During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Case Johnson decided to learn how to cook. But he wasn't interested in making typical home meals.
"I like to basically make things that most people don't think about doing at home, since I have such a unique palate," said Johnson, who is a data analyst at TD Bank in the United States.
"Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I always learn something from the experience, which is sort of my approach to life. Recently I've been making a lot more seafood, like Cajun salmon and Oysters Rockefeller."
Looking at things a bit differently is a way of life for Johnson, who was one of the first three colleagues hired last year by TD Bank in the United States through Specialisterne – an organization that helps companies hire individuals on the autism spectrum. While the program only recently started to be used by the Bank in the U.S., it is now in its fifth successful year of use by TD in Canada.
This year, TD is celebrating Autism Awareness Month, which begins on April 1, with events and stories aimed at spotlighting our progress and future ambitions in advancing inclusion and equality across North America.
The challenges for those diagnosed with autism remain steep. Less than 50% of autistic adults are employed and many of those jobs are only part-time, according to the advocacy group, Autism Speaks. While these candidates often have the technical skills for the job, getting through the traditional interview process can be difficult because of the social skills required.
That's why organizations like TD work with organizations such as Specialisterne to establish interview processes that can help provide candidates with autism the opportunities they need to be able to demonstrate their skills and how they can contribute.
It's only a first step
Johnson plays an integral role on the Data & Analytics team helping to create a dashboard that allows users to click onto a city and instantly access important information about major companies profiled in the area. This dashboard is intended to be used by bank colleagues who are prospecting for new business. What makes this dashboard particularly helpful is how easy it is for end users.
"The development was sort of like a baton race, one person hands it off to someone else," Johnson said. "People probably think this must be really complicated. I thought it was at first, but after working with it for a few months it's felt more and more doable. I also learned so much working with a group. Everyone at TD that I have interacted with has an expansive skill set. They have been helpful with teaching and expanding my knowledge with what they know."
Outside of work, Johnson has a variety of hobbies, but he admits he takes them very seriously. He prefers activities that involve planning ahead and noticing small details, such as chess and solving difficult puzzles. However, fitness is also important to Johnson, so he work outs at the gym and plays soccer with his friends.
Johnson, a recent graduate of Rowan College in New Jersey, says that his first role at TD Bank is only the initial step in his professional career. His goal for the next five years is to become a programmer focused on backend technology.
"I always enjoyed math more than anything else," he explained.
"I always had a spatial mind. So yeah, technology was a good fit for me. I like the logical way of thinking and putting it into making computers run better."
The interview process that gave more
Johnson joined the Data & Analytics team at TD Bank last year after a unique interviewing process that took place over a three-week period where the candidates were given projects to work on in both individual and group settings.
Together with Specialisterne, the TD Human Resources team worked closely with the Data & Analytics team to help create a foundation for a successful interviewing process.
"The three-week assessment period that was used during this pilot was new for me, as well as for the hiring managers," said Jennifer Haines, TD Senior Recruiter who worked with Specialisterne and Bank managers in launching the program.
"It allowed both the candidates and the managers to get to know each other and their work styles, as well as showcase their skills. The results were undeniably successful as you can see from Case's story."
It was an eye-opening experience as well for Taylor Baruffi, TD Senior Advisor Business Insights, and Johnson's direct manager.
Baruffi admits he wasn't quite sure what to expect when the program was initially being planned.
"It was so valuable to see the candidates' thought processes, how they wrote the code, how they would visualize," he said.
"It's what you don't get in a traditional interview, a full feel for how people do things and how their brain and mind processes information. In the data and analytics world, that is pretty important."
Baruffi knew that Johnson had the technical skills for the job, and was pleasantly surprised by how much Johnson contributed to his team in terms of building a sense of community, particularly during the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic and working in a virtual setting.
"Case has been a great addition to the team," Baruffi said.
"While we initially weren't going to do a December holiday party, Case encouraged us to do one, an ugly sweater contest, despite the virtual setting. It was so much fun. Case is great for both work and extracurricular activities. I am really happy to have him on our team."
Haines, the TD Senior Recruiter, is hopeful that this first effort in the U.S. is only the beginning of working with Specialisterne to bring new talent to the bank.
"As we continue to expand our program in the U.S. to other business lines, I'm confident that other hiring managers will agree that this interview technique could create an interview experience that could be comfortable for candidates with all abilities," she said. "So far, it has been very helpful for identifying top talent that might not have been selected in a typical interview process."