years ago, things like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) would have been a tool to help people like me by mandating “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace, but today, to get around this requirement, companies have specifically instituted two hiring design patterns: temp-to-hire and building a “culture” around the OpenOffice philosophy. The first means that because you are not an actual employee, they aren’t required to make reasonable accommodations, and the second means that providing someone with a private/quiet workspace is considered an unreasonable accommodation, because it would be counter to their OpenOffice culture. I’m finding very little awareness, much less understanding, by employers and their interviewers of what a serious problem this can represent for someone like me. Yeah, that’s my cross to bear, but when I got Sam’s email, I felt a bit defensive.

So I decided to try a different approach:

—- On Sat, 28 May 2016 Zac Morris<zac@zacwolf.com> wrote —-

I would like to challenge you; just because you may actually be pretty good at identifying an Introvert from an Extrovert, you should never assume that skill is absolute. You have no real idea what that person getting off the elevator may have gone through to get to that point in space and time.

I then went on to relate an elevator story of my own:

Recently I went to a job interview in a building that had a very strange elevator system. It had a bank of elevators and two digital touchscreen keypads. You had to punch in your floor number, then it would tell you which lettered elevator would take you to your floor. Having never experienced this type of system, I did not know this, so I stepped into the first elevator that opened and there were no buttons. Another person on the elevator saw my dilemma and said, “You enter your floor on the keypad outside”. So I stepped out, and I see the digital pad which is laid out like a phone style number-pad [1-3, 4-6, 7-9, #0*]. My appointment was on the 11th floor. Hindsight being 20/20 I should have used it as a number entry pad, but that’s not typically the way that an elevator system is laid out (and in my defense I wasn’t even sure if the building had more than 9 floors). So I had to go ask the security guard how to get to the eleventh floor. He laughed and said that I just hit the “1” button twice. Now I have an IQ of 159, so on top of the embarrassment of being laughed at, this simple thing made me feel quite stupid, not something you want to feel right before a job interview. By the time I got to the correct floor, I was a minute late, quite overwhelmed, and I was immediately lead into a conference room where two people were already waiting on me.

I went on…

Yeah, I get it, the world isn’t fair, but as someone that is billing themselves as a self-help author, you have a higher responsibility to show multiple sides to every story (interviewer and interviewee). You could have expanded your “Be guy #2” with something to that effect, instead it came off as judgmental vs. helping people realize that an interview is a kind of show, and the two absolutes of any show are: “The show must go on”, and “As an actor in a show, you have a part to play”.

Like I said, I’m decent at coping, so even after my own elevator experience I was able to turn on the “interviewee persona”, but others with my condition might not be so practiced, or (and here’s the important bit) even know that it’s something they even need to practice.

It is all part of what I believe to be de facto expectations of extrovert-styled normative behaviors used to define professionalism. I get it, expectations are expectations, but for someone like me, the discussion of soft skills in the interview process would be much more helpful/productive framed in the idea of an interview being like a show in which there are roles to play, otherwise it just feels like a judgment of who/how I really am. To some that may sound like simple semantics, but for people like me, it is a very important semantic!

I was very happy to get the following response from Sam:

—- On Sat, May 28, 2016 Core Java Interview Questions <hello@corejavainterviewquestions.com> wrote:

Hi Zac,

This is a brilliant email and you’re 100% right. This is something out of my area of experience and I imagine that’s the case for most people who are recruiting. […] I’d love for you to flesh this email out into a blog post which I could use on CJIQ. I think stories like yours are unknown to most recruiting people and you could really help a lot of people on both sides of the fence.

So here we are. I really do hope that this post can help people on both sides of the fence: help interviewees like me better understand the expectations of employers and interviewers and how it’s possible to learn skills in interviewing without compromising who/how you are; and help employers and interviewers better understand that they can’t assume that they know someone’s story based on a few words said (or not said) when getting off an elevator.

One Comment

  • And in a bit of shameless promotion; I’m still in the market looking for a job! I’ve ran into a total of four jobs now that didn’t work out because of the Open Office design, so I would love to bring my skills to bear for an organization that has a remote-worker position available! My resume is on my website!

    Anyway, special thanks to Sam for giving my plight some visibility!

    THANKS SAM!

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