Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide
ASERT has compiled resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current COVID-19 outbreak.
The process for finding a new job in adulthood, especially one that is a good fit, is more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Growing up, I never thought I would struggle to find a good job for myself. I thrived academically my entire life, often exceeding teachers’ expectations without even intending to. I remember at an eighth grade report card conference, my teacher actually encouraged me to do a little less work and thought I was setting my own expectations way higher than hers. I have always been a hard worker, a quick learner, and very dedicated to any work I commit to. I taught myself new skills outside of school and created projects for myself, such as going through the process of making videos from pre-production to writing copy for the metadata once the video was ready to publish. I dreamed of so many challenging, yet exciting career options for myself as a child. I recall writing confidently in fourth grade about potentially being president someday. I imagined I could be a scientist, a film director, and so much more. In high school, I gained a large amount of work experience through volunteer positions, summer jobs, etc. I entered adulthood with more on my resume than the average person my age. However, as soon as I started applying to jobs after graduating high school, I often ran into major systemic issues.
One of the first issues I ran into was the lack of jobs aimed at college freshmen compared to other demographics. Being a full-time college student eliminated any full-time, year-round jobs from being an option since I would not have the availability for it. My scholarships required me to attend college full-time, so I also could not simply take a job while attending college part-time. When I searched for summer internships, I found most only wanted high school students, juniors or seniors in college, or recent college graduates. Very few programs for adults allowed freshmen or sophomores in college to apply and I had become too old for programs focused on giving summer jobs to high school students. There is therefore a major gap in internships and summer programs for college freshman and sophomores that needs to be addressed. Some jobs are also restricted to a major other than my own, further limiting the number available to me.
Looking beyond jobs aimed at students, I ran into more systemic issues. Whether looking for a full-time or part-time job, finding and being hired for a truly entry-level one can be very difficult. When I use a filter that should lead to only entry-level jobs being shown on a website that contains job listings, the search results still tend to include ones that want a few years of experience in the specific role the job listing is for. Employers often also mention in their job listings that they want applicants to already know how to use certain industry-specific software or do certain industry-specific tasks independently. This includes internships. Very few jobs offer to train new hires, instead seeking applicants that do not need any training. This especially hurts young adults who have little job experience so far and those seeking to change career fields. It means when searching for a job, I spend hours searching through results I am mostly not qualified for simply because the majority of the listings are not actually entry-level jobs. It also means possibly getting to the interview or first day of work only to find out then that the employer expects applicants to already have years of experience or skill I do not have yet, but they are unwilling to train for. I end up focusing so much on finding any job listing I am qualified for that I am not able to put much energy into also keeping in mind what jobs I might be interested in, which are disability friendly, pay well, and other factors. Not only have I tried searching under specific entry-level job titles and seen this happen, but I have also run into this issue when simply doing a general search for all jobs within a few miles of me and trying to filter by experience level. I have also noticed that when I search for job listings in my geographic area without any keywords, many require certifications I do not have. Often, these are jobs related to teaching or ones that require a medical license.
When it comes to being trained to do a job, I am willing to learn. In middle school, I taught myself to edit videos because I was interested in possibly making a career around it. I eventually took classes in filmmaking both in high school and college, though I started by learning on my own simply out of my own desire to. When I needed to make a logo for my senior project in high school, I read the manual for Adobe Illustrator and watched online tutorials to build my graphic design skills up enough to make one. When jobs have provided training, I have always been a quick learner and eager to. However, I often have trouble finding opportunities to build certain skills employers want, especially for industry-specific software you cannot get access to outside the workplace. Growing up, I sought available resources in school, such as writing centers and math labs, to help me when I was struggling with certain assignments. While some employers do offer training and there are online tutorials available for certain skills, jobs often lack the equivalent of a writing center if you need help with a task or with building a certain skill. In school, I could advocate for myself and my needs simply by taking advantage of resources like a writing center or a professor’s office hours. However, being a self-advocate and admitting you still need to build a certain skill sometimes frustrates employers in my experience, because they so often seek applicants and current employees who do not need support building the skills they desire.
Another frequent requirement that has limited the number of jobs I am qualified for is when online applications automatically filter out anyone who has not completed more than high school. This especially hurts me when the application does not give the option of selecting that I am still attending college or have some college experience. I appreciate the employers who do list “some college” as an option. It especially frustrates me when employers want a minimum of an associate’s degree when using an education filter on applicants since I have completed over two years of undergraduate classes, but I have yet to complete my bachelor’s degree. With online applications, I simply get filtered out usually due to only having a high school diploma instead of having a chance to explain that I have some college experience. Often, the websites I search for jobs on also do not provide education level as a filter, leading my search results to be filled with jobs that require degrees I do not have. Additionally, I wish more employers would take applicants with only a high school diploma, since I have often seen two listings for the same job title where one requires a bachelor’s degree and the other only requires a high school diploma, depending on which employer is offering the job.
It would benefit both job seekers and employers if websites that contain job listings had better filters. As I mentioned, filtering for entry-level jobs often leads to results containing jobs that are not actually entry-level. In addition, many websites only let you filter geographically by how many miles you want to work from a specific point, which is not an ideal filter. There are some places in the same geographic radius from my house as others that are much more difficult to commute to. Especially the further I expand the miles for the radius, the more I get results in areas I would prefer not to work in due to the commute being difficult. Using a geographic radius measures a straight distance between the location I use as the search criteria and the employer. It ignores if there is public transit or roads easily connecting me to that location, along with other factors that affect commuting. If I am driving to work, some places have no parking nearby, making them difficult to commute to. I have seen some websites that allow you to click checkboxes for what geographic areas you want to search in, which is slightly better than using a geographic radius. If I were to design my own website or app for job searching, I think I would allow job seekers to highlight the areas on a map they want to work in and filter that way.
If you can successfully filter and find a job you are qualified for, another issue is that many online job listings get a higher number of applicants than they are able to view. Often, I have applied to jobs and never heard back at all. Sometimes, I can see that my application was never viewed, depending on what website I use to apply. While it still leaves me without a job, it is nice when employers let me know they selected someone else or are not going to move forward with my application. Occasionally, employers invite me for an interview weeks or months after I applied, so it is nice to cross the ones off my list that rejected me instead of wondering if I will still hear back from them someday.
I have still not made it past all the systemic issues with job hunting if my application is viewed. Some employers do not provide pay and benefits information on the job listing. I may get a job offer and find out it pays very little. Especially as I move further into adulthood, I am becoming less willing to take a job that pays less than a living wage, especially if it pays less than previous jobs I have had. Before, I was more willing to take a low-wage job just for the experience and to have at least some income. Now, I have enough savings that I am less desperate for work and can turn down lower-wage jobs for now. I also know that I cannot continue to rely on my parents to support me long-term. I am thankful enough to still be able to rely on them for housing. If I had to pay rent, I definitely would run out of money quickly if I took a low-wage job. Low wages are better than no income. However, while I am at a point where I am less desperate, I need to try to secure a living wage job and not get stuck in one that will not sustain me long-term. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to do so. I know so many people who are also struggling to find a job that pays enough, which still ignores factors like if the employer is disability-friendly. I think more employers should at least be transparent about pay and benefits in their job listings. This would benefit both the employer and applicant by not having people apply to a job they will eventually not take due to wages being low and allow applicants to focus on the jobs they would actually take. However, the real solution is to find a way to create more living-wage jobs and also make certain large living expenses like housing more affordable.
If I find a job that I am qualified for and pays enough to live off of, there is still the problem of knowing if it is a good fit or not. This includes hopefully finding a job I am interested in and not simply taking one because I need to financially. It also means finding a job that is LGBTQ friendly, disability friendly, and willing to hire someone my age. Unfortunately, I have come across employers who are not very disability or LGBTQ friendly after already taking a job and I have also come across ageism against younger workers. For example, I have had multiple jobs where at least one person assumes someone my age does not know how to use a calculator, analog clock, or dictionary. They may assume people my age cannot do mental math, count change, or something of that nature. Some of this stems from the assumption that people my age are overly reliant on technology and never learned how to do things manually, which is far from true for me at least. The counting change assumption came from thinking we just use credit cards all the time. However, I spent countless hours in my elementary school math classes having to count change and doing math problems revolving around money, reading both digital and analog clocks, and ones where we could not use a calculator. We had both a paper dictionary and thesaurus in the classroom that we were encouraged to use. Additionally, I used cash for years growing up before having a credit or debit card. Unfortunately, I also had one internship I applied for completely on my own, but one of my coworkers thought I must be another employee’s kid to have gotten the job due to me being younger than everyone else. It is very upsetting to finally find a job only to come across situations like this, if not worse.
Many employers are also not transparent about what time of day and days of the week I would be scheduled for when applying. Thankfully, some will specify this in the job listing, though many do not. I know I definitely do not want to work in the middle of the night and I would prefer to not work late evening shifts if possible. However, sometimes I do not know what hours I will be expected to work until after I receive a job offer, if not after I start the job. Many employers also do not tell applicants if their work schedule will frequently change or if they will be scheduled at roughly the same time every shift. I prefer to work at roughly the same time every day to develop a good rhythm with eating and sleeping. My body does not handle eating and sleeping at varying times as well as when I am more consistent. Sometimes, I have ended up taking a job and getting stuck in hours that are not ideal for my body simply because the time of day I would be scheduled for was not a clear expectation made at the beginning. When I first started working, I did not know to ask about my schedule so early in the process or how important what hours I work are for my body, leading me to get temporarily stuck in jobs that were not healthy for me based on the time of day worked or due to a rotating schedule. However, even now that I have a better sense of my needs, I still often do not have this information when looking through job listings. Some listings will mention if a job will only be on weekdays, the lengths of shifts, or even contain an estimate of what day of the week and time shifts will be exactly, though many listings only say if the job is full-time or part-time. They often will not specify how many hours are being considered full-time either, which can vary slightly by the employer. I think it would benefit both the employer and applicants if this information were provided in the job listing. People are more likely to take and stay at a job if they know upfront that the hours and schedule are ones they can handle.
Beyond knowing when I will be expected to work, it is even more difficult to know how many days off I will have or how difficult it will be to take days off. With my medical history, it is not unusual for me to visit doctors multiple times a year. Ignoring my specific medical conditions, everyone needs to be able to at least visit the dentist regularly. Often, medical offices are open during the same hours many employers conduct business, with no weekend or evening appointments. This forces me to miss work to receive medical care. I, therefore, need to be able to take multiple days off a year or at least part of the day off to take care of my medical needs. This is not including if I get sick from a viral infection or something similar and need to call out. Therefore, I need a job that is flexible enough to go to the doctor when I need to and gives me days off when necessary. However, it is often hard to tell until I start working if my supervisor will be willing to have me take time off like this. Plenty of jobs require requesting time off weeks in advance, which is not always possible for me if a specialist I am seeing has very few openings and they might only have an opening sooner than the minimum amount of time my employer wants to know in advance when calling to schedule the appointment. I also might suddenly need to see a doctor not so urgently that it is an emergency, but soon enough to not be able to let my supervisor know as far in advance as some jobs require. Finding a job that gives me this flexibility, especially on top of other issues with navigating employment, has been next to impossible. Many employers not only lack this flexibility but also expect constantly high work performance. If I show up to work mildly not feeling well due to my physical health and work at a slower pace that day, I have had supervisors who are very unhappy with that and unaccommodating to fluctuations in my health over time.
Some of the issues I mentioned in the latter portion of this piece I think would be solved by providing the opportunity for potential new hires to shadow a current employee for a day or so before accepting a job offer. I know this would likely be logistically difficult, especially during the pandemic, but I think it would lead to higher retention in the long run. So often, I have shown up to the first day of work and had it be extremely different from what I expected, for better or worse. Being able to shadow a student when applying to high schools and visiting colleges before accepting offers to them was extremely helpful, yet there tend to not be similar opportunities when it comes to employment. Being able to visit a workplace for the day does not mean issues will not arise later on that could make the job a bad fit. Sometimes, major issues can arise weeks or months into a new job, though there are also plenty of red flags that can be spotted sooner. I have had times where employers significantly change the roles for a job from what was in the job listing after I accepted, making it even harder to know if a job will be a good fit when deciding whether to accept an offer. I have also had times where I was given a job offer electronically without being able to visit the workplace at all before making my decision. I wish more employers allowed applicants to preview the job or at least visit before having to make a final decision on an offer to prevent finding out it is a bad fit immediately after starting. How am I supposed to know if a job will be a good fit if I am only permitted to read a job description, especially if the role may be significantly different when I arrive compared to what is written? It is very stressful to finally make it to the job offer stage, if not further, and not have enough information to know if this is a good job for me to take.
If I do take the job and find it to not be a good fit at all, then there is the pressure to wait it out and hope it gets better with time. Sometimes, jobs are just rough at first. However, if a job seems to not be a good fit after giving it time, there continues to be social pressure not to simply quit. This pressure stems from needing income, possibly now being on that employer’s health insurance, job applications asking if you have ever quit a job recently to filter out people who have when I then start looking for another job, etc.
While I feel like I have run into this less over time, I also wish jobs did not require references. If I have little job experience, and especially if those previous jobs were not a good fit or were short internships, then it makes it next to impossible to have quality references. For a while, I was able to use my supervisors from positions I had in high school as references, though that option has become less useful as those positions become less recent or if I apply to jobs significantly different from ones I had back then that want references within the industry I am applying for. When jobs require multiple references, sometimes I simply do not have enough references available to apply for it. The concept of references also further pressures me to stay at a job that is not going well in case a future job contacts my previous employer. Lately, I also came across an employer whose background check allowed them to investigate my previous employment, further adding to the pressure to try to stay on good terms with and maintain a job I know is not working out for me.
This is not to say I have never had a good job as an adult, although many of the jobs I have worked lately have been seasonal, internships that only ran a few weeks, or freelance work. It is also important to note that while I enjoyed the positions I had in high school, all of them were either unpaid volunteer positions, paid minimum wage, or not much above minimum wage. Having to find a job that can financially sustain me has only further made it difficult to navigate employment when there are already so many other systemic issues with job seeking. Some of these issues I have described have relatively quick fixes, like building a way to filter out jobs that require a certain degree level. The others have overwhelmed many people and have no easy answer. I hope employment improves for everyone going forward, though for now, I continue to struggle to navigate it despite having done so well both academically and with building employment experience when younger.