My friend, John, a top executive in a major American firm, was asked months ago by a church acquaintance to grant an “information interview” to a young man with stellar academic credentials. Assuming the request was, in fact, an effort to encourage opportunity and connections for a recession-stalled job seeker, John agreed.
Within seconds of encountering young Jeb (we’ll call him), John spotted issues. “It was like talking to a waterhose – he hardly paused for breath,” reported John. While intelligent, Jeb seemed “too determined to prove his brilliance” in an off-putting manner.
John’s firm happened to be locked in a hiring freeze, “but even if we weren’t, I couldn’t in good conscience hire someone who seemed likely to unnerve colleagues, sapping their energy with significant social radar issues. We’ve learned the hard way how much a single personality can demoralize many others, reducing their quality of life and ultimately the corporation’s bottom line.”
As it happens, it was my son, Henry, who helped rescue job-hungry Jeb. Henry’s Aspergerish monologues, IQ exhibitions and social miscues are well known to John. But John also sees Henry’s endearing qualities and ability to far out-produce others when the work focuses on his passions.
Thanks to Henry, the executive was motivated to consider multiple angles on this job candidate. Jeb’s social klutziness actually stirred sympathy and intrigue in John, who suspected he was viewing a Henry clone. Secondly, Jeb claimed to thrive on the very research essential to John’s firm, and his tsunami focus on the subject demonstrated, in fact, unusual knowledge. Thirdly, Jeb could be paid as a short-term consultant, as allowed even with the hiring freeze. Fourthly, a professional on staff offered to serve as Jeb’s mentor. These factors helped dilute Jeb’s liabilities.
But the bottom line, reported my executive friend, was his mental image of Henry, in whom he sees enormous potential in Asperger packaging. John is deeply gratified when others give his young friend, Henry, opportunity to grow and produce.
And so, John offered Jeb a contract as an independent consultant for research purposes. In and out of the office, collaborating with staff, reporting his research, Jeb quickly proved his mettle. Yes, the staff was confronted with an unusual personality that took some “getting used to.” But they’ve warmed to him. They’ve recalibrated. They’ve opened their hearts. They like him.
And what a researcher. Ole Jeb is a workhouse with such a passion for subjects essential to his adoptive firm that he has definitely gained traction for the future. If the job-freeze thaws, he would be well positioned now for a formal position within the firm. If that’s not feasible, he’ll gain stellar, heart-felt, convincing recommendations for other opportunities.
All because an executive exposed to a young Aspergian, and loving him, had eyes to see the gold in this breed. As for Henry – he has proven quite an effective Aspergian advance man.
This is a story worth sharing with gatekeepers of jobs and opportunity. The acquaintance who requested an interview for the young adult Aspergian wedged the first little crack in the door, a small opportunity. The employer’s prior exposure to both Aspergian assets and difficulties offered a little more wind under the wings. Finally, a compassionate heart and some creative thinking transformed another potential Jeb rejection into a zone of growth and acceptance.
Yes, there was some risk for the employer. But he discovered that a modest price paid at one end can produce a truly priceless payoff at the other. And such investments can return dividends that enrich not only the bottom line, but interior “virtue banks” of those willing to make an effort.
Just ask John. He’s quite pleased with himself that by doing good he also has done well not only for his firm, but for his own heart. John feels personally enriched by payoffs he sees in multiple lives after giving a break to a young Aspergian.