Does the idea of networking make you feel uncomfortable? You are certainly not alone. Making professional connections is a critical aspect of career-building in most industries. An estimated 70-85% of people find work through networking. For autistic job seekers, however, networking can feel like navigating an endless array of exhausting social practices without much payoff. Finding a way to make it work for you takes some work upfront, but it is well worth it to figure out how to make meaningful professional connections while being yourself.
1. Let your interests guide your connections
Rather than focusing on how many different emails you could get at a networking event, for example, prioritize depth over breadth. Identify one or two people you might like to talk to, and ask them questions about their work. Showing genuine curiosity about what they do can help build the beginnings of a constructive connection. Plus, this 1:1 approach helps limit sensory overload and social exhaustion. Remember also that the ability many autistic people have to focus intently on a special interest can be a significant asset: One well-crafted, in-depth, thoughtful request for an informational interview or coffee chat can be more effective than twenty attempts you’re not so enthusiastic about.
2. Use social scripts to your advantage
Ideally you’ll have the opportunity to communicate in your own way, in your own voice. However, because autistic job seekers are in the minority in most industries, you may come across people who don’t understand the way you naturally communicate. Taking note of and practicing social scripts can be a helpful resource for you to use at your own discretion. A common form of social script for job seekers of all neurotypes is the “elevator pitch.” This is your 30-60 second opportunity to share only the most essential elements of who you are and what you have to offer as a job seeker. Take your time writing out your elevator pitch, practicing it out loud, or asking someone close to you to help you put it together. Using an elevator pitch can feel a little awkward initially, but the more you practice, the more confident you will sound. Here are some examplesto get you started.
3. Take self-care seriously
Seriously: searching for a job can become tiring, frustrating, and demoralizing if you’re not giving yourself enough breaks or pacing yourself in a healthy way. The better you feel physically and mentally, the better a chance you’ll have at showcasing your best self to potential connections. A lot of autistic people grow up feeling that assimilation and masking are necessary 24/7 in order to find and keep a job. It is critically important to remember that you are worthy of a career that feels fulfilling for you, exactly as you are. Making the connections required to build that career may take additional time, adaptations to neurotypical networking skills, and support, and that is absolutely okay.