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Helping Your Kids on the Spectrum to Find Employment - Part 2

By Gbollard @gbollard
Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 2
In my last post, I talked about how important it is to get your kids on the spectrum into longer-term work experience, how to make the most of their last year of schooling and how foster independence. I also mentioned how important it is to ensure that you choose to work in an area that aligns with your special interest. 
In this post, I want to look at finding, landing and keeping a job. Most of the advice here applies to anyone, however I've tried to take into account some of the difficulties that people on the spectrum face. 

Finding Jobs

These days, finding a job can be quite difficult especially considering the unemployment rate and the fact that so many people have multiple degrees. People on the spectrum are quite often "under-employed", meaning that they're in jobs where their skills are under-utilised. They're also less likely to have a degree than their non-autistic peers even though they certainly have the ability to get one. One of many issues here is that kids with autism find university life too big a change to adjust to.

Getting around the Problem of Over-Qualification

Over-qualification has turned job hunting into an "employer's market" where too many prospective employees are fighting for too few jobs. This puts employers into a position where they can "raise the bar" and decide to employ someone with a masters degree for a job which really needs no formal qualifications.
The best way to get around this issue is to "beat it on experience", which means, to go straight from school into a low-paying job in the correct field and work your way up using experience and short bursts of education. 
Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 2
The way this works is that people who leave school to pursue college degrees will usually lose 4-6 years just trying to get their degree completed. If they pursue a masters or doctorate, the time is even longer. If they do any part time work, it's most likely to be in a fast-food outlet or somewhere else unrelated to their intended final study. Additionally, unless they live in a country where university is free, they're likely to emerge with crippling amounts of education debt.
If you leave school and go directly into a job which is in some way related to your field of interest, you'll already have four years of work experience over these graduates. Additionally, you won't have education debt.  If you find the right employers, they may send you to do part-time study or they may send you on courses and pay for your further education.
Obviously a degree really is required for some jobs such as nursing, but it's acceptable to get an entry level position in a hospital or surgery with the aim of studying part time.
Sometimes doing a few relevant short courses is much better than doing a general degree and you'll find that after about a decade in the workforce, many employers are more interested in your experience and capabilities than your degree. 

Being Attractive to Jobs

In order to get a job, you need to ensure that you're attractive to prospective employers. This means that from the get-go, you need to be marketing yourself.

The Resume or CV

Your resume or CV is usually the first thing that a prospective employer will see.  It needs to be eye-catching and leap out from the rest. In the old days, when you needed to send in printed resumes, this was easy. All you needed to do was use better quality paper, print in color and of course, have a decent resume. Employers would be reluctant to throw out an application that looked very professional, even if it didn't tick all of their requirement boxes.
These days however, resumes are generally electronic and while they may be printed out, they're often just read on screen. If your resume doesn't contain decent headings and bullet points and if it doesn't convey the right message in the first quarter of page 1, it's certain to be ignored.
You'll find some good tips on resume writing here.
If you're applying for a hands-on job like metalworking or carpentry, you'll want a resume that is quite different from someone who wants to work in the computer industry. You'll need to tailor your resume carefully towards the type of jobs you're applying for.
There are plenty of websites out there which can give you great tips on resumes.

The most important but non-obvious things in my opinion are;
  • Make sure that other people have looked over your resume (they'll want to check for spelling, date inaccuracies and things that just don't add value to the jobs you're applying for).
  • If you're struggling to write a resume, seek help. Don't do it by yourself. You can pay someone to help but if you ask around friends - even if you ask friends on Facebook, you'll find that many people will be only too happy to help. If you get through to a job agency, don't be afraid to ask them to scribble over your resume and highlight things that they think you could do better.
  • Include as much relevant experience as possible. If you don't have work experience, then use things from your real life. For example, if you're applying for construction, mention helping a neighbor with a retaining wall or building a barbecue.  If you're looking at IT, talk about installing operating systems and helping friends and relatives.  Build your hobbies up as experience.
  • When talking about past work, don't simply write the job title. Make a short list of some of your achievements in the role or some of your regular duties -- and make sure it sounds impressive.
  • Make sure that your name & contact number is on the header or footer of EVERY page of your resume in case it gets lost and the employer only has one page to go on. 

The Portfolio

Everyone should have a job portfolio regardless of the job you're going for. You won't always need to get it out but you need to take it to every interview just in case.  Your portfolio should be a "display book" and it should include extra copies of the main documents behind the "originals" just in case your interviewer asks for them.
Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 2The portfolio should start with a title page, then lead into your resume. You might want to have more detailed breakdowns of your past experience on subsequent pages.
You should have a title page for qualifications and follow this up with a selection of pages that include various certificates, not all of which need to be entirely relevant -- but keep the most relevant to the front.
The third section, again with a title page, should be experience. It should contain examples of your work. Until you have a job, these will probably be examples from your school years.
If you're going for hands-on jobs like metalworking or carpentry, then your experience section should include photos of your work, ideally with you in the photos to help prove that it is your work. If you're following a career in computing, you might want to include screens of applications or web sites that you've developed in your spare time. You might include reports or documentation, even if these are just things you created for school projects or work experience.
You'll want to update your resume regularly, especially in the early years of employment as experience and qualifications change quickly. 

LinkedIn

While many people consider LinkedIn to be the "boring cousin of Facebook", it's an essential business tool, particularly if you're seeking office-bound employment. You'll need to create a profile for yourself on LinkedIn and unless you're pursuing a career in comedy, it needs to be professional.
To do this, you'll need to fill out your profile carefully and think about the questions that are asked.
Helping your kids on the Spectrum to find Employment - Part 2
When it comes to photos, there are two important ones on LinkedIn;
  • Your profile picture should be a square (it displays round but it's a square graphic).  It should start from about half a handspan from the top of your head to about a handspan below the bottom of your neck.  The image size can be anywhere between 400 x 400 pixels and (up to 20,000).  I'd recommend about 800 x 800. It's probably good to smile but it's not okay to grin like a chimpanzee.
    Your visible attire should reflect the level of professionalism to which you aspire. If you're looking to get into business, you'd probably be best off wearing a business shirt. If you're going into a trade, then a trade shirt or even a high-vis vest can sometimes send the right message.
    You don't want your background to appear too cluttered but I personally like to send a message with mine (so it has the Sydney harbor bridge in it).  It reinforces the message about my location. 

  • The background of linkedIn should also be filled in.  It's best, for copyright reasons, if you can use a photo that you've taken yourself. Panoramas are excellent for this and it's easy to take panoramas on most modern phones. The current recommended size of a LinkedIn background image is 1584 wide by 396 pixels high.
    It's best not to make your background image too detailed, so landscapes and patterns work particularly well. If you can't manage a panorama of your own, you can search google for ones which aren't copyrighted.  You'll also find that tools like Sproutsocial can help you resize images to work with the various social media platforms if you're not good with graphics. 

One more thing about linked in. You need to be a little active. This is particularly applicable to office jobs. You need to join a few groups which align with your interests and you need to start reading an "liking" other people's posts.
If you feel that you can make a positive contribution, then you should feel free to comment but avoid insulting people or telling them that they're wrong. Facebook is for picking fights. Your behavior on LinkedIn needs to remain professional. 

Applying for Jobs

Once your resume and linkedIn profiles are working, you'll need to join some job sites and fill out a profile (and often a resume) there. Luckily, it's much easier the second time around and you can often copy and paste (or simply upload). Make sure that you include your linkedIn URL.
When applying for a job, try to send a note with your resume to indicate why you think you are particularly suitable for the role. Remember that the person handling job applications is probably reading a hundred of these per day, so your job is to make them want to meet you. 
Don't worry if you don't get any nibbles at first, sometimes you have to apply for about ten jobs before you get a response.  If you still aren't getting responses after a couple of weeks, you'll need to get someone to look over your resume, profile and application letters.
You should also be aware that many jobs these days are not actual jobs but are employment agencies. These aren't all bad and many will happily work hard for you  so it's still worthwhile going through the application process with them.
Often agencies will give you temporary work to start with, to see what kind of a worker you are. This can be a good thing and it all goes towards experience that you can include in your resume. 

Next Time

I had expected this to be a two part series but unfortunately the topic is just a little too big.  Next time I want to talk about the interview process, whether or not you should disclose your diagnosis and other options for employment via dedicated autism agencies. 

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