Speech-Language Pathology/Stuttering/How to Handle Job Interviews

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I am 21 years old. I graduated from my third college course and still no job. Interviews come by the dozens but job offers are none! I am a Pharmacy Assistant Health Care Aide plus a medical transcriptionist, but after all the years in school and all the money spent on education, I am still unable to find work! Am I to live in poverty because people only see me at my worst?

Interviews for me are a horrid experience. I've had people pick up a newspaper and start reading it, waiting for me to get out of a block. All the interviewers act as if I'm wasting their time. It's more like they're wasting mine.

If people could only see me when I am fluent I'm sure I would have a job. On interviews I find myself apologizing for my speech…but why do I?

Is there anyone out there who is experiencing the same problems? I need help to cope.[1]

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I am an embedded software engineer, and today I was faced with a situation that I have not ran into yet in my pursuit of employment. Like many of you I have had the phone hung up on me by recruiters, or they rudely and quickly end the phone conversation. I had a personal phone interview with Motorola. First, the interview was designed to be very high stress. Second, the questions were given to me in advance which only made the situation worse. Of course it being a phone interview made it worst. I was unable to form sentences and completely locked up on the interview and was eliminated from the running for this software engineering position. Can I do anything? According to the recruiter I'm a great fit for the position, god this frustrating.

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Graduate students in my stuttering class [surveyed employers, who] indicated that they would prefer to hire someone who was deaf or someone with moderate cerebral palsy rather than someone who stuttered. Interestingly, several of the employers who said they would not hire a stutterer had one or more stutterers already working for them.

When we probed to understand the WHY behind the employers' responses, we learned that essentially they thought they "understood" deafness and cerebral palsy, but stuttering was strange—and they assumed that persons who stutter were strange.[2]

Ten months after completing a stuttering therapy program, 44% of stutterers had received a promotion. 40% had changed jobs, 36% reporting that the change was for the better. Combining these, about 60% had improved employment after stuttering therapy. The study also found that 88% of the stutterers had maintained their fluency.

Their employers reported a 20% improvement in "communication effectiveness" for the stutterers completing therapy.[3]

Stutterers earn approximately $7200 less per year than non-stutterers.[4] Two groups of 25 persons were examined. The groups were matched for age, sex, IQ, race, education, and socioeconomic background. The subjects were contacted ten years after graduating from college. They were asked a number of questions relating to levels of achievement. The difference did not appear to be the result of employer discrimination. Rather, the stutterers were reluctant to accept promotions that involved making presentations to groups of people:

I have refused (or went "kicking") different projects at my job, which may/may not lead to promotions. Most recently, I went kicking on co-facilitating a corporate-wide quality workshop initiative. My partner in facilitation, after much coaxing by me, took the majority of the speaking sections, while I became her assistant. (Please be aware that I have not discussed my disorder with my co-workers, I am a mild stutter that can usually "pass" for a fluent speaker.) I am now interested in changing careers and am looking for careers that focus on "behind the scenes" work…i.e., technical writing. I have considered such careers as Law, but have veered away from them.[5]

Talk About Your Stuttering[edit]

Another interview lasted about two minutes. The interviewer (another personnel director—they seem to be the worst problem) found an excuse to say I was not qualified for the job—so good-bye. I protested, asked for the technical interview and was asked to leave. As his excuse was plainly made up—this was also probably a case of discrimination.[6]

Begin the interview by talking about your stuttering. You may only get two minutes if you don't!

Take a copy of Stuttering: Answers for Employers by the Stuttering Foundation of America with you to the interview. You can download a PDF of the brochure from the web site at www.stutteringhelp.org.

Whether you're looking for a job or already have a job, talk about your stuttering. Many people feel uncomfortable talking to a person who stutters. Educate them about stuttering to make them feel comfortable.

Some people make incorrect assumptions about individuals who stutter. E.g., some people think that individuals who stutter are mentally retarded—even if you have a Ph.D.!

"Excellent communication skills" is the #1 qualification employers look for. Regardless of whether the help-wanted ad included this, say that you have excellent communication skills. Give concrete examples:

  • If you're in a speech therapy program, discuss your progress and the techniques or strategies you use.
  • If you learned nonavoidance skills in speech therapy, explain that although you stutter, you've overcome your fears of talking to strangers, etc.
  • "I can say a phrase fluently if I say it a lot. In my last job, I pretty much said the same things to customers all day, and my speech was fine." This should be acceptable for retail jobs, etc.
  • If you use an electronic anti-stuttering device, show it to the interviewer and explain how it works.

If the job requires making presentations, say that you can't say as much as non-stutterers so you prepare your remarks in advance and get right to the main points, unlike people who ramble on for half an hour.

Membership in Toastmasters proves that you have excellent communication skills. Toastmasters gives out lots of prizes, so mention if you won a blue ribbon for one of your speeches.

Communication is a two-way street. Say that you may not speak as well as other people, but you listen more carefully. Demonstrate that by not interrupting the interviewer, and by rephrasing and repeating back his questions. Ask the interviewer whether listening or speaking is more important in the job—they'll always say that listening is more important.

The interview for the job that I currently have was one of the few interviews in which I discussed in depth the nature of my stuttering problem. I spent about a half-hour discussing my speech, and I think that it was very helpful for the interviewer in understanding how well I could work around my handicap.[7]

The Americans With Disabilities Act[edit]

In 1992, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlawed employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Speaking was defined as a "major life activity" that the inability to do is disabling.

The central point of the ADA is that individuals with a disability can ask their employer (or potential employer) for a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a change to the job that will enable the individual to do the job. E.g., a stutterer might ask that he not have to answer the telephone. Or he might ask that the employer buy an anti-stuttering telephone.

When an individual with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must make the accommodation. The individual must make the request. If the individual doesn't make such a request, the employer is not obligated to suggest an accommodation, or to hire the individual.

Employers aren't allowed to ask employees (or potential employees) about disabilities. It is essential that stutterers talk to employers about their speech. In a job interview, say that you stutter. Then ask whether your speech will interfere with the job. If you don't ask, winning a lawsuit will be difficult or impossible.

If your employer (or potential employer) tells you that "good communication skills" are necessary for the job, talk about the specifics. As noted above, you can explain that you have excellent communication skills. You can also ask for reasonable accommodations as necessary.

Stutterers rarely talk to their employers about their speech. The few stutterers who've told me that they talked about their stuttering with their employer reported 100% successful results of the conversation. In every case, the employer wanted to help the stutterer, but didn't know what to do. Every request was a reasonable accommodation has been granted, as far as I've heard.

The 99% of stutterers who don't talk about their speech with their employers are treated badly, in one way or another. When they feel they've been discriminated against, they don't win ADA lawsuits because neither they nor their employer ever said anything about their speech.

For more information about the ADA, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website or http://www.justice.gov/disabilities.htm. If you need to hire an attorney experienced with discrimination against stutterers, call the National Stuttering Association.

The ADA does not apply to the federal government, including the military services. The ADA covers only employment discrimination. If you experience discrimination or harassment outside of work, you will have to rely on other federal or state laws.

Vocational Rehabilitation[edit]

If you're looking for a job, make an appointment with a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Look in your telephone directory's blue (government) pages under your state's department of labor (or department of education in some states).

Voc rehab counselors want you to succeed. They'll get you whatever therapy, devices, or job training you need. I've heard many good reports from stutterers about voc rehab counselors.

A stutterer complained that, after paying for stuttering therapy and an electronic device, the counselor also wanted to pay for his CPA certification. The stutterer insisted he would pay for his own certification.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Giret, Karen. Letting GO, National Stuttering Association newsletter, July/August 1996.
  2. ^ Freeman, Frances. 1993. University of Texas, personal correspondence.
  3. ^ Craig, A., Calver, P. "Following Up on Treated Stutterers: Studies of Perceptions of Fluency and Job Status." Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 34, 279-284, April 1991.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Martin, 1996, Stutterers Earn Significantly Less 10 Years After Graduating College.
  5. ^ Personal e-mail.
  6. ^ David Bertollo, e-mail.
  7. ^ Tom M, e-mail.
  8. ^ Fraser, Jane. Stuttering: Answers for Employers, The Stuttering Foundation of America. June 2006