What to do when...

Job interviews

This section should be read in conjunction with the general section on managing stammering in the workplace. It offers some ideas that many of us have found useful. At the end of the section there is an opportunity to make comments on how well you feel these ideas work – and to add your own ideas.

Job interviews are stressful events, both for the interviewers and for those being interviewed. This section concentrates on the situation of being interviewed.

Interviews, by their very nature, generally place greater emphasis on oral communication than the job itself, and may involve a different kind of oral communication than is needed to do the work well. For example, a fireman who stammers may be very much at home giving instructions to his or her team, or yelling to people in a blazing building, but may find it difficult to take part in the contrived conversation of a job interview.

The general principles offered in this site should be useful:

  • focus on communication rather than avoiding stammering;
  • set objectives in terms of work outcomes;
  • get other people working with you.

As you focus on communication you can decide in advance whether or not you are going to mention stammering and when and how you are going to do it. If this is an internal interview when everyone knows you well, there may be no need. However, in other cases, there may well be advantages in mentioning stammering during the introductions, in a positive way.

For example, as you exchange pleasantries you might say, “By the way, I sometimes stammer, and I can find it more difficult in situations like interviews, which are not part of my normal job experience”. If you say this with a smile, the interviewers will appreciate your openness. It will avoid them being surprised or confused if they were not expecting it. Another option is to mention it on the application form to make sure it is out in the open.

If you want reasonable adjustments to the interview arrangements, it will in any event be sensible to raise the stammer and arrange adjustments before the interview, perhaps after being shortlisted (see the Legal issues section, and below).

Still on communication, it is important to realise that interviews normally begin and end with non-verbal communication. The first impression you give will colour the whole of the interview and require little if any speaking. You can walk in assertively, smile and make eye contact with every member of the panel, and repeat the smile and contact if you shake hands with them.

The last impression is also important. You might thank the interviewers for the interview, and again smile and make eye contact with each of them.

During the interview, it can be useful to establish and maintain a good upright, but relaxed posture. This makes you look more confident and in control. Breathe deeply and slowly, to slow yourself and the whole interview process down and help to relax.  Have a slight smile on your face.

The objective of the interview is to focus attention on how well we have actually performed in jobs in the past, and how well we can be expected to perform in this one.

While it is always good practice to present your strengths modestly, we should not be afraid to identify them. And we should never forget that the experience of managing stammering can and should be presented as a strength.

For example, you might say something like, “Having a stammer means I have to choose my words carefully so what I say is usually precise.” or “Having a stammer means I listen more. My staff have commented that I listen to them genuinely.” or “When I first started work, my stammer made me quite shy so I’ve had to try extra hard to do things that others take for granted. It’s given me inner strength and determination.” or “Having a bit of a stammer means I hope people will see beyond the impediment and recognise my abilities, so I think it’s only fair that I do the same for others. It’s made me a better people manager.”

Don’t be afraid to say that you have ‘good communication skills’. There is no reason why someone who stammers can’t be a good communicator. Good listening skills and an ability to empathise with people are very important skills …. Make sure you mention that you have these qualities and talk about past work and/or life experiences.  
Sean Mooney, Psychiatric Nurse

If your organisation is part of the Employers Stammering Network, you might ask if the interviewers are aware of this fact. If you feel they are sufficiently interested, you might offer to answer any questions they have about stammering.

After an interview it is a common experience to feel that you did not come over as well as you would have liked. You may find your “internal self-talk” saying that because you did not perform as you would have wanted, perhaps not managing to say something you had planned to say, you have “failed”. It is useful to realise that the interviewer had no such expectations and therefore has no idea that you didn’t perform precisely the way you wanted to.

It is important to come back to your main objective, which was to demonstrate your ability to do the job in question as well as possible. Review what happened, notice things that went well and things that did not. If you decided to mention stammering at the beginning and did so, congratulate yourself on the fact. Decide on things you need to work on for a future interview.

As well as the internal strategies mentioned above, it is also possible to adopt what is often called “external strategies”, as follows.

The general principle is that an employer should appoint the best person for the job. However, given that the interview does not necessarily give a true impression of performance on the job, it is quite in order to ask for adjustments in the procedure. While it is generally best to obtain adjustments by mutual agreement, legal remedies are available in some circumstances (see the section on Legal issues).

Here are some examples of what you might consider.

  • If appropriate, offer to supply additional information and references either before or after the interview, for example to demonstrate that in practice your speech is adequate for the job, even if this is not obvious in the interview.
  • Posture can make a big difference to ease of speaking and, if you find it easier, for example, to speak with your body upright, you might ask for an upright chair, rather than find yourself in a deep sofa which is designed to help people relax, but may make it more difficult for you to speak.
  • Ask for extra time if you think this will be helpful.  While it is true that interviews are generally scheduled to have the same time in each, it should be possible to allow extra time if your interview is placed last or first.
  • Consider sending some information about stammering to the interviewers beforehand. See for example, www.stammering.org/inconversation . This can show that you want to be helpful to interviewers. It avoids their having to ask themselves if they are doing “The Right Thing”.

[This section draws heavily on a presentation to the BSA National Conference 2009 by the trainer and consultant, Terry Gillen, entitled, “Having Fun with Interviews”.]