‘Neurodiversity’ is a term coined by Judy Singer, a sociologist on the autistic spectrum, who believed that thinking and learning differences should be embraced and supported, and not seen as something to be cured. ‘Equal opportunities’ is another term you might be familiar with – recruiters must ensure that all applicants are on a level playing field, assessing them against the same criteria and not viewing them less favourably because of a protected characteristic. If you are a good fit for the job, your diagnosis shouldn’t affect your likelihood of success.
Despite this, many of us who are neurodiverse know the language of job applications can feel alienating. We might wrestle with impostor syndrome, because those key competencies – time management, staying calm under pressure, and so on – don’t necessarily come naturally to us. We might even believe we’re not the right person for the job, and vastly underestimate our abilities. But understanding how we work best is a strength in and of itself. Let’s deconstruct this language and look at how different minds work in different ways.
Coping under pressure
What it sounds like: You never get stressed out or anxious.
What it means: You can cope in spite of stress and anxiety. You might even be more sensitive to pressure than others, but that doesn’t stop you bouncing back. Employers aren’t looking for a superhuman – they just want someone resilient.
What it sounds like: You have a really thick skin. The customer is always right, after all…
What it means: You’re fair and assertive, able to use your judgment to calmly implement a solution. (Try reframing ‘I dislike conflict’ as ‘I want to resolve conflict’. This really helped me in a previous interview.)
What it sounds like: You’re an extrovert. Communication is second nature to you. Social situations are a breeze!
What it means: You’re friendly and approachable in any manner of ways. You might not be as ‘out there’ as some of your peers, but perhaps your strength lies in your empathy. You might be a good listener and able to hear both sides of an argument. Maybe you’re particularly good at giving or receiving constructive criticism. These are all people skills!
What it sounds like: You’re passionate about whatever the employer asks of you, and enthusiastic about every tiny detail in the job description.
What it means: You can demonstrate a strong work ethic and show enthusiasm for new things. You don’t have to currently consider them passions as long as you are willing to get involved.
What it sounds like: Sticking to deadlines and managing workloads comes easily to you.
What it means: You’ve found what works, even if time management is a challenge for you. It doesn’t matter if your method is slightly different, as long you can bring the results. Bear in mind this might mean asking for reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
‘Explain any gaps in your employment…’
What it sounds like: The employer will view your application less favourably if you’ve had to take time off for your mental health.
What it means: It looks scary written down, but if you’ve had to take time off, this is your chance to say why. If you are disclosing a disability or health condition, you don’t need to go into lots of detail about your diagnosis. However, you may need to elaborate on this if you are requesting adjustments in the workplace.
If you started something but couldn’t see it through, be it a degree, an internship or a graduate job, don’t sell yourself short. It’s so much better to account for these things in your applications. Consider booking an appointment with us to discuss presenting employment gaps, or check out Amy’s blog on how to explain these on your CV.
Keep in mind…
While these are all valuable transferable skills, remember that different roles and companies prioritise different things. You don’t have to be jack of all trades – instead, focus on your personal strengths, and what career might suit these.
Now that we’ve deconstructed what these frequently used words and phrases mean, think about how you might exemplify your strengths, rather than simply repeating what’s in the job description. If you’re a team player, make sure you have examples of this to hand. In what unique way are you enthusiastic or hard-working? What experience can you highlight to prove this?
What if I can’t cope?
We’ve focused on how harnessing neurodiversity can be a real strength in the world of work. But if you’re struggling, you might feel as though these points don’t apply to you at the moment. Contact the Wellbeing Service if you need help or support.