An interview often seems a worrying prospect. Paul Bond found what made the difference for him was being honest about his stammer.
Recruitment directors, human resource managers and others seem to go to great lengths to stress the fact that facing an interview panel isn't a life-or-death situation. In fact, if the general consensus of opinion among the professionals is correct, interviews can be pleasurable experiences, provided applicants remain positive and focussed, and as long as they answer the questions put to them in a direct, succinct manner. All well and good for those interviewees not affected by a stammer, but for those of us that are, even introducing ourselves to the receptionist can be a verbal minefield.
Thankfully, I'm still in full-time employment, and the Leeds-based marketing company that I work for has yet to be affected by the fallout from the credit-crunch. But it hasn't always been that way.
Because of my stammering, I spent a prolonged period out of work - unable to convince any would-be employer that I amounted to anything more than a collection of facial contortions and pronounced breathlessness. Things got so bad for me back in the early '90s that I had to be taken under the wing of a Jobcentre 'Disability Officer'1. His role, as he explained to me at our first meeting, was to 'prepare the way', and to help me to overcome the prejudices and misconceptions concerning stammering that I'd been exposed to, and which had prevented me from showing company bosses that I was a capable, intelligent person, with above-average drive and determination. He contacted and visited businesses on my behalf, and arranged for me to attend less formal interviews, in which - the DO promised - my stammer would be purposefully overlooked. True to his word, my stammer and its accompanying tics were indeed ignored at my very first disability-embracing interview, and to my utter amazement and relief, I was instantly taken on, and was finally given a genuine, non-discriminatory chance to prove myself - at a forward-thinking IT company.
Since then I've had lots of rewarding interviews. I've changed jobs several times, and I've addressed more over-populated interview panels than I care to remember. What made a difference for me, and what began turning potentially nightmare interrogations into welcome communicative challenges, was the choice that I made a number of years ago to be open and honest with strangers about my speaking difficulties - even during interviews.
it seems that the pace of the interview becomes much slower and more manageable
Making a point of highlighting a stammer doesn't work for everyone, but for me, taking a few moments to state at the beginning of an interview that I have one, and that I'd appreciate a little time to answer the questions that are to follow, seems to do the trick. My honest approach seems to make a refreshing change from all of the mental cat-and-mouse manoeuvring that usually goes hand-in-hand with such encounters. And where I used to go to great lengths to try and hide my speaking difficulties, I nowadays bring them to the fore. By doing so, it seems that the pace of the interview becomes much slower and more manageable. The people carrying out the questioning come across as being a lot friendlier and more understanding as well, and when I do block or stammer, I'm no longer on the receiving end of a look of bewilderment or horror.
In my experience, not applying for a job because you're frightened by the thought of having to turn up for an interview or two is the wrong thing to do. Equally negative is taking a covert stammering stance in which hard-to-say words are juggled and replaced by easier ones, and questions are skilfully evaded. What I've found is that stammering needn't be a barrier to career success, especially when increased disability awareness is now such a crucial part of many an organisation's profile.
My wealth of interview experience has taught me that honesty really is the best policy - and yes, they can be enjoyable interactions if my stammering isn't brushed under the carpet, and if the subject is broached sensibly, and without me fearing the consequences.
From the Summer 2009 edition of Speaking Out, page 6.