At Work

Job applications and interviews for people who stammer/ stutter

Selling your achievements and strengths, whether and how to mention your stammer, and reasonable adjustments.

This page includes:

Note on choosing a career/job: We will be producing material on this, but in the meantime see Basic information on employment. Anyone needs to take their abilities into account, but we would encourage people to look first at what they would really like to do and see if they can make it work, rather than looking for a job which doesn’t involve much speaking.

Applying for jobs

Your CV/application form is your chance to make an employer want to take your application further.

There is an art to selling your achievements and strengths. So taking time and care with each application matters.

Often job adverts mention good communication, without being clear what they mean in practice. Don’t be afraid to say you have good communication skills. Much good communication involves skills that do not depend on fluent speech, such as:

  • Showing empathy
  • Positive body language and reading situations accurately
  • Adapting content and tone of what you want to say appropriately for different audiences
  • Listening and writing skills.

‘A dysfluency doesn't make you a poor communicator. It doesn't even prevent you from being a brilliant communicator. If you can accept your stammer as part of you others will do the same.’ From Is fluency a communication skill?

The general resources below may be helpful to:

  • Get the basics of your application right
  • Avoid common mistakes
  • Present your skills, experience and abilities in a positive and convincing way
  • Show how these match the specific job requirements.

More information on applying for jobs: www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/applying-for-jobs
Career advice: www.monster.co.uk/career-advice/

Other websites, bookshops and libraries are a good source of information on CV preparation and job interviews.

Should I mention a stammer in my job application or CV?

People who stammer take different approaches on whether to mention the stammer at this stage. If you do it may be because you want to turn the stammer into a positive.

Mentioning the stammer in a positive way

How have you dealt with different life situations or difficulties? Have you considered that having a stammer may have given you some strengths? If so, what are they?

Examples might include (but are not limited to):

  • Resilience
  • Creativity
  • Patience
  • Listening, writing or other communication skills, such as awareness of others’ needs.

If you mention your stammer on a CV or application, you could:

• Give examples of work or other activities that show how you’ve turned what might otherwise be seen as a weakness into a strength
• List your membership of BSA
• List under “personal development” any speech therapy or other speaking courses you may have done, e.g. Toastmasters International and the Association of Speakers Clubs.

For more, see below Presenting your strengths related to stammering.

This could make your application stand out in a positive way. But a lot also depends on:

  • How you feel about stammering
  • The application you are making
  • The employer’s organisational culture.

Risk of application being rejected

If you mention a stammer in a job application there is a risk that the employer may simply not take the application forward because of it.

If challenged under the Equality Act an employer would be likely to claim its decision had nothing to do with the stammer. It is for this reason that section 60 of the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for the employer to ask about a person’s health or disability before making a conditional job offer, except for specific permitted purposes.

You will need to take a view on how likely you think the particular employer is to do this, compared with any benefits of mentioning the stammer positively in your job application.

Interviews - introduction

You have been invited to an interview. The employer is likely to be seriously interested in you, and thinks you may be the best person for the job.

Most people are nervous before and during a job interview. But interviewers are under pressure to find the right person for the job and may be nervous too.

Being in a stressful situation where you have high expectations of yourself and want to make a good impression can make stammering more severe.

This is a perfectly rational response to the nature of the interview process. Interviews tend to place more emphasis on oral communication, or a different kind of oral communication, than the job itself may entail.

Should I mention a stammer after being invited to interview?

When you are invited to an interview you can be sure you have some key skills, experience and attributes the organisation is looking for.

You may decide to tell a prospective employer about your stammer at this stage. The employer would be unlikely to withdraw the offer of interview, not least because of a risk of a claim under the Equality Act.

Do you feel you will benefit from having more time for your interview or other adjustments (below)? If so, it is advisable to request this when accepting the interview offer and explain why.

In any event, telling the employer about your stammer at this stage gives you the opportunity to direct the employer towards information on stammering, and points to bear in mind when speaking with someone who stammers, such as In conversation with a person who stammmers and our Understanding stammering guide for employers written with enei.

Telephone interviews

If you are offered an initial telephone interview, and feel your stammer will create difficulties with this, you could ask that it be waived, or whether you can have an initial face-to-face interview or conversation instead. An employer will normally have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act if (roughly speaking) it knows of the problem.

Note that even if the job involves telephone skills, a telephone interview may well not be useful in assessing how you would be on the different types of phone calls entailed in the job itself.

Other preparation before an interview

Find out beforehand as much as you can about the organisation, the job and the exact skills, experience and attributes required.

How you do this will depend on the job. As well as looking at any job description it may include:

  • Looking at the organisation’s website
  • Reading documents such as annual reports
  • Talking to anyone you know who already works for the organisation
  • Talking to anyone you know (or using your own experiences) through contact e.g. as a customer, client or supplier.

Think how you might talk about stammering in a constructive way – see below Presenting your strengths related to stammering. For example look for and rehearse specific examples to demonstrate:

  • How you have persevered to overcome difficulties as a result of your stammer
  • Strengths or attributes that you can present as an asset for the role you have applied for?

Other ways to prepare:

  • Practice and rehearse examples to show your experience and skills more generally (including communication skills), particularly for each of the skill/experience requirements set out by the employer in their job description and person specification
  • Role-play the interview in a comfortable situation with someone asking you likely interview questions so your answers come quickly to mind in the real interview
  • Use positive “self-talk” to build your confidence – e.g. “I can do this”
  • Practice maintaining eye contact, even if you find this uncomfortable or difficult. Even if this isn’t possible, practice listening carefully to the questions so you give the best answer you can
  • Talk about any fears or concerns with someone you are close to. It is helpful not to feel alone
  • Being open and positive at the interview is helpful if you want to make a good impression, regardless of how fluent you are. Disclosure may take the pressure off because you are not trying to hide something - below Mentioning your stammer at the interview
  • Remember that many people are likely to be less critical of your speech than you are.

Mentioning your stammer at the interview

Should you mention the stammer, and if so how and when?

In summary, it will often be a good idea to mention your stammer near the start of the interview. You can also look at turning it into a strength when asked about your strengths or weaknesses.

Should I mention the stammer at the interview or not?

You can decide in advance whether or not to mention stammering. At an internal interview, where the interviewers may already know you, there may be no need.

Otherwise, there may well be advantages in mentioning a stammer in a positive way. Why?

  • It can reduce the pressure on yourself
  • It may also put interviewers at ease
  • It may reduce the possibility of the interviewers reacting adversely if you do stammer.

If you fear you would lose credibility by mentioning your stammer, weigh this up against the effects on you of stammering in the interview - or what may happen later, after you have started work.

Remember that many people are likely to be less critical of your speech than you are.

Whatever you decide, be clear of your reasons. If you do clam up at the interview, try to talk about it with someone you know afterwards. While it can be discouraging, never give up.

Some interviewers will feel better able to make an informed decision about your performance in the interview and will appreciate it if you tell them that you stammer.

However, there will be others who only want to hear about your skills. A lot depends on the employer and the organisational culture in the organisation you have applied to work for. If you mention stammering, how you introduce the subject and when may make a difference to their response.

If I mention the stammer at interview, how and when?

If you want to ask for adjustments to the interview arrangements, it is sensible to do so beforehand, usually at the point you know you have been shortlisted: see above Should I mention a stammer after being invited to interview?

Often there is an opening at the very start of the interview, when exchanging pleasantries and before the more formal part, where you might mention your stammer. You might say something like “By the way, I sometimes stammer, and I can find it more difficult in situations like interviews, rather than day-to-day at work.”

If you say this with a smile, the interviewers will be more likely to appreciate your openness. They also won’t be surprised or confused if you do stammer. Equally, you may recognise this statement as applying to you: “if I know they know, I am less likely to stammer.”

Alternatively, or in addition, you could bring up the subject of stammering if you are asked about your strengths or weaknesses. This common question is a golden opportunity for you to demonstrate how you have turned what might be seen as a weakness into a strength, and in the process set yourself apart in a positive way from other candidates. See below Presenting your strengths related to stammering.

If interviewers seem reticent when you mention your stammer, remember this could be caution due to restrictions under s.60 Equality Act 2010 on how far they are allowed by law to ask about disability before a job offer is made.

Non-verbal communication

Having a positive attitude matters when going into an interview. You want to communicate your skills, experiences, qualifications and abilities. Being open and upfront about yourself, and having positive body language, regardless of how fluent you are, helps to make a good impression.

What shapes very first impressions?

  • What does your posture say as you walk into a room? Do you come across as relaxed and assertive?
  • What does a smile convey as you shake hands? And making natural eye contact with interviewers?

Creating a positive initial impression in this way requires little, if any, speaking.

Throughout the interview, keeping a good, upright, but relaxed posture will help you appear confident.

Timing is important, breathing deeply and slowly, to slow yourself and the whole interview process down and helping to make things relaxed. Pausing more than you might otherwise may be helpful.

Listen carefully to questions and don’t be concerned about asking to hear a question again. If you are interrupted ask for the interviewer’s patience, thank them and ask to be allowed to finish. It is OK if you take time to collect thoughts, and being assertive in this way may help you stay with the conversation.

At the end, thank the interviewers for the interview and smile and make eye contact again as you leave. Last impressions also count.

Presenting your strengths related to stammering

This is relevant as regards how you talk about your stammer at the interview, and also if you mention the stammer in your initial application form or CV.

How have you dealt with different life situations or difficulties? Have you considered that having a stammer may have given you some strengths? If so, what are they?

Examples might include (but are not limited to):

  • Resilience
  • Creativity
  • Patience
  • Listening, writing or other communication skills, such as awareness of others’ needs.

You could give examples of work or other activities that show how you’ve turned what might otherwise be seen as a weakness into a strength. As with any examples of your skills and experiences, rehearse them in advance of the interview.

While it is good practice to present your strengths modestly, you should not be afraid to identify them. The experience of living with a stammer is an opportunity to do so. Obviously it depends on you and the role you are applying for, but examples below give an idea of what you might say and how:

  • Having a stammer means I choose my words carefully, consider their impact and how to say things to give the right message. What I say and write is usually precise and I pay attention to detail. For example…
  • Having a stammer means I listen more, and my staff in my current job have commented positively about that. For example…
  • I think my stammer has made me more observant. I may speak less but I notice more. It has given me insights into other people’s behaviour. For example…
  • I’m quite outgoing and I stammer. I know people remember me in a positive way, partly because of both these things. The company I work for currently have found it very helpful for me to be involved in making pitches to clients, as after all my stammer can make me memorable as long as I show it in a positive way with no hang-ups about it.
  • Having a stammer means I hope people see beyond this and recognise all my abilities. I try and do the same for others and I think it’s made me a better people manager as a result. For example…
  • In some jobs, a stammer may help people relate to you:

‘I openly stammer more than before - not a bad thing - and now the secret is out yes some kids do sometimes still tease, name calling is part of what they do. Just as commonly however, I understand that some students appreciate the expression of humanity in my stammer as a reflection of a real life lived, much akin to their own, often troubled existences.’ From Once more into the deep, on working at a school for young people with behavioural issues.

Is the role a client, user or customer-facing one? If so, you may be able to show how your stammer has given you insights that could help the employer communicate better with everyone they work with and improve their reputation. And if it is a company, this could have a positive impact on their brand and their share of the market.

“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 and/or life experiences” Sean Mooney, Psychiatric Nurse

"A dysfluency doesn't make you a poor communicator. It doesn't even prevent you from being a brilliant communicator. If you can accept your stammer as part of you others will do the same." From Is fluency a communication skill?

If your current employer is part of the Employers Stammering Network (ESN), or you are involved with the British Stammering Association or ESN in any way, you might want to make the interviewers aware. If you feel they are sufficiently interested, you might offer to answer any questions they have about stammering (though see above on s.60 Equality Act).

After the interview

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

Review what happened as objectively as you can, notice what went well and what did not. If you were not successful, try to get specific feedback. If you decided to mention stammering and did so in a constructive way, congratulate yourself on the fact.

If you feel you know where you didn’t demonstrate your ability to do the job in question as well as possible, work on this as part of your preparation for any future interview.

Reasonable adjustments

Generally employers will be seeking to appoint the best person for the job. However, interviews do not necessarily give a true impression of performance in a job, and particularly not of how someone who stammers will communicate in the job – see DDA case on appeal.

It is perfectly reasonable to ask for adjustments. It is generally best to obtain adjustments by mutual agreement in advance of the interview, though legal remedies are available in some circumstances (see Legal page). What adjustments are reasonable will depend on the circumstances.

Possible approaches you can take include:

  • Ask for extra time if you think this will help you. Interviews are usually scheduled to have the same amount of time for each, but it should be possible to allow extra time if you are placed last in a morning or afternoon session
  • Offer to provide additional information and references either before or after the interview. It is a way of giving evidence that your speech has not previously stopped you from doing your job well
  • Asking for more weight to be given to written responses, supplementing scoring of answers in the interview with information already in the written application. Because of the stammer you may not be able to orally give as many examples etc of your skills and experience, so that without taking account of written material you are not on a level playing field with other applicants
  • If you are meeting somewhere informal, where you may be interviewed on a deep sofa, you might ask for an upright chair. Posture can make a big difference to ease of speaking. Being upright may help
  • Adjustments for any presentation required, eg more time, or the option of a written presentation, especially if presentation skills are not important for the job.
  • Consider sending some information about stammering to the interviewers beforehand: see above Should I mention a stammer after being invited to interview? This shows you want to be helpful and avoids them having to ask themselves if they are doing “the right thing.”

Giving all shortlisted candidates the opportunity to have a more informal face to face chat with one person about a role before a more formal interview can often be helpful for everyone.

There are further examples of possible adjustments in Understanding Stammering: a guide for employers.

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