It’s common for job seekers with physical challenges to wonder whether to mention them before the job interview. They worry if they bring it up in their cover letter, resume or job application, they will never get a chance to show the employer that they have as much to offer (or even more) than other job candidates.
But if they also worry don’t bring it up in advance, when it comes to the actual interview will it matter? Might the surprise ruin your interview?
A job seeker writes to ask about her speech impediment
Clara was worried about how her speech issues might affect her job search:
“I have a speech impediment that is noticeable when I speak normally. But it becomes worse when I’m nervous. Should I mention this in my cover letter or job application BEFORE I get called for a phone interview?
Despite my accomplishments, I’ve had people actually question my intelligence when they heard me speak for the first time. Please help!”
THEY call it an “impediment”
Society loves to label. “Handicap.” “Impediment.” “Disability.” “Affliction.” “Burden.” Then again, everyone I know comes with at least some challenges, many that we can’t see. To me the greatest barrier comes from those on the outside who just can’t see past the labels!
A friend contracted polio when she was a baby, and because of serious complications wound up on crutches all her life. But she still managed a successful career, once even working for a company where her biggest personal client was real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran.
Her secret? Even though she knew that people were very aware of her condition, she always saw herself as someone who any employer would love to have if they could only see past the differences. And when she interviewed, her “can do” attitude along with a warm sense of humor got her good jobs.
So what about job hunting with a speech impediment?
Back to Clara’s situation … when it comes to interviews (phone or in person), should the need arise, she might want to use some variation of this idea:
“They may call it an impediment, but it’s never stopped me from doing what I need to do!”
It helps if you deliver the line pleasantly but with strength and the slightest smile (yes this helps even on the phone) to show that you know you are much more than your “handicap”. Even better if you really believe it!
So should you mention speech issues ahead of time?
There’s no one absolute right answer. For the most part, I would NOT bring it up until necessary. But there are some things to consider:
- Some companies are more likely to be more open in their hiring, and so mentioning it could get someone’s interest. Place like universities or non-profits or companies that specifically mention disabilities in their closing EEO statement. Still … the screener may not be as liberal.
- Do you want to weed out companies ahead of time who will react badly? If so, then you might decide to mention it briefly (with a positive slant) in the cover letter before your closing paragraph, after first making a strong case for your matching job-related skills.
- Otherwise, just be ready to handle a possibly awkward interview with grace and charm, in case the person is an idiot. But most people won’t see it as an issue if you handle the rest of the interview well.
Things that can help you handle the interview
- This may be a great time to work with a career coach or at least get LOTS of practice ahead of time, to help with your delivery and nerves.
- During the interview itself, how you handle things shows a lot about who you are – and can make a big difference in making them comfortable around you. It’s a skill my friend had, and practice helps. If you’re more comfortable with yourself, it’s easier for them to be.
- If you do have a “speech impediment moment” during the interview, see it as an opportunity to show who you are as a person. Acknowledge it with ease and perhaps positive humor, and then end by emphasizing your strengths. (See earlier example “They may call it an impediment…”)
- More than ever, networking can hopefully get you to internal folks who can help you navigate any potential barriers. So make sure you are networking well and as much as possible!