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5 years and over 300 applications: For those with autism, landing a tech job 'like winning the lottery'

Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

His blue eyes twinkling behind wire-rimmed glasses, Pierce joked about coming to Chicago in the midst of a historic cold snap, throwing in a musical flourish from the movie "Frozen": "The cold never bothered me anyway!" he sang as he spun a full circle in his swivel-seat.

But despite his energy and charm, Pierce had trouble landing a job via the standard interview process. Like many people with autism, he has some difficulties with language, sometimes pausing for a few seconds to find the right word. It's like reading a book and the words start disappearing midsentence, he said.

Other people with autism may have trouble making eye contact or reading social cues. Some rock in their seats. An employee at the Chicago office jerks his arm unexpectedly.

Such behaviors may eliminate you from consideration during the standard job interview process, said Shukla, even if you'd make a great employee. The interview process at EY is different.

"We don't care about the eye contact," Shukla said. "We care (whether) you are eager to learn, and can you apply it?"

Employees with autism are hired via an intensive process that includes a week of meetings and exercises that test ability and teamwork. There's feedback tailored to people with autism, who tend to be quite direct and to appreciate directness in others.

 

And, in the end, there are job offers.

Pierce, who graduated with a degree in applied statistics from Grand Valley State University in 2014, and has worked as a kitchen aide and a wine-tasting associate, was living in his parents' basement when he learned that he'd gotten the job. Ian Nancarrow, 30, who has Asperger's, paid the bills with jobs in restaurants and retail during an approximately six-year search for a professional tech job.

"It's going to be emotional to recall every little detail," Nancarrow said of his EY job offer. "Let's just say it was very hard to keep my composure as I was trying to walk out of the building so I could call my family. My mom was jumping, hooting and hollering in the background, as my dad was saying, 'Don't let this go to your head.'"

The employees with autism are hired as account support associates and are paid the same as other employees who hold that title, Shukla said.

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