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I'm a programmer, working in this area for around 13 years. I'd say that my skills and knowledge are much above the average level, considering my work performance and quality, without any false modesty. However, I'm getting rejected at the most of job interviews, for no apparent reason. I know some people who were hired instead of me, and I know for sure that their skills are far inferior to mine.

Well, I know the reason why this happens. I have a mild form of Asperger's Syndrome. While it is not like how people imagine it(think of the Rain Man movie), I don't "look right" for them. They think "There must be something wrong about this guy, I'd better reject him".

Is there anything I can do about this?

Statistically, people with highly functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome are among the most unemployed categories of population. According to some sources, unemployment rate in this group is at 85% level. However, I'm not sure this source is reliable enough.

UPD I'm a Russian citizen. I've undergone job interviews in different countries, though. Currently working abroad.

UPD2 I have to put emphasis on the main point. I don't have any problems doing my job or communicating with colleagues. I've worked as a senior developer for a while. The only thing I'm having problems with are interviews. And I've done probably all possible trainings.

UPD3 a related chat room

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How many job interviews are we talking about? My expectation is to be rejected on every job interview I go on, except the one I finally get :-). Face it, a whole lot of us in the software field are somewhere on the autism scale, and the best we can hope to do is be ourselves and find someplace where we're welcome - which is, I suppose all that anyone can do, but some people are more "personable" than others. Good news, though - I find that as I get older dealing with people gets easier. But I do wish I could be as interested in people as I am in software. <shrug> It is what it is... –  Bob Jarvis Jun 10 at 21:49
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Comments removed. Comments are to seek clarification; they are not for long arguments. And let's keep it civil, everybody. –  Monica Cellio Jun 10 at 22:23
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In the UK, Asperger's is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. But employers have to know about it: have you mentioned it in the application forms? You might possibly even consider putting dealing with it as an achievement on your CV, once you have learned what's required of you in social interactions: only you can judge whether that will actually be a plus point. All of the answers here contain useful advice -- a lot of it has worked for me! –  Andrew Leach Jun 11 at 6:13
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Are you asking for feedback on your interviews? What have they actually said? What are your reasons for thinking that it is your Asperger's that has resulted in your rejections? Also, are you stating your disability in your application? Do you have a proper medical diagnosis? And in what countries are you applying? Many countries have laws protecting people with recognised disabilities against discrimination, you may be covered by these - although the details will vary by country. –  Jack Aidley Jun 11 at 9:58
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"I'd say that my skills and knowledge are much above the average level, ... without any false modesty. ... I know for sure that their skills are far inferior to mine." If you come across like this in an interview, is it a surprise you aren't being hired? –  Lego Stormtroopr Jun 27 at 5:26

11 Answers 11

As you move to more senior roles, those for people with over 10 years of experience, it's common for the roles to require significant soft skills, such as leading others, managing a relationship between two firms (vendor and customer, for example), co-ordinating tasks and priorities without anyone feeling slighted, and so on. It's possible that you either do not have these skills, or are not succeeding in communicating during the interview that you have them. If so, this isn't discrimination, but it is still a problem you need to address.

Another career route for many developers as they approach 15 years of work is into architecture and big picture design. It's possible that you don't want to do that kind of work, or are not communicating during the interview that you want and can do that kind of work. This, as before, is not discrimination but is a problem.


Let me elaborate. Many people with Asperger's are not good at "soft skills" and don't pick them up naturally. They may even assert that such skills are not needed to be a developer and are irrelevant to being a good software engineer. Many hiring managers may disagree, especially for more senior jobs, and even when the job description doesn't mention any need to lead, manage, soothe, co-ordinate, or inspire. If this is the case for you, not getting the job may be because you are missing a required skill. You can choose either to gain the skill, or not to apply for such jobs. Another possibility is that you have the skill (it can be learned, but it's hard work, much like learning to walk after an injury) but you don't demonstrate it in the interviews. Some interviewers might see a lack of eye contact or weak chit-chat skills as "markers" for a lack of the ability to lead, manage, soothe, co-ordinate and inspire. If you in fact have these skills, you can work on how to show that in a job interview. This may involve telling people your diagnosis or it may not.

Is it discrimination? If you say on your resume that you have this diagnosis, and a hiring manager says "those people have no soft skills" and doesn't even interview you, then yes, that's discrimination. If at the interview you are asked about leading, inspiring etc and can feel the mood cooling as you try to answer, then it is more likely that you are legitimately missing a skill or the ability to demonstrate that skill in the interview. Focusing on this rather than "they hate me for who I am" will improve your own satisfaction and could lead to a change in strategy that will improve your job search results as well.


What should you do? First, decide very clearly what kind of job you want. Do you want to only code? Would you like to add big picture design and architecture to coding? Do you want to lead others? And so on. Understand what you want and don't want specifically as a person with this bundle of skills and capabilities. If you don't want to take on the work of learning something that appears to come naturally to everyone else, you don't have to.

Second, decide where to apply. Small firms typically ask their developers to wear more hats. Large firms may even have a "technical track" where you can just get better and better at what you do without ever having to develop soft skills. I would suggest that you prioritize applying to large companies - they will be able to assign far narrower duties, and they are likely to have HR departments that can enlighten your manager about the advantages of hiring someone on the spectrum. They can also help you if you feel discrimination happening after you are hired. (That said, my firm is very small and has hired people on the spectrum. I am probably not representative of small firms, but you may find a small place that's a great fit. It's more likely to happen from the relationship leading to a job than from applying to something you see advertised and competing with other candidates.)

Third, consider learning some particular skills, such as how to run a meeting, or how to persuade someone to do things your way, if you feel that having those skills will help you to land a job you want.

Fourth, learn how to show in an interview that you can do what the job requires even if you look or sound a little different from most people who can do that. Believe it or not, simply stating that you can goes a long way towards that convincing process. You should also have anecdotes for the usual questions about problem solving, conflict resolution and so on, and be able to talk about your success with a particular skill. This is less important if you want to only code, but may still be relevant even in that case.

The interview process is extra hard for people who don't like talking. You can do your best to shorten it by building up a reputation some other way, such as blogging or tweeting, contributing to open source, and so on. You can also get better at it by practicing. Combine that with applying to the right sort of jobs and you should find a much higher acceptance rate. I know several people whose Asperger's is far from mild who have landed some great jobs with household name companies. It can be done.

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*comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. If you want to be chatty, get a room (a chat room). –  jmac Jun 10 at 23:01
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@XenoMind let's chat about it –  user20914 Jun 11 at 1:30

I have been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, and while it may seem like a person with this condition is being discriminated against, I've learned that the communication aspect is the biggest obstacle, not only in the interview, but in life in general.

Developers need to work with teams, lead developers need to lead teams. This all involves communication, and while it may not be apparent to the interviewee, the interviewer is often able to see these gaps in social interaction and believe, rightfully so, that there will be problems with the entire team interaction.

So, instead of focusing on why employers are not hiring based on an incredible degree of competency in the core skills that the job entails, the focus should be on training oneself in the area of social interaction, which is probably where someone with Asperger Syndrome is probably lacking. Most of the non-verbal ques that the average person understands inherently needs to be practiced and learned by those that don't have those social skills.

One of the things that helped me the most was role playing workshops by a psychiatrist in the Detroit area. I don't know if there are a lot of doctors or professionals that are involved with this sort of therapy, but I have found it invaluable. Basically, it involves running through made up situations that the average person would understand and react instinctively but those with forms of Autism have to learn to recognize these forms of communication, and practice how to react.

While this doesn't answer the question, "How to deal with discrimination", I believe this is dealing with the underlying problem instead of the perceived issue.

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I also have Asperger Syndrome. This is not the response format that you are requesting, but the following advice could prove very useful: improve your brain's working memory capacity.

Throughout my career, I have provided valuable ideas which are often better across every measurable metric than those of others, but people around me have rejected them for reasons I can only describe as "they think I'm an a**hole". According to my own definition of a**hole, I am not. But according to their definition of a**hole, I am.

Without delving into any specific situational response, I will simply say that since I have begun working memory training, in every situation I have found it easier to identify, evaluate, and execute situational responses which work much better than anything I did before. It's much easier to keep track of and understand the social interactions of others. I've noticed and modified hundreds of little behaviors of mine which I could suddenly see were annoying to others.

Communication, cooperation, predicting responses, and pretty much everything else involving interaction with non-autistic humans has become easier since I started working memory training. Additionally, distraction is much easier to handle as well. Someone can stop by my desk right when I'm in the middle of something, ask me about my day or whatever small talk, and then I can just go back to working like nothing happened. Before the training, a distraction was disastrous to my work flow and I would have to seek out environments far from everybody else in order to get anything done.

Specifically, I use Lumosity.com. I don't even bother with the majority of their games, and I ignore their suggested training regiment of five randomly-selected games per day. Instead I train for one hour, once per week. I play "Follow That Frog" for 30 minutes (with a timer) and then I play "Pinball Recall" for 30 minutes. Both of those games are designed to push your brain to the limit of how many chunks of information it can retain and work with simultaneously and without error.

I had the idea of doing this after reading that aspies have lower-than-usual working memory. It's difficult (possible, but too lengthy) to explain how it makes things easier, but trust another aspie who's been through what you're experiencing: it works.

Working memory capacity is very modifiable, the level of effort involved is miniscule, and the payoff is absolutely enormous. I feel much more natural when dealing with NTs, much more in control of what's going on, and I'm also better at the aspie things I was already good at.

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After reading much of the discourse on this page, I can only assume it's not discrimination. It seems the problem may be who you are, not what you are. You come off as very self-assured, to the point of extreme cockiness. You seem to be very resistant to seeing something from someone else's perspective. Both of these are very negative traits to have in a coworker, and I've seen it drive other team members away more than once. You're attitude is not something I would want on my team. Change your attitude and see if your results are different.

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"Not a fit" is unfortunately used a lot as a bucket excuse for a lot of rejections. You may be considered not a fit for valid reasons or for discriminatory reasons. A valid reason could be that you were quiet/timid at the interview, and they have a team of loud/outgoing coworkers.

I would suggest practicing interpersonal skills. You believe you have the skills to perform the job, but the environment for developers and IT workers in general, and the expectations, is/are changing. More and more, companies are looking for personable IT employees who are able to carry on conversations.

So, don't bother yourself about discrimination as it's difficult to prove unless it's blatant. Hone your interpersonal skills. Work on interactions with friends/family. Ask for their help. Make yourself a better interviewer, and I think you'll find more offers coming your way.

Additional notes:

Your comments show me you already have made up your mind that you are being discriminated against and you have the victim mindset. Your state of mind is definitely something you can change voluntarily. Go to a bar on a Friday night, and you'll see a ton of mindset changes (albeit temporarily).

I suggest that you work on your victim mindset, try not to go into interviews expecting to be turned down, and have a positive attitude. Even if you are timid, if you go in smiling and being positive, your interview will likely go much better.

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*comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. If you want to be chatty, get a room (a chat room). –  jmac Jun 10 at 23:03

I was also diagnosed with that syndrome, but in the mild range. If you feel like you lack the social skills that most of us do, I can only tell you what worked for me in the past.

What really helped me was going to a psychologist. I was afraid at first, but then I realized that it's a normal thing to do nowadays. It helped me to get to know myself better and deal with my personality towards others, which was not an easy thing to do. You realize then that after a while the world starts to open more; it's a step by step thing. I can tell you that I am don't feel like the most social person in the world now, but I am more tolerable and accepted now.

I can go on, but you get the picture of what I am trying to say. Or at least I hope so.

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+1 for going to a psychologist. I used to have a "blunted affect" and was able to overcome it in talk therapy even though we never directly worked on it. –  kleineg Jun 12 at 20:06

Use a recruiter. Good software engineering recruiters are used to bridging the gap between aspie software engineers and neurotypical hiring managers. Yes, they take a substantial cut - usually paid by the employer - but it's worth it to let them handle most of the human interaction in the hiring process.

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Even when using recruiters, that doesn't cut down on the normal set of interviews, at best it removes collateral scheduling discussions. And if you're just trying to "hide" your behavior to get hired, you'll just get fired after getting the job. –  mxyzplk Jun 11 at 12:33
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@Mxyzplk - But a good recruiter will help smooth the way and can set the expectations of the interviewer into the proper range. Most people are willing to accept and make accomodations for people when they have a champion asking for it. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jun 11 at 13:37
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There are also groups specifically set up to assist neuroatypical individuals. One of my roommates has aspergers (decidedly not a mild case), and has been working with a job recruiter whose company specifically helps autism-spectrum adults looking for work. –  Brian S Jun 11 at 21:53

Others have addressed this in many areas, and I'd just like to add advice on what I suspect is the underlying issue: people skills.

In case your syndrome inhibits social skills, as I suspect it does, here are a few easy tips for successful communication and interaction:

  1. Compliment

  2. Listen

  3. Show interest

It doesn't matter what the situation is;

  • Date

  • Random introduction

  • Interview

  • Any situation where you're meeting someone new

As you initialize your relationship with any professional (the interviewer in your case), offer compliments and show genuine interest.

Humanity has a way of appreciating kindness and remembering it. If you go out of your way for just one moment, I promise, you'll see the benefit in the result of those next interviews.

  • Point out an achievement of the company. "I remember seeing an article on your site about this recent successful product. That was neat." (Compliment)

  • "We're you involved with that?" (Show interest)

  • Whatever the response may be, make it clear that you're listening, and then prove it. "That's an incredible achievement. If we end up working together, you'll have to tell me more about it" (Compliment. Listen. Show interest)

  • Now get down to business.

I promise you, whether you love people or could care less about them, if you can focus on these points of communication and general kindness you'll see results. You'll get that job. You'll impress that girl. You'll make those friends.

Technical skill is not enough. You must practice people skills. Programmers are people too.

Good luck!

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*comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. If you want to be chatty, get a room (a chat room). –  jmac Jun 11 at 14:21

Let’s be real, you will never have the best communication skills. Companies expect older staff to have better communication skills then someone that has just started off in life.

Also your communication skills in interviews are likely to be less good then dealing with people that know you.

However contractors are often only expected to have the best technical skills. Contracting also pays better, if you can cope with long commutes and/or working away from home.

I found that found I had done a few interviews for contractor using my skill step, I could tell over 50% of the questions that would be asked before I went for the interview. You also only get asked questions about the single task they are going to pay you to do, not about “management” skills.

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I have Asperger's and my employer doesn't know anything. I chose to stay silent. Perhaps, as a woman, it's easier for me to hide my characteristics (I had a psychological test and it -presumably, because I didn't see the results- didn't show Asperger's traits). I recommend to stay silent. Don't let them to label you! Just be yourself and show them your capabilities.

I am a software engineer too, in training process. I'm 23 (24 on June 17th). I've struggled all my life with my bad Aspie traits and empowering the good ones. I didn't went to psychologists. I overcame (and am overcoming) my bad traits by myself and with my awesome parents' support. However, if you feel the need, go to a therapist. Beware of the medications. I've never taken medications. And I have ADD too.

Sorry if my English is bad. I'm not a native speaker.

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Assuming it is discrimination, your options are largely dependent on where you live. For example, in the US, there is the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disabilities (including perceived disabilities) that inhibit major life functions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americans_with_Disabilities_Act_of_1990). You could sue under this act. However, that should be a last resort as litigation is expensive.

Also assuming you live in the US, many states have a human right department (or some equivalent) that can take up your cause, in my experience.

However, to go to the practical aspects, you need to question how you would prove they discriminated against you. In your view, they are hiring less qualified candidates. Can you prove they hired those individuals because they didn't want to hire an individual with Asperger Syndrome? Do these companies even know you have it? The point being it is really quite difficult to prove it in these scenarios that they based their decision on a disability and some one of many other myriad things that could come into play in an interview.

Finally, I'll leave with a rhetorical question (and assuming that getting hired is your end goal): do you really want to work at a place that engages in what you perceive as discrimination?

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Aspbergers is not a protected condition. It was excluded in 2012 –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Jun 11 at 13:35
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@chad "it was excluded in 2012..." - citation needed. To the best of my knowledge autism spectrum disorders are not now, nor have they ever been, "excluded" from the ADA nor any other similar piece of legislation. Disability is rather specifically legally defined, JAN and the Labor department guidelines and suggestions are quite clear about workplace accommodations (including interviewing accommodations): med.upenn.edu/pan/documents/Aspergerjobs.pdf –  BrianDHall Jun 11 at 18:20

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