This is a guest post from writer and neurodiversity champion Claudia Casser. Claudia retired early from antitrust law to fledge her nerdy children on a working horse farm and write speculative fiction. From people to horses to parrots, none of the farm’s denizens could ever be classified as neurotypical.
Leveraging “Spectric” Honesty and Candor to Get Hired
People “on the autistic spectrum” (hereinafter “Spectrics”) are famous for the qualities of honesty and candor. Okay, in social settings, infamous.
But experts agree that honesty and candor are precious resources for businesses. This article provides ideas for leveraging those precious resources to get hired. [i]
Quote the Experts
Experts frequently rail that honesty and candor are critical to long-term business success, but difficult to find. These experts urge business leaders to “create systems and norms that lead to a culture of candor” in their workplaces (O’Toole and Bennis, 2009). [ii]
One obvious means to create a culture of candor in the workplace is to hire people with that quality. However, the research shows that neurotypicals look to “norms more than rules when it comes to ethics… [T]hey often look to others to gain information about appropriate behavior.” This means that even if you add honest and outspoken rule-following neurotypicals to your workforce, they are likely to adopt the very existing “short-cuts” or “dishonesty” you want to change (“Cheating and Honesty,” n.d.).[iii]
Spectrics, on the other hand, famously focus on rules more than norms when it comes to ethics, and so are much less prone to give in to bad influences and social pressure (assuming we even notice the bad norms and social pressure). We are “those rare individuals who might be described as ‘pathological truth-tellers’” (Hadhazy, 2011). We “have an ‘allegiance to the truth, rather than people’s feelings’” (Hadhazy, 2011).
This provides a compelling reason for employers to hire at least some Spectrics in every job in which honesty, candor and rule-following are vital. These include “non-professional” functions such as internal auditing, book-keeping, inventory, and fact-checking. These also include “professions” like accounting, law, journalism, regulated industry compliance, and medicine (Huhman, 2015).[iv] Recently, even the military has recognized a critical need for personnel maintaining WMD who can withstand social and institutional pressures to misrepresent (Kingsbury, 2015).[v]
But employers have not yet considered the value Spectric honesty, candor and rule focus can bring to the jobs listed above. Currently, companies recognize only less important Spectric characteristics they hope will immediately benefit their bottom lines. (E.g., Chicago Tribune June 10, 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-autism-workplace-hart-schaffner-marx-0612-biz-20160610-story.html ; Huffington Post March 29, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/companies-hiring-people-with-autism_us_56e99cdfe4b065e2e3d82ab4 (“A growing number of employers are realizing that workers on the spectrum can be a huge asset… Autistic individuals’ strengths include the ability to find patterns and anomalies in data and to focus and perform high-quality repetitive work. Those attributes are valuable in roles in data analysis, IT, software design and multimedia.”).
However, as companies begin to focus on long-term rather than short-term outcomes, experts are in fact beginning to focus on long-term value that “outlier” employees like Spectrics can add. These experts conclude that hiring a diverse workforce including Spectrics provides “enormous value” to firms. For example, according to Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne’s article (2014) in the Harvard Business Review, “innovation, which is a critical skill for businesses today, is driven by diversity of thought.” The ability to innovate “arises from employees who see things from new perspectives—people from different backgrounds, and those with different cognitive, developmental, and neurological endowments” (Austin & Sonne, 2014).
So the time is ripe to showcase the huge workplace value of the very honesty, candor, and strict adherence to rules that annoys neurotypicals in social settings.
First Do What Successful Neurotypical Job-Seekers Do
Searching for a job is hard work for anyone not lucky enough to have “an uncle in the business.” The experts teach neurotypicals to make a list of jobs that interest them, research those jobs and companies with those jobs, draft a resume and practice an interview spiel TARGETED at the individual company, and be willing to move to new locations to get those jobs at those companies.
Read at least one of the many excellent books about job-seeking, and follow its recommendations, no matter how time-consuming. My favorite is Richard Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute.”
Determine When it Might Benefit You to Go the Extra Spectric Mile
When might it benefit you to disclose that you’re Spectric? That’s a judgment call. But disclosure might benefit you when:
- It will be obvious in your interview, without disclosure, that you are Spectric.
- You will be required before hiring to take personality employment tests which likely provide false results for Spectrics.[vi]
- The employer has announced its commitment to hire Spectrics.
- The employer is in an industry in which leaders of other firms have announced either their success with hiring Spectrics or their commitment to hire Spectrics.
- The employer has suffered scandals recently, or is in the same industry as other employers who recently have suffered scandals.
- The employer has suffered employee theft/fraud losses recently, or is in the same industry as other employers who recently have suffered theft/fraud losses.
- Honesty/candor/credibility is particularly critical to the position you are seeking, such as positions in: accounting, internal auditing, book-keeping, regulated industry compliance, fact-checking, inventory, journalism, law, and medicine.
- Strict adherence to written rules is particularly critical to the position you are seeking, such as: nurse, medical tech, auditor, regulated industry compliance manager.
When You Have Decided to Disclose Your Position on the Spectrum to the Prospective Employer
Now is the time to go the extra mile to help the prospective employer understand your unique Spectric value. Just like the preparation mentioned in “A” above, this takes substantial WORK before you ever contact the employer.
Create a separate resume for EACH employer to whom you intend to disclose pre-hiring. On that separate resume, list your Spectric superpowers, and attach articles that verify that your type of Spectric possesses those superpowers.
On that separate resume, explain why your Spectric traits add value to the position you seek. Include your incorruptible devotion to honesty, candor and following written rules to the letter. Explain why those traits are mission-critical.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW:
- Analyze what bothers neurotypicals most about you. Ask for candid descriptions from neurotypicals you trust, telling them you want to anticipate what might bother an employer or interviewer. Use this input to create and memorize a list of what neurotypicals perceive as your greatest Spectric weaknesses. Also create and memorize a list of minor accommodations that might neutralize adverse workplace effects of each Spectric weakness.
- Prepare and memorize an answer to the inevitable question “Why should we hire you” [subtext, a weirdo who makes us uncomfortable]. Include in that answer a memorized statement like: “I’m highly qualified. Now, imagine me and another candidate with equal talents and training to do the core job requirements: the other candidate is a smiling, Machiavellian type you’ll enjoy talking with, but who will hide his personal agendas and stab you and the company in the back when he can. I, on the other hand, might bore or annoy you, but I’ll always be up front, always be someone whom you can trust to follow the rules. Even if the other candidate isn’t Machiavelli, but honestly means strictly to perform his duties, imagine how easily this nice, social guy can be led astray by his fellow employees. My fellow employees might fool me, but they can’t make me lie or deviate from the company rules. In both cases, my Spectric ‘pathological honesty’ and candor makes me the candidate who brings more value to you and your firm.”
- Generate and memorize catch phrases to use in an interview, including phrases like: “Please excuse me if I’m saying this too bluntly, but…” or “Please tell me if this is the wrong way/a stupid way way to say this, but…” or “please tell me if I’m misunderstanding the bigger picture, but…” or “I don’t know the right way to say this, but….”
- Generate a list of examples of the success of Spectrics in the position you are targeting, preferably at your target company or its competitors, customers or suppliers.
AT THE INTERVIEW, don’t sweat the stereotypes: when asked about your autism or your “greatest weaknesses,” just make a mild joke: “I don’t fit the neurotypical stereotype, but I don’t fit the autism stereotype, either. Here’s what I’m like.” Then restate the Spectric strengths you have listed on your Spectric resume. Only after restating your strengths, mention NO MORE than a maximum of three of your previously memorized list of Spectric traits that bother neurotypicals.
After you mention any Spectric trait/“weakness,” immediately explain what small accommodations will neutralize that issue.
Neurotypicals don’t like to go first; tell them about the successes of other Spectric hires from the list you compiled before the interview.
For smaller employers, remind the interviewer of the fact that Spectrics are the rare bird that will never steal from them. [vii]
Regardless of the foregoing, there are times you must NOT be honest and candid in the workplace.
Most importantly, you must never say what you really think about a boss, colleague, or subordinate. You must try hard to avoid giving your opinion about somebody from the workplace to someone associated in any way with the workplace.
If a third party asks, turn it around: say “Well, what do you think?” If it is the workplace employee or boss themselves asking what you think about them, evade. If you cannot evade, find a reason to cut the conversation short. Something like, “Sorry, I need to find the bathroom.” Then just run away.
Finally, if you are stuck talking about someone else’s work or behavior, you must be tactful. To neurotypicals, tact is NOT lying.
My “tactfulness” rule of thumb is to routinely say something is one degree better than I actually think it is. So, if I think work meets the minimal criteria to pass, I call it “okay.” If I think it is average, I call it “good.” If it is awful, I say “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this.”
But hey! If you’re worrying about the problem of unintentionally offending people at work, it means you got the job.
[i] I mean this article to be practical, rather than political. Accordingly, it takes no position on whether companies have some kind of obligation to act beyond their self-interest. Nor does it take any position regarding whether society “owes” anything to autistics.
[ii] See also recent articles from Ethical Systems, a non-profit organization housed in NYU Stern’s Business and Society Program with a mission to bridge research by leaders in academia and the corporate world, which share[s] the conviction, backed by research, that in the long run, good ethics is good business. http://ethicalsystems.org/content/executive-summary Warren Buffet agrees: “Of the three main qualities that Buffett looks for in the hiring process , Integrity is listed first. A lack of integrity will inevitably lead to a lack of trust. When someone is untrustworthy, that impacts every aspect of his or her life, and work is a major one.” http://recruiterbox.com/blog/what-warren-buffett-wants-to-know-before-he-hires-you/
Regarding the problem this causes in healthcare delivery: John Banja Bus Horiz. 2010; 53(2): 139. The Normalization of Deviance in Healthcare Delivery
“Institutionalization exposes newcomers to deviant behaviors, often performed by authority figures, and explains those behaviors as organizationally normative (as cited in Example #3). Socialization, which is often mediated by a system of rewards and punishments, aims at determining whether the newcomer will or will not join the group by adopting the group’s deviant behaviors. Rationalization enables system operators to convince themselves that their deviances are not only legitimate, but acceptable and perhaps even necessary. Institutionalization, socialization, and rationalization work in a mutually reinforcing manner to dissolve anxiety among the uninitiated by representing deviant behaviors as thoroughly rational and not immoral responses to work performance challenges (Ashforth & Anand, 2003).”
“Workers are afraid to speak up. The likelihood that rule violations will become normalized obviously increases if persons who witness them refuse to intervene. Yet, a 2005 study of more than 1,700 healthcare professionals found that “it was between difficult and impossible to confront people” (Maxfield, Grenny, Patterson, McMillan, & Switzler, 2005b, p. 10) who manifested problematic work behaviors, especially rule-breaking, incompetence, and showing disrespect. Fear of retaliation, lack of ability to confront, belief that it is “not my job,” and low confidence that speaking up will do any good were the chief reasons given for not calling attention to deviant behaviors. As the study reported, “People don’t want to make others angry or undercut their working relationship, so they leave difficult discussions to others or to another time, and never get back to the person” (Maxfield et al., 2005b, p. 10).”
[iv]“Dishonesty is a serious issue in highly regulated industries and for professionals in finance, law and journalism. In these contexts, trust and credibility are critical qualities for effective performance of the job.” https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/243326 FEBRUARY 26, 2015 Entrepreneur
See also http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/files/1250-summary.pdf Feb 2015; full paper at http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB1250.pdf; https://carryingthegun.com/2016/03/23/military-review-ethical-fading/ “As Callahan learned, other officers often did not include every detail about themselves because they believed some of those details were irrelevant or might preclude them from some required training. Even though Callahan had at one time been thorough and honest on the forms, he felt compelled to do what everyone else was doing.”
“Can we identify job applicants during the hiring process who are more likely to engage in unethical behavior on the job? The short answer is “yes.” We now have several decades of evidence that well-designed integrity tests are powerful predictors of unethical behaviors, and can be relatively hard to cheat. One strategy for limiting faking is to shift from asking job applicants what they would do, and instead ask them to predict what others would do. For example, if we asked job applicants how much merchandise they expect to steal from the organization each month, almost all will say “none.” However, when we ask applicants what percent of employees they believe steal at least $10 worth of merchandise per month from their employers, they often use their own behavior as an anchor point for the estimate. Thieves give higher estimates than good Samaritans.”
[vii] http://www.businessknowhow.com/manage/employee-theft.htm “There’s an old saying that’s long been accepted in fraud prevention circles called the 10-10-80 rule: 10 percent of people will never steal no matter what, 10 percent of people will steal at any opportunity, and the other 80 percent of employees will go either way depending on how they rationalize a particular opportunity.”
Austin, R. D. & Sonne, T.(January 13, 2014). The Case for Hiring “Outlier” Employees. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/01/the-case-for-hiring-outlier-employees
Bolles, R. N. (2016). What Color is Your Parachute? 2016: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. New York: Ten Speed Press.
Che, J. (March 29, 2016). Why More Companies Are Eager to Hire People with Autism. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/companies-hiring-people-with-autism_us_56e99cdfe4b065e2e3d82ab4
Elejalde-Ruiz, A. (June 10, 2016). It’s Changed His View of Life: Companies Find Hiring Autistic Employees Has Vast Benefits. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-autism-workplace-hart-schaffner-marx-0612-biz-20160610-story.html
Hadhazy, A. (December 11, 2011). Life’s Extremes: Pathological Liar vs Straight Shooter. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/17407-pathological-liars-honest-psychology.html
Huhman, H. (February 26, 2015). What Should Employers Do About Misrepresentation? Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/243326
Kingsbury, P. (September 2015). When Cheating Becomes Normal. Proceedings Magazine. Vol. 141/9/1,351. Retrieved from http://www.usni.org/node/81106
O’Toole, J. & Bennis, W. (June 2009). A Culture of Candor. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2009/06/a-culture-of-candor