interviewing with autism

Being on the Autism Spectrum and being told “You are not a good cultural fit” is really difficult to process. I didn’t know I was on the spectrum when the recruiter delivered that line, but it’s what kicked off my journey of self-introspection. I interviewed with a larger social media company and thought it would be a blank canvas, some place I could do my best work and learn. What I learned is that many companies screen for people who will fit into their cliques and toe the line.

I never had a clue that I was living with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) until I started my job search. I am well into my career and have worked for a lot of different companies but have recently started looking for new opportunities. I exhibit a number of ASD traits that make interviewing difficult, which is amusing to me because until this point I’ve had a nearly 100% success rate at interviewing to offer. Jumping into a different pool, interviewing at BIG corporations instead of small companies has been an adjustment.

Here are some of the challenges I’ve had and how I’ve learned to counter them. I’ve had a number of interviews since that first BIG interview and each has been part of an iterative process — I can say with some small confidence that it wasn’t my ASD that influenced the outcome of recent interviews.


Time is one of the hardest things for me to manage during an interview. The usual interview tract consists of 3-5 interviews of 45 minutes each that are usually titled something like: design, technical, networking, programming, and behavioral. Without exception all have a behavioral interview. Most will have some technical and/or programming interview, because in this industry Everyone Is a Software Engineer.

If time is a challenge for you, there are a number of ways you adapt to work with 45 minute interviews…or you can reach out to the company’s accommodations team and request to lengthen the individual interviews or split the interviews up over multiple days.

When asked “about yourself”, try to keep your reply to 2 minutes or less. For someone with a lot of work experience this can be a place where you easily go off on tangents, try to be simple and form your response to the role you are interviewing for.

Another trait of ASD is wanting to have well defined questions. When someone asks a somewhat open-ended question, ask them questions to try and constrain the scope of the response. The more constraint, the more concise you can be, the more concise you are, the less time an answer should take. I love to discuss asides or interesting things I discovered, this won’t help you during an interview. They aren’t trying to assess how smart you are, they are trying to figure out if you have the requisite skills and can participate in their team.

Answer The Question

When you are presented a design question, be sure to cover all of the surface points of the question. If someone asks you a question like “here is an API, tell us how to graph API accesses over time”, your mind may instantly jump to the scale aspect of the question, but you’ve ignored the “graph the results” part of the question. It’s important that you look at the questions from a superficial standpoint, if they want more detail they WILL ASK FOR MORE DETAIL.

I had an interview where they asked me to design an infrastructure to handle lots of API calls, I asked about scaling as my first question, they were somewhat evasive and once I finished the “smaller scale” answer, they immediately countered with “now show me the solution for 1mn API requests”! They deliberately want to see a “small scale” approach and “large scale”, so don’t get wrapped up in defining the “social media scale” answer.

Interview for The Right Job

Be clear up front during Recruiter and Screening interviews what exact role you want and what role they are trying to fill. This may not seem ASD related, but if you subject yourself to 5+ hours of interviewing and come to find out that you want an E6 level position but they are really seeking an E3-E4, you’ve both wasted your time. Often times this is not your fault, it has been my experience that even well written job postings will morph during the interview process.


If you live with ASD, you may or may not want to disclose your status to others. ASD is not widely understood and it has different implications for each person with it. Many companies have accommodations teams that are specifically tailored for working with employees and prospective employees to help accommodate their needs. The trick is that you need to reach out to the accommodations team prior to agreeing to interview. I know this can be tricky, but when you talk to the recruiter, slow walk the process while you simultaneously engage the accommodations team. You can also inform the recruiter you are speaking with them, because the accommodations team will certainly be talking to the recruiter.

Choosing to engage the accommodations team is a choice you must make on your own, you can either try and conform to the conventional interview format and adapt to it, or you can ask for accommodations and perhaps have a better outcome.

For me, I have so many thoughts in my head it can be challenging to communicate during live interviews. Additional time could help that, but I find that “take home” tests are by far the most productive way for me to communicate. My current job employs a “take home” technical evaluation, and despite the “open book” nature of these evaluations, they are quite helpful in assessing a candidate’s abilities. You are not going to cheat a “take home” test and go undetected.

Expect Failure

There are companies who exist to separate you from your money just to subject you to mock interviews for these big tech companies. The interview process is designed for Neurotypical people and if it takes thousands of dollars of interview prep for NT candidates to pass, expect that you are going to fail at a few interviews. Your journey may take quite some time to finally land on the right job and company, but be careful about who you take a job with. As I alluded to above, many companies are staffed with cliques and you may not fit in even if you pass the interview process. Finding the right company is just as important as finding the right job if you live with ASD.

If you have a string of interviews that don’t result in offers, try taking a break to regroup and gather yourself. If you have ASD it is statistically likely that you suffer from some other neurological challenges which make rejection and stress difficult to process. Take a break and pursue the activities which de-stress you and allow you to unwind, then pick up where you left off and try again.


If you’ve made it this far, you got a new job at a place that gets you and you are feeling good about yourself. Consider what you’ve been through a journey and treat yourself to an ice cream cone!

By Phantom

Coder, sysadmin, maker, human

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