I’ve had a little bit of a break from my blog again recently. That’s not to say I was out of ideas – I’ve had a draft blog post I’ve been occasionally adding to for about a month, and hopefully I’ll eventually get back to it. But one of the primary reasons I didn’t blog in June is because I was going through a long job interview process – the first role related to my data analytics boot camp I was invited to interview for since completing my boot camp. With so much energy thinking about that process, all of my remaining free energy had to go to fun free time things that didn’t feel as much like work (i.e. I kinda got addicted to a mobile game, which is why I previously stopped playing mobile games before, because being autistic means I have a habit of doing that, and also been doing some other things I hope to blog about in the future).
After 5 rounds of the interview process (including a written homework assignment), I was offered a part time version of the position I interviewed for. The full time role went to someone else with more experience, but they looked at their budget and figured out a way to hire me, too. To be honest, it’s actually feeling less daunting to start off this new career path with part time hours, too, as it will allow for more flexibility as I figure out the right balance between working remotely and caring for my kids.
Whilst I’m not yet announcing my new job title (I don’t even start my training until this Monday the 26th) and may only announce it on LinkedIn without going into specifics because I’m not yet sure what counts under the confidentiality agreement I signed. However, this blog post isn’t about that, but rather to share a story of my process from application to hiring (I did ask if I could blog about that, and was told it should be fine). I’ll also delve into why I feel like even though I lacked some of the relevant experience for the role, I still managed to impress everyone who interviewed me. Perhaps it will help someone else out there who is struggling in the process themselves. I get it—the job search process is so draining. You often don’t hear back from companies you apply to who only get to see your résumé. Cold messaging hiring managers and/or recruiters is terrifying if you don’t feel comfortable communicating with strangers. Yet, all the advice I’d received through the career services aspect of my boot camp worked for me. I doubt I would have been offered the job I was without following that advice, though there are elements of my authentic self I brought to the process that I think really helped when it came to the interviews, so I’m going to address that side of things too.
First up, though, I’m going to preface this with some personal history about why getting this far felt like climbing a mountain over the last several years. After years of messaging from my ex-husband about how lazy I was, how much I didn’t want to work, my self-esteem in that area of my life was completely shot. He would tell me how everything I did that felt exciting and productive to me was a waste of my time. I’d believed the lies he told me about myself. However, if you’ve been through something similar, I’m going to share with you how I flipped that narrative on its head, because all those things I did that my ex-husband thought was a waste of time ended up being relevant topics I could discuss in my job interviews.
Also, though I had a Bachelor of Science degree in Internet Computing, I hadn’t worked in the field in over a decade. And even then, I’d barely worked in the field (besides occasionally freelancing as a web developer since I was in university) for a year or so, so I certainly felt like I lacked professional experience. My greatest coding project was a personal one, converting my static HTML/CSS comedy website into a dynamic PHP/MySQL one when I was in university. So the things I did for “fun” like writing and publishing books, and developing and performing improv shows, is where I got to illustrate my abilities in how I work, on top of my work experience as a tour guide, and my experience coding in my boot camp.
Alright, now that that background is out of the way, let’s get started.
The Road to Getting Invited to an Interview
I have a friend who kept telling me, “it’s a numbers game, just keep applying to jobs, eventually you’ll get an interview.” How many jobs did I apply to before I applied to the role I landed? 22. (And one of those wasn’t for a data analytics or coding type position—I did get interviewed for that one, too, but ultimately wasn’t hired). How many did I apply to after I started interviewing for this one? 2. I am really not a fan of the impersonal application process. I often felt like I went to a ton of job fairs and webinars to learn about different companies and connect with employees more than I actually applied to jobs. The process I went through for the role I was hired for was different than the others I applied to. Including when I had friends at Facebook and PlayStation who submitted job referrals internally for me, and I was auto-rejected from those, too. Proving that if you want an interview, it’s not enough to have someone vouch for you that way.
Being someone who’s been active on various social media platforms for well over a decade, I took to using LinkedIn more, and interacting with people in the feed. I had connected with someone from one of the many career services webinars I had attended, and commented on his post about boot camps. After a brief exchange back and forth, he asked me if I’d be interested in the role I ended up interviewing for, and connected me with the hiring manager.
After connecting with the hiring manager, we communicated briefly about what he was looking for so I knew exactly what to write in my cover letter to address what was missing from my résumé that showed I did have more relevant experience, it just wasn’t on my résumé because it was from more than ten years prior. I then let him know when I submitted my application, and he flagged it for priority review. At this point, I still wasn’t sure I’d get invited to interview, thinking that I didn’t have all the experience they were after, so I was pleasantly surprised when I did hear that I was going to be interviewed.
And if you’re wondering about the other job I mentioned earlier that wasn’t data related that I interviewed for – that was for a position at my local comic shop that I’d been buying comics from for about four years, so the owner already knew me and all the comic books I read, because he would even make recommendations to me based on what he knew I liked.
The lesson here? It really does make a difference to either already know or somehow get acquainted with the hiring people before the interview if you want to get your foot in the door to actually get the interview in the first place.
The Interview Process, My Approach, and What Set Me Apart
The interview process is different at so many different companies. Some just have a one and done (my interview as a tour guide was barely even that! But I also already knew the hiring manager). Some have many different rounds, and may or may not include assignments or an interview to test technical proficiency. As I mentioned above, this position had 5 rounds. They were: phone interview with a recruitment person; phone interview with the hiring manager; written assignment; video interview with 3 team members; and video interview with a person above the hiring manager.
I think if I had gone through this level of scrutiny and meeting new people even a couple of years ago, I would have felt very daunted. I had literally never interviewed for any job that had this many rounds. In fact, I’m not sure I’d even interviewed for a position with even two rounds of interviews. Come to think of it, I may have even been offered every position I ever interviewed for, sans the comic book shop one. Not that I ever took much risk in terms of looking for work—for all the jobs I’d interviewed for in the past, I generally already had some kind of connection to the person hiring, apart from when I interviewed for Burger King, but that’s fast food, and they were probably always hiring. I’ve also only ever held 4 jobs I interviewed for, so it’s not like I’ve had a lot of experience with job interviews either. And, aside from being a tour guide for 20 months, all of the jobs I previously held lasted between 3 weeks (my first job at age 17) to a year. After that, I’ve primarily been a stay-at-home mother over the last fifteen years.
Understandably, you may be asking yourself the same question I did—how on Earth did I manage to get offered the first data related job I interviewed for after I completed my boot camp with so little previous experience and not much effort in the number of jobs applied for? Yes, I did ask myself this because I honestly couldn’t believe my luck, but I do feel like I can address what I feel like worked in my favour.
What was different for me in 2021 compared to how I’ve been in the past:
- I knew my story and my motivation. I had spent the better part of my divorce in 2019-2020 figuring myself out, and understanding myself better. After my divorce, I started blogging again and writing about my experiences, including both my strengths and challenges. I had developed a confidence in my authentic self.
- I had the backing and support of my boot camp’s career services, including a career director who was cheering me on every step of the way, and helped me feel more confident in my abilities and sharing that in a way that was authentic to me.
- I had over five years of experience as an improvisor, which helped me immensely in answering any question that was asked of me, no matter how unexpected, so every interview felt relaxed and conversational rather than like I was being put under pressure to perform in a certain way.
- I went in to each interview with no expectations or hopes about landing the job, but treated each one as good practice and experience that could always be improved for the next one, to ensure I would enjoy the opportunity regardless of the outcome. I have a habit of making to most out of any situation that comes up, and I’ve found that this attitude can be infectious.
So, even though I came from a background where being autistic may have, in the past, led me to put my foot in my mouth or say something the wrong way or be misinterpreted, I actually got to lean in to sharing my strengths as an autistic person. I didn’t shy away from mentioning my disability. I talked about how it helps me as a researcher, which is an important responsibility for the role, and got to give specific examples from my background as a writer and tour guide.
I’ve seen a lot about using the “STAR” method of answering interview questions. If you’re not familiar with this, STAR stands for “situation, task, action, result.” I actually didn’t practice this at all, but found I naturally addressed all of these points when I improvised my answers in the moment. For example, at one point I was asked about how I handle negative feedback I don’t agree with. Well, this was actually a fun one for me to answer because I’d written about just such an experience in my What I Miss About Being a Tour Guide post. I told them about the passenger who hated my tour so much he complained everywhere possible, and though he had seemed to be a lone exception compared to everyone who’d ever taken one of my tours, I still listened to his specific criticisms and did additional research on the areas he said I was lacking, and added it to my tour. My answer, in fact, even received an instant compliment from one of the interviewers about how much she liked it. You get a response like that during an interview, and it’s easier to feel confident that you’re doing well.
The most challenging part of the process for me was the homework assignment. Reading the instructions without any guidance, but having some familiarity with the product I would be working on, I initially blew up what was being asked of me to a bigger ask than what was required. However, before I gave myself too much of a headache on that, I thought about everything I had learned about technical interviews, and how the interviewer wants to hear your thought process as much as they want to see that you know how to code. With that in mind, I sent a few clarifying questions and explained my process of where I was at at that time, and once I received the answers from the hiring manager, completely changed my approach to the task at hand, and was able to complete the assignment as asked.
Another piece of advice I see a lot of is sell yourself in a way that shows them what you can offer them to help them out, more than how the role will help your career goals. Now, whilst this wasn’t something I specifically thought about in the moment, my career director did ask me an offhand question that related to this (to the effect of, “Is that a problem you noticed with the product when you used it?”) which then led me to thinking more about exactly that, and actually addressing it in all of my interviews. Some people might feel nervous about pointing out a problem during an interview, but in my case, it seemed to be an asset. Why? Because it related to a topic I was deeply passionate about and I could speak to the fact that I naturally notice those sorts of issues and am able to bring them up before a product would even hit the market. Since this was in an area the company cares about, I do think that that wound up being one of the things that set me apart from other candidates. It is one of the topics that generated the most conversation in each of my interviews, which I took as a good sign.
Relatedly, when it came time to ask questions, though I had prepared some in advance for most of my interviews in the process, by the time the final interview rolled around, I just had a vague idea of the things I was still curious about, and then improvised the actual questions. Though I’ve heard some people ask questions related to themselves and why they might be a good fit at this point of an interview, I took the opposite approach, which is what I’ve seen recommended more. The majority of my questions related to job function, expectations, the team I’d be working with, and company culture. At one point I also asked what they enjoyed most about the work they do. As an autistic person, it took me a long time to get in the habit of asking questions about other people’s experiences, but once you know some guidelines, it gets easier. I do recommend having a few questions prepared, at least at the beginning, though. Because some of my questions were answered through the course of the interview, which made it easier to narrow down what to ask but also I still had something on hand to ask. Also, the more you already know about a company through their website and your experiences with their product(s), the easier it is to ask more targeted questions. During my final interview, I improvised a question about potential future improvements to the product I’d be working on based on my experience with it, and the feedback was well received.
Improvisation didn’t just help me in my ability to comfortably answer interview questions, and ask them myself. At one point during my interview with the hiring manager, I was asked a question that related to how I adapt to collaboration with ideas from others. The first thing that came to mind was my experience directing my So You Want a Job improv show, and how each iteration has evolved as I’ve cast different people in the show. I specifically mentioned how rehearsing with a new cast member for the festival in Alaska, we ended up developing a new intro with some music that made the show better. And as promised earlier for how my writing background helped me land this role—well, for starters, it is a role that requires some storytelling and narrative rather than being straight coding and data analytics. But it came up in the interview in other ways, too. For example, one of the team I interviewed with is an editor, so when I mentioned working with an editor for my novel, she asked me to expand on that and what the process was like for me.
The Lessons I Want to Impart
First of all, take from this what works for you, and discard what doesn’t. There is no one way to be, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for the next one. Pay attention to company values from the get go, too—I do think this process worked for me because my values align with the company I’ll be working for soon, and that came across as I interviewed. It was honestly a breath of fresh air feeling like I could represent my authentic self in the interview process, because doing it that early on and getting a job offer should make it easier to feel comfortable in the workplace, too.
I also want to say: never let anyone tell you your hobbies are a frivolous waste of time. You can always draw a story from the experience that paints a better picture of who you are and how you work. Stay-at-home parents can often find it challenging to get back into the work force after taking a lot of time off to care for their children (same for other caregivers, such as caring for elderly or sick family members). Hobbies and caregiving can give you that more recent experience interviewers are interested in hearing about. Once you get through the résumé hurdle and get an interview, remember that.
Additionally: Find a way to turn negative experiences and feedback around so you can make them an asset. I didn’t set out to prove my ex-husband wrong about me, but it certainly feels good to accomplish what I have despite my years of hearing I’m not good enough from someone who should’ve been my biggest cheerleader. Not everyone will see autism as a weakness and expect me to push myself to mask and try to be more like a neurotypical person. If you’re autistic too, I believe you can find the people who value what your different way of thinking has to offer.
When you truly know and like yourself, you can drown out the other voices who try to drag you down, and live your best life, the way you want to, surrounded by others who believe in you too.
As mentioned during my introduction, the career services portion of my boot camp was invaluable. If you’re considering taking a boot camp, I highly recommend choosing one that has this feature and making the most of it like I did. I don’t know about all the different places that run boot camps, but if you’re interested in the one I did, I took it through UC Berkeley Extension, where the curriculum was handled by 2U, a company that works with a network of colleges and institutions around the world and are constantly updating their content and support for their students. This means you can study the curriculum at whatever location is nearest to you, and take advantage of their wide network of support. They have a number of different offerings to choose from in terms of boot camps, but also longer courses, too.
If you want any tips or advice on where to go to study improv because you think that would help you in job interviews the way it helped me, then feel free to connect with me on any of my social media accounts (the ones linked on this blog) and send me a message. I’ll do my best to connect you with what you’re looking for.
Moving Forward on the Blog and Creative Venues
If you liked what I had to say on this topic, feel free to share it, and/or follow my blog!
Though I have shared what I consider to be some good content about job searching tips in recent months, now that I actually have a job, moving forward I will likely return more to sharing content about my creativity, analysis of media content, and general life stuff.
I recently gave a personalised tour of San Francisco to a friend, based on his interests, so I want to share some content about that. I’ve also had a couple of guest appearances recently on my friend Mike Brown’s Gotta Love Them Movies show on YouTube, so check that out and subscribe to his channel if you’re interested in discussion about movie news. I definitely want to have a venue for sharing more of my thoughts on the media I consume, as I’ve been enjoying having these conversations with Mike.
Plus, having a job will make it easier for me to structure my life in a way I can better balance my energy for different creative outlets when I’m not working, so expect some new and different things from me. Also, like and follow The Secret Lives of Villains Facebook page—Diana Brown and I are planning to livestream our characters from there at random times, so following the page is the best way to find out when and get notified for it.