Date posted: 02/04/2024 8 min read

Dear Abby

With World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, we answer a reader’s questions about the recruitment process when you’re on the spectrum – plus a couple more tricky questions.

Got a question for Abby?

  • In her 20 years in media, 'Acuity' editor Abigail Murison has observed and experienced her fair share of workplace and career dilemmas. Send in your questions, and she’ll pose them anonymously to our panel of experts.

Questions

  • I am both autistic and ADHD, with several related questions:

    HR expert Sharon McDonald says:

    How much and when should we disclose this or similar diagnoses to potential employers?

    Disclosing your diagnoses is a hard decision and disclosing up-front at the interview stage is risky. No matter how understanding an interviewer may seem, both autism and ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] are often misunderstood, and common misconceptions may impact your chances negatively.

    How does this answer change if we may come across as a bit weird or forget to mask while concentrating on something that isn’t masking?

    A good time to disclose might be when you need to ask for a reasonable accommodation to be made when you are already in the role. This can be when you know that there is something in the workplace that is preventing you from performing your job well.

    Knowing who the best person to disclose to is important. If your workplace has a HR person, that is a good place to start, or you might decide to speak to your manager. It may also be helpful to have a support person with you who can help explain your diagnosis and what it means for you in the workplace.

    How supportive are medium and large accounting firms for people like me, if we dislike physical things like hot-desking, and also have rebellious minds, so are intolerant of organisational things like technically incompetent powerful people and buzzword-rich environments?

    Many of the world’s largest accounting firms are supportive of people with a range of disabilities, and smaller to medium firms are following suit – especially in this tight employment market. There is an increasing need for employees with the skills, thought patterns and work ethic which are common among autistic people. And, of course, the industry is well placed to accommodate differences and specific needs.

    Before accepting a role, do your homework. Ask general questions about diversity-supportive and inclusivity policies, workplace culture, employee engagement and flexibility. Even better, if you are at the final interview stage, ask to have a workplace tour so you can meet some of the team members and gauge whether the company walks the talk.

    Beyond talk and unimplemented policies, what useful differences for people like us exist when job advertisements allege diversity supportive environments?

    Good employers take steps to create an inclusive environment in the workplace. These include encouraging employees to talk about disability and difference, collecting feedback and acting on it, actively promoting diversity, welcoming people with disability, and appointing someone to be the voice of the disabled.

    EY, for example, has discovered the value of neurodiversity to its bottom line. The firm actively recruits people on the autism spectrum, as they have found that they approach problems differently and their logical, straightforward thinking can lead to process improvement and increased productivity. ADHD is also seen to bring strengths such as energy, creative problem solving, perseverance and the ability to work well under pressure.

    Again, do your homework on a company – and remember, the interview process is as much about a company interviewing you as it is you interviewing them!

    “Good employers take steps to create an inclusive environment in the workplace... welcoming people with disability.”
    Sharon McDonald, McDonald HR
  • I think my employer is advertising my role. I know they haven’t been 100% happy with my work, but they haven’t said anything to me. Should I confront them?

    Recruitment expert Michael Edelstein says:

    One thing I always say to people is ‘no assumptions’ – especially in a data-driven career like accounting. Read the ad carefully, ensure it really is your position and the ad is recent. Get a friend to call and ask which department it’s in, and if it’s a replacement role (if so, ask what happened to the other person) or if it’s a new role.

    Without knowing the specifics of your situation, there are a couple of possible scenarios. In medium-to-large companies, it’s quite common to use exactly the same titles and job descriptions (i.e. there might be dozens if not 100-plus people with the same title).

    It might also be the case that the company is growing fast enough to require more capacity in the area you’re in, so you might have another colleague to share the load with.

    Personally, I am a big believer that all issues should be resolved with some good old communication! The worst thing you can do is get anxious and raise your blood pressure based on assumptions. So, organise a time with your boss, and ask for feedback on your performance and areas where you can improve. Ensure that you actually do improve as quickly as possible, especially since you’re aware that they’re not 100% happy.

    If your suspicions are confirmed by your manager and it’s too late to improve, then ask about other opportunities in the company more suited to your skill set, otherwise, it’s time to polish your CV and LinkedIn profile.

  • When I do a presentation or speak in a big meeting or interview, I blush. I’m aware of it and used to it, but people have commented on it before, asking if I’m OK which just makes it worse. Plus, it detracts from my presentation or question. What can I do to try and prevent it and/or avoid or address the well-meaning comments?

    Recruitment expert Megan Alexander CA says:

    In most professional roles, especially in leadership positions, it is common to need to present information to audiences of all sizes. For some, it can feel unnatural to talk in front of others and your body can have a physical reaction that is hard to control, ranging from sweating and shaking to blushing. If you find your body having a physical reaction, there are a few things I suggest you do.

    It can be very effective to rehearse your presentation or responses to potential questions out loud, preferably in front of a mirror or a trusted friend. Imagine yourself delivering the presentation calmly and confidently. I find this positive self-talk can trick your body into feeling more relaxed. Also, wearing something comfortable can make you feel more settled.

    During the presentation, focus on your audience, not yourself. You’ll be less aware of your internal sensations by directing your attention outwards. Use other parts of your body to redirect your physical response, like clenching your muscles or wiggling your toes.

    If you do feel yourself blushing and the situation is appropriate, acknowledge it with humour. You can prepare a response, like ‘My superpower is turning red under pressure’. This deflects attention, without making a big deal. If it is a well-meaning gesture, you can also thank them for their concern but reassure them you are OK.

    Remember, the way your body reacts to giving a presentation is not a reflection of your professionalism and worth to a company. It is completely normal for these types of reactions to happen, so having strategies to help minimise them and make you feel more confident is key.

The experts

Sharon McDonald is a human resources consultant and founder of McDonald HR in New Zealand.

Michael Edelstein is the founder of Australian accounting recruitment specialist, Recruitment Expert.

Megan Alexander CA is managing director of recruitment company Robert Half New Zealand.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column are not intended to be legal or industrial advice. People should seek professional advice specific to their own situation, if required.

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