Some years back, while interviewing upcoming college grads for a consulting position, I met Rico.* On paper, Rico had many of the skills and experiences I was searching for: the right degree, a good GPA, knowledge of specific software and real-world work experience. I was excited to speak with him.
With my first question, however, I knew this interview would be different than others I had done. Rico had a speech impediment. Beginning with his answer to my first question, he struggled to say words clearly. I smiled and encouraged him but, as the interview went on, his stutter became worse. He became increasingly anxious, which made it even more difficult for him to speak. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was applying for a consultant position, which required excellent communication skills and the ability to talk with a variety of people on a daily basis. Clearly, his pronounced stutter would get in the way of him being able to perform this job.
During the interview, I asked Rico about a previous job he had that was not related to the position he was applying for but which sounded interesting. As he began to tell me about some of the things he’d accomplished, his stutter almost disappeared. Once Rico got on a subject he felt comfortable with and knowledgeable about, he spoke easily and clearly.
By the end of our meeting, I was so impressed with Rico that I invited him to come to a second interview with my manager, my concern regarding his ability to communicate with clients completely gone. The look on Rico’s face was one of pure astonishment. He confided to me that he had gone on many, many interviews, only to be rejected by each company because of his speech impediment.
Interviewing is stressful for everyone. Combined with a disability, the stress may feel overwhelming. The best way to deal with this is to spend quality time preparing.
Although Rico struggled with his interviews, there were things he could have done earlier in his job search to lessen the amount of stress and rejection he experienced. If you have a child in a similar position — feeling anxious about interviewing with a disability (or perceived disability) — here are three ways you can help them feel more prepared and confident.
1. Help your student understand their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
By now, you’ve no doubt had a lot of experience advocating for your child in different circumstances. However, the job search process may be new territory. Before going into an interview, help your student understand how the law protects them by reading up on the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to www.eeoc.gov, the ADA defines someone with a disability as “a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, (2) has a record or history of a substantially limiting impairment, or (3) is regarded or perceived by an employer as having a substantially limiting impairment.”
This act applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, as well as state and local government employers and basically says:
- An employer cannot discriminate against a qualified applicant with a disability, who meets the requirements for the position and is able to perform the essential job functions with or without accommodations.
- Employers cannot ask an applicant if they have a disability, nor can they ask if an applicant will need an accommodation. However, an employer may describe the job duties and ask if the applicant will be able to complete the job duties with or without an accommodation.
- If an applicant tells an employer they have a disability or the disability is obvious, an employer may then ask the applicant to describe how they would perform the job, either with or without accommodations and/or ask what type of accommodation may be needed.
- An employer is not required to provide a specific accommodation if it would cause an “undue hardship.”
For more information and specific examples, visit https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/jobapplicant.html.
2. Anticipate accommodation questions and help your student prepare answers.
If your student chooses to reveal a disability in the interview and/or has an obvious disability, an employer may ask what type of accommodation they will need to perform the job duties. Help your student prepare by creating a list of potential reasonable accommodations for each type of position they’re applying for. Knowing they’re prepared for this type of question will help them address the issue with confidence and allow the interview to progress to the more standard questions regarding qualifications and fit.
In Rico’s case, because his speech impediment was obvious, he may have had better luck with previous interviews if he had addressed the issue right up front. Considering that his stutter became worse as he became more anxious, he may have been able to reduce the tension for both himself and the interviewer by simply acknowledging his anxiety and briefly explaining how it wouldn’t affect his ability to do the job.
3. Encourage your student to do mock interviews.
Interviewing is stressful for everyone. Combined with a disability, the stress may feel overwhelming. If your student is like Rico, the anxiety surrounding a disability may result in blanking out or being unable to deliver answers to interview questions. The best way to deal with this is to spend quality time preparing. Encourage your student to research possible interview questions and spend time developing solid responses, writing answers down and practicing them out loud. Suggest they visit the career center to do a mock interview or practice with a friend or family member. The idea is to practice, practice and practice some more until they’re confident in their ability to deliver strong answers despite the anxiety they might feel.
Rico’s story had a happy ending. We hired him for the consultant role and he was one of the hardest working new hires we had that season.
*To protect his privacy, I do not use his real name.