Archives

Thoughts on why I am still unemployed

‘Many managers make a hiring decision within the first 90 seconds of meeting you’ (Clare Whitmell writing in the Guardian).  The exact time of judgement in an interview varies according to different sources, but all agree it is within the first few minutes.  As an autistic person I think this puts me at a disadvantage.  I do not think I always make a very good first impression.  I take a few minutes to work some situations out.  My OCD often plays up when I first enter a new situation, with me worrying about my hair or clothing.  It often depends how stressed or nervous I am beforehand, which can often be related to how well my journey to the place went.  Once the interview really gets going and I am distracted my OCD almost always dies down and I am fine again.

I think interviews are often not suited to autistic people.  I like to plan ahead, at least in my head, but I often can’t do this very well for interviews as I often do not know what kind of interview it will be.  Will it be one on one, a panel, a group interview with tasks, who knows?  This means I can be thrown in at the deep end, although sometimes employers do give you a good idea of what will happen in advance and this can help.  I prefer one on one interviews mostly as they are a lot less stressful with only one person to focus on at a time.

I am aware that I often talk way too much, so in an interview I try to say less.  However I think sometimes I end up not saying enough and going too quite in interviews.  I struggle to get the balance between saying too much or too little.  I have always been bad at picking up on social cues as to when I should and should not speak.

Maybe I just do not interview well and it has nothing to do with my autism, but I suspect it has at least something to do with it.  I have had so many interviews and yet still have no job.  I cannot think of another reason for it in most cases.  I dress well, turn up on time, answer all the questions sensibly and am always polite.  Employers are often vague as to why they did not hire me, leaving me to suspect that I come across as somewhat odd or ‘special’.

I might be going for the wrong type of work that does not suite me, but I am not sure what other kinds of work I should go for or how you even get other kinds of jobs.  I would really like some decent careers advice, but this seems surprisingly hard to get.  The Job Centre were less than helpful, asking me what kinds of work I would like, rather than trying to find out if a different kind of work would suite me better.  (After over two years in the system you might think they would.)  I have done almost all the courses the Job Centre has to offer.  I can get the interview, for me that is the easy part, which is annoying as once you reach interview the Job Centre seem to think that is it.  Job courses seem aimed at people who lack any kind of qualifications which is not the case for me.  Courses very rarely spend much time on interview techniques and seem to concentrate on the CV and job searching stage.

It has been suggested by numerous people that self-employment is the way to go.  However they never suggest what work I should do to achieve this.  I do not have a hard skill such as plumbing or carpentry that people need and despite trying cannot think of a good business idea.  Also once you start your own business the benefits you are on get cut and what am I supposed to live on whilst I wait for the business to make a profit, if it ever does?  Plus I want a job that gets me out of my flat, not stuck working from home.  Too much time alone is not good for me.  I know autistics are often said to prefer being alone and I do like time to myself, but too much time alone and my own thoughts start driving me mad.  I end up over thinking with my OCD getting worse and my anxiety flaring up.

‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ as the expression goes.  Clearly this is true as some people seem to get a job from knowing someone in the company and not from being very good at it.  However most people I know are also unemployed or retired and were in the wrong line of work for me when they did have a job.

Someone suggested I try the online careers planner from Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk/planner).  It asks a lot of work and personality related questions and then suggests suitable jobs for you.  Almost all of the job suggestions it made for me were obscure and not very realistic outside of a major city.  The first job it suggested was a trade union research officer, a job I have never heard of before, let alone seen advertised.

I think I would suit office work, but not really sure how to go about getting it.  I looked at NHS administration jobs as it was yet another suggestion from someone, but a lot of the jobs require you to know how to use computer programs I have not heard of and I suspect mean they are looking for internal candidates who have learnt to use these NHS only programs.  How an earth do you learn to use them in the first place and get your foot in the door?  A lot of office administration work these days requires you to be able to do a lot more than it used to such as accounts and pay role so they do not have to hire another person to do that.  I do not trust my maths skills to do accounts and doubt I could do pay role either.

People judge me too quickly.  I would love a chance to prove myself to an employer, but they never give me time.

Keep Volunteering Voluntary

This is a piece I wrote for a campaign group called ‘Keep Volunteering Voluntary’.  They believe that forcing people on job seekers allowance to do forced ‘volunteer’ work or face benefit sanctions is wrong.  They, like me, truly believe that volunteering is a good thing, but only if you choose to do it.  What if you are sent to work for a charity that supports a cause you do not even believe in?  What if the work you are forced to do effects your health or mental well-being as it is unsuitable for you?  I wrote to the charity with my experiences of the forced work scheme as I was so shocked at what happened to me.  They then asked me to write a short blog about my experiences which they published on their website.  This is that blog:

On its website, key provider of welfare to work programmes, Pinnacle People claims it “can be relied upon to do the right thing”. Does that include leaving someone with the worry of sanctions over Christmas? Here’s an account of workfare in charity shops:

“Work Placements, as part of Mandatory Work Activity, were sold to me as a great opportunity to learn useful skills, gain valuable experience, enhance my CV and help my local community. Instead of seeing these schemes as something you’re expected to do in return for JSA, I began one with a positive and hopeful outlook. Well, it wasn’t long before I realised I’d been completely misled.

My first placement in a local charity shop, which was meant to go on for 6 weeks, lasted all of two days. The problem was they had far too many willing volunteers in the shop and frankly did not need forced ‘volunteers’ from the jobcentre. The shop was already using one other person on work experience and struggling to find enough for everyone to do. A private company called Pinnacle People, who deal with work placements on behalf of the jobcentre in my area, found it for me. On my first day, a work placement case worker from that company turned up. The charity shop manager made no mention of already having more than enough people and made it sound as if she could really use my help. But then she let me leave an hour early, saying as it was my first day that will do for now, when it was clear she had run out of tasks for me. On the second day she had me distributing leaflets in the area. When I got back she sent me out again with another big pile. By the time these ran out, I must have delivered one to almost every local home. I got the impression the manager was trying to keep me both busy and out-of-the-way. But there are only so many charity shop leaflets you can keep on posting through people’s letterboxes and, by the third day, she finally had to admit I was not actually needed. The manager sent me home and rang the jobcentre to cancel my placement. Instead of feeling pleased about no longer having to waste my time going there, my immediate reaction was fear that I would be sanctioned. The manager had to reassure me that she would make it clear to the jobcentre that the placement was ending through no fault of my own.

I was not sanctioned but told I’d have to go on another placement. Pinnacle People were, however, really struggling to find one. They said charity shops were either full with people from these schemes or had pulled out of them altogether. Then, with only two and half weeks till Christmas, they managed to find a shop that would take me. This one involved a much longer journey but turned out to be just as pointless as the first. Four of us had been sent there by the jobcentre to start on the same day. Even though it looked more like a jumble sale than a shop, there was no way it required another 4 people working there 5 days a week. I felt really messed around and decided to complain to my placement case worker. When she said it would help me find a job, I pointed I already had experience of working in retail, both in charity shops as a willing volunteer and in two other shops as a paid employee. So how exactly was this making a difference to my job prospects? When I kept on complaining about the placement, the case worker informed me that Pinnacle People were longer prepared to oversee my mandatory work activity. She said I was the first and only person they’d ever needed to effectively ‘ban’ from using their service. Then, just as I was trying not to laugh while feeling quite impressed with myself, she told me she’d have to inform the job centre about my attitude problem and all the things I’d complained about, which could affect my benefit.

JSA is my only source of income and my next appointment at the jobcentre was not until January. I spent all of Christmas and New Year not knowing my fate, wondering if I would soon be flat broke. But it turned out my benefit was not affected at all. As far as my advisor was concerned, there were simply no placements available for me. It seems she never heard the entire story so it looks like the case worker was just making empty threats and asserting her authority. I don’t yet know if I’ll be sent on another placement but think it’s probably unlikely. Where I live there are now few shops willing to be involved in these schemes, and we’re hardly short of charity shops in my town. I think this is a sign that campaigns like Keep Voluntary Volunteering could be working… “

The original blog post on Keep Volunteering Voluntary