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I was recently rejected from a job after several phone interviews, which is nothing new considering I'm a recent graduate, but I had received nothing but enthusiasm and positive feedback during the interviews.

A friend of mine working at the company met with my interviewer, and he said that I had all the right skills for the job, was extremely smart and great with the case questions, but I didn't "sound passionate enough."

I have clinically diagnosed Asperger's - I've had a monotone voice my whole life. I've done all the special training, etc., to prepare for interviews and some really strong experience/academics to make up for it.

I don't know how to handle this situation, because it feels really off to be told that I'm perfect for the job, but the sound of my voice made me sound unenthusiastic, which is a huge red light for them since it would damage their "company culture" to hire someone like that. My friend told the hiring manager it was most likely my disability that caused me to sound like that, but his response was that it would "damage his reputation" if he was to bring me in for an onsite interview and I sounded like that in-person.

I'm in the US.

I'm not not looking for legal advice. How can I mitigate the issue of my expression and voice being perceived as unenthusiastic and monotone in job interviews?

  • International project coordination with a gaming company. Lots of asset tracking, e-mails, etc. – Herbert Sep 10 '14 at 17:12
  • Did the feedback come just from your friend or also directly from the interviewer – Brandin Sep 10 '14 at 17:16
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    The company's policy is to never give feedback to interviewers. My friend reached out to the hiring manager and they met to have an in-depth conversation about my interview. – Herbert Sep 10 '14 at 17:18
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    @Herbert You mean the policy is to never give feedback to interviewees? In that case, keep in mind that your "feedback" is not really feedback. It has been mentioned in the answers below but I think your question is kind of really asking about how to deal with what your friend said?? – Brandin Sep 10 '14 at 17:41
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    @Brandin Yeah, whoops, slipped up there. It's feedback, just given to my friend with the intent of passing it on to me rather than the hiring manager giving it directly to me. I'm not sure why the company refuses to offer direct feedback, but they don't have a problem with referrals receiving second-hand feedback from the person who referred them. – Herbert Sep 10 '14 at 17:47

11 Answers 11

38

You should see these interviews and the outcome as experience you have gained. You have learned that your skills were highly regarded. You have learned that you did well in the interviews. This should strengthen your self-confidence for future job applications.

Unfortunately it is not all about skills and contents of communication. People are consciously and unconsciously evaluating other things, like the tone of your voice, how fast you speak and so on. In this case it seems that this was the crucial factor.

For future interviews, you should be frank about your disability and tell the interviewer about it. You didn't say that you have done it in the case you described. However, if you tell the interviewer about this disability early on, you show that you do not hide such circumstances. This could be to your advantage, since honesty is a positive character trait.

Actually more and more companies are particularly searching for people with Asperger's for certain jobs (especially in IT).

Be confident and move on!

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    "Actually more and more companies are particularly searching for people with Asperger's for certain jobs (especially in IT)." Uhh...? – 2rs2ts Sep 11 '14 at 0:07
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    If that is true, it's a very questionable business practice and almost certainly illegal – raptortech97 Sep 11 '14 at 2:12
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    I'm sure SAP had their lawyers look into it: computerweekly.com/news/2240184947/… – user8365 Sep 11 '14 at 2:39
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    @raptortech97: I'm sure that depends on the locality, but in the United States, discrimination laws are typically set up to protect members of certain groups ("protected classes") who are frequent targets of discrimination, rather than to forbid any sort of discrimination whatsoever. "People without Asperger's" is never a protected class. – ruakh Sep 11 '14 at 5:33
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    @ruakh Well, if the situation runs for long enough, they could become a protected class, couldn't they? – xDaizu Jul 6 '17 at 14:48
31

You need to be preemptive and tell interviewers from the outset that you have Asperger's and educate them as to what Asperger's does to your voice. If you are expecting them to guess that you have Asperger's and to implicitly know what Asperger's does to your voice, then you are expecting a bit much. If you don't tell, they won't know - Worse, they won't know and they won't care.

ADA requires that an employer make reasonable accommodation for employees or wouldbe employees with a disability but since your disability is not a visible disability, you need to take ownership of the issue and to make your prospective employer aware - It's obvious that any training that you have received to compensate for your issue is so far inadequate because you still come across as unenthusiastic, so you need to take that extra step and inform.

You know you have an issue and that this issue is preventing you from successfully concluding your interviews, so take ownership of it and aggressively address it instead of repeating the same experience over and over again.

I don't quite get how "I had received nothing but enthusiasm and positive feedback during the interviews" squares with your ultimate rejections. While positive interviews are always better than negative interviews, a positive interview experience guarantees nothing and implies nothing, except that it was a positive interview experience.

A final note: don't rely on your friends to speak for you. If I were the manager, I'd treat what your friend is telling me about you as hearsay. And guess what, I don't make business decisions including hiring decisions on hearsay. You need to speak up for yourself. If you have an issue, I need to hear it straight from the primary source - that would be you.

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    Exactly. I have a colleague who has Asperger's. When I moved into the desk opposite her I noticed she was extremely shy so I was very friendly. So she thawed out a bit and introduced herself; I'm K and I'm autistic. After my initial and, I hope, invisible double-take I thought, This is a really cool way to get it straight. She can't shake hands, there are many other difficulties, but I know what the problem is and I can handle it, as she can. Later I remarked on this to colleagues, and it seemed I was the first person she'd said it to, and from then on they got on much better. – RedSonja Sep 10 '14 at 13:37
  • I should mention she is the best software designer they have by a large margin and everyone knows this. – RedSonja Sep 10 '14 at 13:41
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    "If I were the manager, I'd treat what your friend is telling me about you as hearsay". Besides which, that hiring manager is now in the position of defending a decision that's already made, done and dusted. Chances are it's not true that it would damage his reputation to bring someone in for interview with a diagnosed disability known to the interviewers (and if it really would, the company presumably is violating ADA). But to bring someone in who sounds or looks different, prior to having an explanation why this is, quite possibly would have been a mistake, and was decided accordingly. – Steve Jessop Sep 10 '14 at 16:31
  • @SteveJessop It is the responsibility of the OP to bring up the issue themselves. Otherwise, it's hearsay. It's not that I don't believe my subordinates, but I have been burned by reliable sources who made assertions, citing sources they didn't know were unreliable, or just plain wrong. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 10 '14 at 16:46
  • @VietnhiPhuvan: right, and it's the responsibility of the hiring manager to cover his ass and defend his decisions, regardless of the reliability or unreliability of whatever information comes in after the fact. I wonder what the hiring manager would have done, had the candidate responded to the rejection by saying "btw I have Aspergers". Then it would certainly not be hearsay, but would it change the decision? The hiring manager should not in any case discuss with a friend of the candidate, reasons for rejection that weren't given to the candidate, so I doubt they adhere to good practice. – Steve Jessop Sep 10 '14 at 16:47
27

Most of the other answers advise disclosing your condition at the beginning of the interview. I disagree with that advice. I'm writing from the perspective of having been a hiring manager (though I am not presently) and having had oodles of mandatory corporate anti-discrimination training in the US. (I also have a disability that requires some accommodations, though not, so far, for interviews.)

You should disclose the problem -- in advance, to the recruiter or HR person who is setting up the interviews for you. The problem is not that you have Aspergers; it's the way you speak (or rather, the impression it gives). "I speak in a monotone due to a medical condition. I understand that this can make me sound dispassionate when I'm not; should I do anything special in the interview?" Most likely the recruiter will tell you not to worry about it and will pass on the information. Even if he says nothing, he'll be part of the post-interview review/discussion, so if it comes up there he can address it.

Only disclose the details, particularly that it's one covered under anti-discrimination laws, if necessary. As I wrote on a question about depression, don't tell them stuff that can put them in a legally-difficult position. If they know about your disability they have to take extra care in documenting the interview, lest you challenge them later with a discrimination claim. Tell the interviewers only what they need to know. (If you're hired you might have a conversation with your manager about it, particularly if any workplace accommodations are needed, but that's later.)

I assume that the monotone is a given, that you can't change that. Passion can be conveyed in other ways -- by smiling when you talk, by describing situations where you did more than "necessary" because you enjoyed what you were doing, and, somewhat, by modulating the speed at which you speak. (Faster tends to convey "more excited".) If these are within your ability to change, doing so might help you. As noted in this answer, organizations that work with people on the spectrum should be able to provide more-tailored advice.

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    I really appreciate this answer, I am a little concerned with volunteering my exact disability before an interview. Would you recommend I tell them during the start of the interview, directly after the interview when I'm still on the phone/in the room with them, or just telling the HR person in an e-mail before the interview takes place? – Herbert Sep 11 '14 at 0:56
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    The last. And you don't even have to get that specific with the HR person -- "I speak this way because of a medical condition" should suffice. Nobody should care at that point about the exact cause; what they need to know is that it's not an indication of your attitude. – Monica Cellio Sep 11 '14 at 1:16
  • For me all non verbal and meta verbal communication (like tone of voice or modulating speech) is a "foreign language". I master it in normal circumstances, but not if I am very tired or very excited. So if I suddenly STOP showing emotions, it could well be because I am so enthusiastic. (I did spoil at least one job interview that way.) – Dirk Horsten Mar 22 '16 at 23:29
9

I also have a monotone voice, and have practiced not being monotone. It has helped some.

What is strange is that my internal voice has flow, nuance, and melody, but when I actually speak it just doesn't come out the way it sounds in my head.

I've learned that I have to exaggerate physically what my internal voice is saying.

Having better speech flow and annunciation is something that can be learned, and I'm confident that you could teach yourself given your academic background.

I used some courses (which were free to me as a student) for improving technical presentations. They are here.

Something similar will likely help you as well.

Since you were specifically rejected for sounding unenthusiastic and having a monotone voice, and you asked about what to do about this issue in the future, I think that you can attempt to sound less monotone.

An interview is very similar to a presentation, and there are many resources on how to present better, and to mitigate monotony of voice in that setting.

  • Interesting take but i think the question is more about the rejection side. Not the monotone voice. The question could have been "how can I sound more passionate" and then your answer would be more applicable – Brandin Sep 10 '14 at 17:44
  • Well he has very specific negative feedback, and he could use it to improve his interviews. His question basically says "Everyone likes my skills and background, but they didn't like my monotone voice, what to do about this for the future." – daaxix Sep 10 '14 at 18:04
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    I understand that and I appreciate your help - I have the same thing where my external voice just doesn't sound like my internal voice sometimes. I guess all I can do is keep trying to exaggerate more and more. – Herbert Sep 10 '14 at 18:14
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    You could train yourself with the courses daaxix suggests, but you could go as well for non work related alternatives, like joining an amateur theatre group, start singing or volunteer as a clown. – Dirk Horsten Mar 22 '16 at 23:36
6

Be up front about it

I would simply say, "I apologize if I don't sound excited, I truly am, but I have a monotone voice."

By all means you should feel reasonably safe disclosing if you have aspergers or autism. Some jobs these conditions can be a detriment others these conditions can have their benefits. (But you need to explain this)

Disclosing your condition

You could be asked why your voice is monotone, or the classic "something you struggled with in a past work experience and how you over came it"

It's up to you if you would like to disclose your condition or not, were it me I would, but there are reasonable arguments whether or not you should. IF you do decide to disclose it don't assume the people interviewing you have a clue what it is, because even if they think they do, they are probably wrong.

I'd clarify your strengths and weaknesses you personally experience that are relevant to work as a result of your condition. Depending on what I'm hiring you for there is both good and bad in the symptoms of aspergers and autism. A monotone voice is a poor fit for a motivational speaker, but many people with your condition have more acute pattern recognition, that's a HUGE plus for data analysts and software developers!

Don't forget to sell yourself

Keep in mind even when if you disclose your condition, don't make it the focus of the conversation. Still focus on what you have to offer the company. Ultimately the only thing that matters in business is what you have to offer, and what it will cost me. If the interviewer gets way off track, it's just as much your job as theirs to steer the conversation back to why they need you on their payroll.

4

Please look in your area for organizations that may be involved with job placement for people with a disability. The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders is greater than people think (1 in 68 according to the CDC), so we need to work a little harder and fix a broken company culture that isn't capable of working with someone with Asperger's.

Sorry if this seems "ranty" but I really have a problem employers have such awful criteria and interview tactics when finding talented people. It's hard enough as it is, so they need to learn how to not pass on good people.

I'm no legal expert, but this company is very close to crossing the line of discriminating against someone with a disability. If this were for sales, marketing or some other position that requires strong enthusiastic verbal communication, then you just don't qualify. They've chosen what is close to an arbitrary requirement of "company culture" that doesn't strongly relate to being able to do the job.

This company has what is in my opinion a flawed company culture. What if they require the ability to lift a 100 pound box for a data entry person who does nothing but enter keystrokes? Oh, and it just so happens, all the people in this position are male (Which in the US probably does not represent this job in gender ratios.).

Of course we all tend to get along better and like working with enthusiastic people. Who wants to deal with someone that always pushes back on new tasks or just acts grumpy all the time? Walking quickly from one meeting to the next could be a way to show enthusiasm, so they don't hire someone in a wheelchair? It is not that hard to have a discussion with the staff about your monotone, why you have it and how these people could give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your level of enthusiasm for your work. Wouldn't it be a shame if we evaluated enthusiasm for work based on getting things done?

1

One option is to practice conscious voice modulation to better match the desired/expected speech patterns. It's basically like playing an instrument and it's possible to learn various common patterns to add expressiveness to your voice. I'm guessing you have clear articulation already, so even just practicing the application of emphasis can go a long way toward disrupting the monotone flow that disconcerts people. Being perceived as passionate is largely a matter of giving your words a sense of projecting energy, which means reasonable volume (can't be too quiet/meek), ending important words with hard breaks transitioning into short pauses, then keeping up a subtle rhythm so that your speech has a sense of 'momentum'.

I tend to think of it like a song where the beats are the main concepts you want to convey and the other notes are the connecting words that lead between them. Also, like a song with a chorus, this often involves some repetition of your main points, often restated just slightly differently.

To get a sense for how this works, try observing and analyzing talented public speakers. It's exhausting to apply this approach regularly, but I think it's a powerful tool to have available for situations that require it.

The biggest risk with the conscious approach is being perceived as insincere/manipulative. It takes a lot of practice to find the right balance/tempo.

0

Is it 'acceptible'

Whether you sound 'good' over the phone, may or may not be a relevant factor in hiring you.

If your prospective jobs will contain a lot of phonecalls where you should get people excited about something and sell it to them, I can understand that a recruiter will think twice before hiring you.

However, if you are just required to 'get the job done' then this should not be the sole reason for rejection.

Recommendations:

I can recommend 2 things, the first one is most obvious as well as most important.

  1. Go for jobs where you don't need to sound enthusiastic.
  2. Show yourself in the best possible way:
    • If you actually just have this problem over the phone, then push extra hard to get some face time with the recruiter.
    • If the problem is only your tone, experiment with compensating this by being extra enthusiastic in what you say, rather than how you say it.
    • If communication is a problem, try to direct the recruiters attention to your work. (If you are a secretary, ask for a demo session, if you are a programmer build a demo program).

All in all, just make sure the recruiter can imagine you sitting next to your prospective colleagues with all of you together producing good results.

0

Firstly, in the US, it's illegal for an employer operating a business of at least fifteen employees to refuse to hire someone on the basis of a disability, even a disorder. All violations should be reported to the equal opportunity employment commission, so violations can be investigated, and the offender fined.

For smaller business, it may be a good idea to avoid disclosing your disability/disorder to the employer as they are not held culpable to the disabilities act, and studies reveal a significant prevalence of recruitment discrimination.

Don't focus on disability language. With larger businesses, disclose your issue and discuss how you have built rapport with your peers in the past. Emphasise that you are still a team player, so your employer doesn't use a harmful stereotype to dismiss your application. Elaborate on how you bridge differences with others, and focus on your strengths and interests. Sell yourself.

There isn't much you can do if an employer refuses to hire you on the basis of ability, other than to keep trying. Use a vocational hiring agency dedicated to putting people with difficulties in contact with ethical employers who actually want to hire a diverse workforce. Good luck!

  • Hi, your answer is not bad, but look at the dates, the question was asked more than 4 years ago. – Sebastian Aguerre Feb 6 at 13:06
-1

Others have answered plenty of good advice involving being upfront with a medical cause for your monotone voice and with practice in speaking with a more dynamic voice.

Something to consider though is that you will be unlikely to change the way you speak consistently in a short period of time. You are also unlikely to be able to explain your voice to everyone you interact with. Since the hiring manager in this case is focused on building a team that gives the impression of enthusiasm, you may really be unsuited to his particular team.

Based on the feedback through your friend, your skills were highly respected. While you should continue working on improving your image (and your voice may be a good area to target), you should also seek an employer who will put more emphasis on your valuable skills and less on the appearance of enthusiasm given in your voice.

Jobs with small and relatively isolated teams will be less likely to depend on the image one presents and more likely to focus on the abilities one can contribute.

  • this seems to merely repeat points made and explained in this prior answer. See Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others – gnat Sep 16 '14 at 9:22
  • The intent here was to remind the interview process is intended for each side to see whether the other is a good fit. Just because you are declined at one job for a particular reason doesn't mean that reason is something for you to change...just that you don't fit that particular job. I don't see that other answers covered this very well. – Elros Oct 2 '14 at 12:39
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I'm not sure of the type of job you are applying for, but if you can stand up during the interview (e.g. to write on a whiteboard or something)

Voice is not the only indicator people use for 'passion' they also use general body language.

Standing up, even just to write on a whiteboard, has two effects

  1. Gives you more space to 'move' fluidly
  2. Because of moving (in particular your arms) it changes the space in your lungs, which will modulate your tone of voice.

Note that for this approach to be effective, you need to 'talk with your hands'

  • this doesn't seem to add anything substantial over points made and explained in prior 9 answers – gnat Sep 16 '14 at 9:15
  • It certainly does! Other answers describe approaches to speaking, or advise on jobs to apply for, or even ways of looking for jobs, mine is the only answer that says to stand up and move. – stevenrcfox Sep 16 '14 at 11:57
  • as far as I can tell, answer posted almost a week ago covers this. See Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others – gnat Sep 16 '14 at 12:00
  • The previous answer does not quite cover the same ground as I have. That answer does mention physical exaggeration, but fundamentally is about tone of voice, so much so that the 'physical exaggeration' could be interpreted as concentrating on the shape of your mouth or larynx (this was certainly my interpretation, if evidently not yours). As such, I do not believe I am in violation of the moderation guideline, nor deserve the negative votes. Just to re-iterate, mine is the only answer that uses the terms 'stand up' or 'move' – stevenrcfox Sep 16 '14 at 16:00

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