How to handle interviews with finance professionals who may have Asperger's

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The prevalence of people with Asperger's Syndrome (also known as High Functioning Autism or HFA) in the financial services business is well-documented. Michael Burry, the blogger and trader credited with spotting the CDO crash by author Michael Lewis, suffers from the condition. So does Jerone Drean, the former head of equity derivatives at Credit Suisse (now global head of revaluation services at data company SuperDerivatives). Anecdotally, so do numerous people working in quantitative-based jobs in financial services.

So, what should you do if you find yourself in an interview for a quant or risk job with someone you think may have Aspeger's? A new report by academics at the University Cologne offers some pointers.

1. Be very aware of your body language, don't assume that you will be evaluated negatively

People with Asperger's struggle in communication with others and can find it difficult to empathise with what another person is thinking. In an interview situation, an interviewer is required to form an impression of the other person based upon what they say (verbal cues) and what they do (non-verbal cues).

The Cologne researchers asked 17 people with high IQs and high-functioning-autism to evaluate candidates in virtual interview situations and found that they based impression formation on non-verbal cues just as much as so-called 'neurotypicals.' Body language, gestures and facial expressions were all as important as in any standard interview.

Interestingly, the academics found that people with Asperger's also showed a tendency to evaluate people more positively based upon their body language than people without. They posited that this might be because Asperger's sufferers find it difficult to read body language and were therefore trying to compensate for their deficiency.

2. Try to make what you say and what you do match up

In any interview, it's unwise to say you love sales and to frown, fold your arms and cross your legs (negative body language behaviours). In an interview with someone who has Asperger's, this may be particularly confusing. The researchers found that Asperger's sufferers can find it hard to decode information when verbal and non-verbal cues don't match up. In this situation, they're more likely to listen to the explicit verbal statements than to try decoding body language.

3. Try to use dominant body language 

The researchers found that all interviewers - whether they had Asperger's or not - preferred the people who used dominant body language in an interview to those who were submissive or neutral. However, given that Asperger's sufferers judge body language particularly favourably (as long as it doesn't contradict what you're saying), it may be helpful to place your hands on your hips or to sit with your legs apart.

In conclusion, if you suspect your finance interviewer may have HFA try to be clear, try to be dominant, try to be optimistic - there's no reason to suppose you'll be evaluated any more poorly than if you were interviewed by a neurotypical.

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