The Paradoxes of High Autistic Unemployment Series⎯Part 2
To further the discussion of the Autistic Unemployment paradox, it important to delve deeper into why there is a high unemployment rate for Autistic individuals. As discussed in Part 1, there are unconscious barriers that recruiters need to keep in mind when seeking to hire Autistic individuals. However, in this part, I want to explore the external factors that can also be playing a major role in the high unemployment rate. In fact, in 2021, nearly 50% of Autistic 25-year-olds never had a paying job, despite possessing the necessary skill sets and expertise to offer (Palumbo, 2021). With this in mind, I suggest another paradox that is also impeding progress towards inclusion, and I offer some personal reflections.
Namely, there seems to be a paradox with recruiting for the most qualified candidates because recruiters seem to overlook and/or favor various qualifying markers in their hiring decisions. In fact, a core tenet of recruiting is creating a wide pool of qualified candidates and choosing the most qualified among them (TalenTeam, 2022). The key word to recognize is the word “qualified” which is vague and can have different interpretations depending on the context. Recruiters often use the term to identify a specific and objective marker of performance that can be used to distinguish between many candidates. In other words, there may be many candidates that are equally “qualified” for a position, but the trouble arises when you have to choose one of them.
In order to narrow down the pool of candidates, recruiters can utilize some universal applications of the most qualified term to find the one(s) most suitable for the position. Unfortunately, finding the “most qualified” can point to the underlying flaw of the term because it can present discrepancies in who to hire. Notably, a common marker that is used is job experience because it can provide insight into how a candidate responded to issues before, or accomplished something relevant to the current position (Orion Talent, 2021). However, as noted earlier, many Autistic individuals have not had a job before, which puts them at a disadvantage over others who do have job experience. In other words, there is great discussion about overqualified candidates, but scarcely about “underqualified”.
As a result, Autistic individuals are not able to show their potential and ability because they were not given a chance to show it. In effect, it may be more fruitful to hire for potential rather than hiring for experience. Hiring for potential entails recognizing that the candidate may not meet all of the listed job expectations but has the potential to grow and learn in the position (Orion Talent, 2021). Candidates that have potential can often outperform their peers who have more experience because they want to prove themselves and will be grateful for the opportunity. In effect, that can lead to greater work outcomes, increased belonging and loyalty to the organization. A good place to start is offering more opportunities for potential in entry level positions where the demands of the job are not as stringent and provides a foothold into the organization.
Overall, I have been on both sides of the interviewing table by interviewing candidates and being interviewed. I understand that every job position is unique and may need work experience depending on the demands of the job and work contexts. However, I have also seen positions that can be trained and developed and do not need previous experience to be successful. In addition, I have seen job descriptions with too high expectations and thus excluding those that could have potential but do not even attempt to apply. The issue of high expectations for entry-level jobs is an important factor to consider when contemplating high Autistic unemployment. The reason is that the primary way into organizations appears to have a barrier into entry that adds to the already difficult pursuit for Autistic individuals.
Brandon Orozco is the AFO Workforce Development Project Assistant and holds a BS degree in Psychology with a dual minor in Philosophy and Business Management. Brandon is currently pursuing an MS in Human Resource Management from Claremont Graduate University and was the founder and President of the Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) student chapter. Brandon is an Autistic self-advocate and has previous experience being a Talent Acquisition Team Lead for a rising tech startup and enjoys sharing his lived experiences and perspectives.
OrionTalent (2021). Hiring for experience vs Potential. https://www.oriontalent.com/recruiting-resources/blog/453/hiring-experience-vs-potential/
Palumbo, J. (2021). Why Autism Speaks is encouraging companies to hire those on the Autistic Spectrum. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferpalumbo/2021/04/27/why-autism-speaks-is-encouraging-companies-to-hire-those-on-the-autistic-spectrum/?sh=4dcdd9ff52a2
TalenTeam (2022). The purpose and importance of Recruitment. https://talenteam.com/blog/purpose-importance-of-recruitment/