5 Things That Determine Your Professionalism (apparently)

It seems to be a torturous right of passage to make college students go to a job fair. It is my worst nightmare to have to talk to people who could affect my education while they judge me as a person and as an employee from a 3-minute discussion.

I’ve found that for the most part, my classmates don’t really agree with me. The anxious kids are generally on my side, and sometimes other non-traditional students like me, but in general, your neurotypical mentally stable average college student find the idea of dressing up and talking to people in their field and the possibility of internships or employment to be exciting.

I took a management course last semester, and I learned a lot about what employers expect, and a lot of them were brand new information to me, so since I have to go through this, you have to learn about it too.

1. How You Dress- What’s the difference between a golf shirt and a polo shirt? I’m still not sure, but I know that it’s important, because one of them is more business casual than the other. And in this situation, business casual is important, mostly because on one end, it’s a breath away from being casual, on the other end, it’s almost formal. Formal is what you need for a job interview; for me, that means a suit and tie. For this job fair though, business casual is fine, but not the lower end. I plan to wear purple dress pants and a button-down shirt. Apparently having something interesting about your dress can let employers remember you, so I aim to be the purple-pants-person. For some reason, people are really judgey about what you wear, don’t ask me why. But doing some research about dress can make a huge difference.

2. Your Body Language- People who are in the position to hire you want to know a lot about you very quickly, and that means that they rely on body language a lot. Like way more than normal people. From what I’ve heard, body language can tell how confident you are, if you’re outgoing or not, even if you’re trustworthy. Gut reactions rule when it comes to professionalism. I do know for a fact that my standard body language doesn’t show any of this, but luckily, it can be faked. Standing up straight is important, as is (at least the image of) eye contact. You want to shake with a firm-but-not-finger-breaking grip, and staying as calm as possible can make you seem more confident. Basically, the rule of body language is if you act like you know what you’re doing, then people will believe it.

3. Your Expectations in Life- Interviewers love asking questions, usually about what you want for your future. Being prepared to say why you’re majoring in your major, and what kind of job you see yourself in can go a long way. My Management Professor drilled into us that no one’s going to hire someone who doesn’t have at least some idea of what their future looks like when it comes to education or employment. So having some talking point memorized will definitely help, and while I’m not usually a fan of dishonesty, I think that in this situation, making up some details to talk about won’t hurt anybody; you can always change your mind later.

4. How Much Prep You Did- Apparently not extensively researching the companies you’re talking to is a massive faux pas these days. I have my doubts that an interviewer is really going to care if I know what their mission statement is verbatim, but then again, I find a lot of these professionalism requirements kind of ridiculous. What I can say, is that if you’re really interested in a company (or in my case, a nonprofit), knowing a few things about them can’t hurt. Especially if what they do is something you’re passionate about too. I always like knowing projects that some of my favorite nonprofits have been working on because it gives us something to talk about, plus you know if they’re the sort of people you’d want to be working for. So, research something you’re interested in, not just something that proves you can memorize stuff.

5. Things You Can’t Control- Thanks to autism/auditory processing/hearing loss/learning disabilities, there are things that advice from some random blog (thing one) can help with. I have a serious case of raptor hands that no amount of paying attention can stop me from doing. When I get stressed (for example at a job fair) my ability to communicate verbally drops drastically, plus my echolalia increases, which is always fun to explain. What I’m saying is that no one’s ever going to be perfect, regardless of if they’re neurotypical or neurodiverse, and being prepared is the best thing you can do. Whether it’s a job fair, an interview, or just a meeting, know where you’re going, know what you want to look like, and know what you want to say. The best you can do is your best.

I know I’m in for years of this process, I’m hoping by the end I’ll have a decent handle on it. And, as always, if you’ve got tips, I’d love to hear them!

Skipped

Guys, I did a thing. A big thing (at least I think so!). I signed up for Advocacy Training!

Let me back up a little. 2 years ago, I started volunteering with an organization that does programming for people with developmental disabilities and their families. I’ve really enjoy it, I mostly work with kiddos, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, and it makes my day. Well, week, actually, but that’s semantics. But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that they’re pretty good people

So when I got an email about their advocacy training, I was immediately interested. I’ve been slowing trying to build up the skills I need not only to advocate for myself better but my community too. And this email seemed really promising! They didn’t just advertise the training for families and volunteers, but for self-advocacy too! Do you know how rare that is?  I was looking to sign up for a midwestern region Autism Conference, and they had registration for professionals, for educations, and for parents. Can you see whose registration they’re missing there? I’ll tell you- OURS.

But flyer didn’t do that. It said right there on the top that self-advocates were being included and I’m fairly certain that’s how I managed to momentarily punch through my anxiety and hit the “submit registration” button. It helped that Jess could come too- you know, the buddy system and all.

So here I am Monday night, the anxiety about doing something new and having to out myself has been brewing for a few weeks now. My name isn’t on the sign in sheet, which isn’t a problem, it turns out, they just add me on. Then we go around the circle and do introductions- our names and why we’re here. I was a little preoccupied with worry to really care why anyone else is there. So we go clockwise, which means that Jess is going before me. This isn’t ideal, because it’s a lot easier for me to introduce myself, and then have Jess go “I’m with them”. Or something like that. She usually makes it sound nicer. She’s got mad skills like that.

So Jess goes first, and says something along the lines of her “often acting as my voice”. Which is fairly accurate, given that she handles things like phone calls and making appointments. Plus all the times that I’m having auditory processing issues or am having a low verbal communication day. So it wasn’t that what she was saying was wrong, it was the way it was interpreted.

Because the trainer assumed I was nonverbal

And he skipped me.

Guys, that felt like shit. It felt like he looked right through me, and assumed that I had nothing to contribute.

I froze, and Jess reacted (which is usually the way of things), and the guy said he was sorry, that he was confused about what Jess had said. Except that I’d had a conversation with him before the training started. So either he’s oblivious, or he made a wrong assumption and didn’t want to admit it.

So needless to say, I was pretty angry for the next hour or so. The trainer made sure to ask my opinion regularly, and I’m perfectly willing to admit that I was pretty snarky. And while my snark game is strong, I’m also incredibly non-confrontation, so I snagged Jess’s car keys and hid in the car while she talked to the guy.

She said that he felt bad, that he wanted to include me, that he wanted to hear my opinions. And I’m sure that he does, really.

I guess it’s like this: I’m always so worried about coming out of the autism closet, and usually, it goes. Worst that happens is some overly personal questions, or me having to pretend to be interested in someone’s cousin’s nephew who also has autism. Nothing really bad has ever happened. That’s why being treated like I wasn’t even there was so surprising. Being invisible to the person who’s supposed to teach me how to advocate for myself has dropped a ball full of contradictions in my chest and it’s wriggling with anxiety.

So I bet you could have guessed, but tl:dr I’m going back for the next session. Partially because I already committed to this, partially because I think this information will be really useful, and partially because I learned that neurotypical people aren’t like me when it comes to communication. They don’t plan ahead and sometimes it bites them in the ass, like what happened on Monday. I’ve learned that sometimes I need to give them a second chance because that’s what I’d want them to do for me.

Stay tuned in November to see if the trainer wasted their second chance and had to face my wrath!

 

Almost Functioning

Neurotypical people seem to love using functioning labels as if labeling someone as high or low functioning makes them feel safer because they can put us in neat little boxes. That they can convince themselves that we’re not scary anymore because we’re predictable.

“Of course they can’t achieve that, they’re low functioning.” “They don’t need any assistance, they high functioning.” “They can’t understand you, they have the mind of a child.” “How can they be doing so poorly, they’re so high functioning.”

They call me high functioning, which to them means that I’m almost good enough to be like them.

This is what I hear when I’m called high functioning:

You’re too good for help, but not good enough for me to accept you

Please tell me that high functioning means you don’t do any “scary autism” stuff

You’re better than those autistics, but not as good as me

If you can talk now, you can talk all the time

You don’t act the way I expect someone with autism to, but you don’t act like me

Because I couldn’t tell you were autistic, I’m just going to ignore it

You can do some normal things, so you can do all normal things

I don’t care that “passing” is an energy drain if you can do it, you should

Functioning labels don’t mean anything. They’re an outdated system based on old stereotypes. Every autistic person is different and has different needs. And categorizing someone by functioning labels tells you nothing about a person’s strengths and weakness, the level of assistance they need, and most importantly, who they are.

When you call me high functioning, it’s not a compliment. When you say that you can’t tell that I’m autistic, it’s not a compliment. I don’t like to be told that I’m almost like you. I don’t need you to reinforce the belief that I have to be normal, no matter the cost.

Tell me that you like my hair. Tell me that my jokes make you giggle. Tell me that you enjoy spending time with me.

Ask me who I am, not how I function.