Recently Gordon Douglas came through the Aurora Neurodiversity Hiring Program and is now working as a Data Support Analyst for Services Australia in Canberra after having relocated from Queensland.
He spoke to Specialisterne about the challenges he has faced over the years to gain employment, his experience of the Aurora program, and what having a secure job means to him after four years of an uncertain future.
You took a periodic break from your Masters degree and relocated from Queensland to Canberra to take on this role with Services Australia. What led you to take this leap of faith, especially during COVID-19?
I was unemployed at the time so I figured I would take the offer while it’s going. I have previously moved around trying to find work in Brisbane and Melbourne, and my family didn’t tie me to living in one location. It was a simple decision to relocate, but the decision to discontinue studying was harder. Then I thought, plenty of people work fulltime and study, and because the finish line was so close, I decided to finish my Master of Information Management.
Tell me about your experience of applying for work previously. What were some of the challenges? Why do you think you were unsuccessful in previous job interviews?
One of the reasons I have had challenges in finding and keeping employment was because I misunderstood the requirements of the job and the workplace. I have worn a full suit and tie when it was casual Friday, and I struggle when asked vague questions like ‘what kind of work are you interested?’ to which I answered, ‘9am to 5pm and $50,000’. I have trouble interpreting questions.
In exit interviews I have been told a lack of eye contact is a concern. It seems silly to me that it matters that much to people, but it does.
It has also been difficult to get recruitment agencies to consider me in the first place. When living in Melbourne a recruitment consultant told me I wasn’t considered for a job because it was on the other side of town. I had relocated from Brisbane, so travelling across Melbourne wasn’t going to be a problem. I think often they made up reasons not to employ people.
Another challenge is it takes real work to get a human to consider your application. The longer it goes on the more demoralising it is. It’s easier to just go and be a delivery driver. I could continue beating myself against a brick wall, or I could get a menial job which pays the bills. I have had lots of bad and conflicting career advice over the years from psychologists, teachers, and recruitment agencies. I understand that no-one has a crystal ball, but it was paralysing as there were too many differing opinions.
How long had you been searching for a job for?
I had been looking for work on and off since about 2016 which was when I had my last full-time office job. I did metal work in my brother’s business, he helped me out, but he let me know it wasn’t my forever place and I should look for something else.
How many jobs, on average, have you applied for over the last 12-18 months?
I have applied for about 10 jobs a month since 2016 which is about 480 in the last four years. I applied for everything including paper delivery, but from 2018 I was more selective and really targeted my applications to things I could do well based on my previous experience and something that earned more money.
Late 2019, early 2020, my situation changed because of Uni. I really felt that there was a conflict – I could get a really good job, or get good results at Uni, but not both. However, I kept checking what Specialisterne were offering and when this opportunity came up I went for it.
Do you feel the jobs you were offered previously or employed into were reflective of your skill levels and abilities. If not, why do you think that was?
Some jobs were a good fit for me, and others weren’t. I had a good office job where I got to think out loud and solve problems – the work itself I could do, but sometimes there were things I had to learn.
My previous job in 2016 I had applied for an admin position with an insurance company, but the job I was offered was a legal admin role and I didn’t realise until late in the piece, so I didn’t understand the content I was handling and what needed to be done with it.
Other times the environment was unsuitable. One thing I realised about me is that I don’t cope well with sudden and drastic change. In one position they changed my job title, which I found out when they changed my email signature, which threw me off guard.
In contrast to this, with my current employer we have undergone a restructure and change, and everyone has been told about this and told what to expect. It has been more of a slow burn.
What was different about the recruitment and sourcing process you went through to obtain your job at Services Australia?
There was so much that was different in the Specialisterne recruitment process. It was really refreshing. I was not just applying for a job, but there were multiple positions which was great ‘cos they assessed for either one or both jobs, and what combination of people work well together.
There were practical assessments rather than annoying psychometric testing which I don’t do well in. I was surprised at level of access to the workplace managers during the process, as we had multiple chances to talk with and present to the hiring managers.
We were presenting real work at a professional level and you could see different people had different strengths. It was a real simulation of a team working from home. The connection between the manager and the applicant means there was more a sense of we are both choosing each other. It was much more an equal footing. When I applied for other jobs you would send in your resume, and it goes into the ether, and you never hear from them again.
I would definitely go through the Specialisterne process again.
How has attaining this new role changed your life or made you feel to date. What changes or objectives in your personal life are you hoping to achieve in the next 12-18 months as a result of securing work (e.g. home, friends, spending money, going out, buying things, saving for something, stability?)
The big thing is certainty. For however long my contract goes for there is certainty about income. Based on that, it helped me find somewhere to live, close to work. There are a whole lot of things that I simply no longer have to worry about. Now there is less worry about will I get a job, what will it be, I can save money that I can use in other social situations?
I now know that I have something to offer other people. I’m saving to upgrade my car and I have upgraded my phone. I can travel, and I don’t feel guilty about going out for a drink.
There is a lot less stress being in work and in a workplace where my manager and supervisor understand me. Sometimes I get worried about the work I’m doing in computer programming, but I walk in and they have faith in me, and that gives me faith in my ability as well.
It’s removed the negativity I have felt about myself previously. I didn’t bother talking to women – I had been unemployed for two years so what have I got to offer them? I now have self-worth.
If you could pass on or share a piece of advice to another autistic job seeker what would it be?
I would seriously advise to get an agent like Specialisterne and get into their program, as well as the other standard methods of applying for work. I would not have this job unless I was linked to it through Specialisterne.
If you could provide feedback to employers and recruitment organisations more generally or ask them to change something, what would it be?
Where do I start? Firstly, don’t make assumptions about your applicants, like where they will and won’t travel. Ask more questions about the problem that needs solving – what is the job they actually want done? What skills does this person have to contribute?
If someone wants a computer programmer I wouldn’t have put myself forward before, but now I’m doing it because the assessment process enabled the employer to see that I had the capacity even though I didn’t have the specific skills.
Unemployment figures for people with a disability are terrible. There’s a massive labour pool who have a lot to contribute, but as long as it’s not a square peg in round hole solution.