BE ASSERTIVE, AND REMEMBER: GOOD COMMUNICATION ISN’T JUST ABOUT FLUENCY, SAY EXPERTS
Job hunting and interviews are challenging for everyone, but what if you are a graduate with a stammer (also known as a stutter)?
Should you mention your dysfluency, or just style it out? And what can you do to manage your speech during a face-to-face or telephone interview? Graduate Fog spoke to Rachel Everard and Cathinka Guldberg, from the Speech Therapy department at adult learning centre City Lit, who were joined by Claire Norman, who runs the Stammerers Through University Campaign (STUC)…
Graduate Fog: What are the typical anxieties or concerns that graduates who stammer may have when job hunting?
Rachel Everard, Speech Therapy at City Lit: “Everybody who stammers is different so what might be an anxiety or concern for one person may not be the same for another. Typical anxieties include: giving a good first impression; being unfairly judged for their stammering by future employers; having to use the phone at any point of the recruitment process; stammering more in an interview because of high levels of stress and/or being worried about saying particular words.”
Claire Norman, Stammerers Through University Campaign: “For me, my biggest anxiety is the fear that a phone interview will be part of the hiring process.”
Do you think graduates are right to feel that employers will be less likely to hire them if they stammer, especially if the role involves sales or presentations?
Cathinka Guldberg, Speech Therapy at City Lit: “In a competitive job market, it’s easy to think that having a stammer might make it more difficult to get the job you want. However, there are lots of examples to show that a person who stammers can be found in any type of role, and that having a stammer doesn’t need to hold you back from finding your dream job. It’s important to remember that good communication involves a lot more than speech – it involves such things as listening skills, body language, facial expression and tone/volume of your voice.”
Some graduates may notice they become less fluent when feeling down about things in general, like when being unemployed. What can they do about this?
Rachel: “As those of us who stammer well know, our stammering can vary enormously and might well be affected when feeling tired, stressed or anxious. Recognising this and then doing something about it – such as having some therapy for your stammering or joining a self-help group – can really help. At the end of this article, you’ll find a list of organisations that can help you. In addition, many people, whether they stammer or not, choose to pursue voluntary work in their chosen field. This may be particularly beneficial to people who stammer as it can increase confidence and reduce feelings of isolation often associated with unemployment.”
Claire: “Keep your chin up and plough on through. Once a downward spiral starts it can be hard to get out of it. It would be beneficial to meet up with other stammerers who are in the same situation, as well as stammerers who have recently been offered jobs, for the support and to reinforce that you are not alone.”
Any advice for handling interviews if you stammer, including phone interviews?
Cathinka: “It can be a really good idea to let the interviewer know you stammer, before the interview. This is known as self-advertising and can be a helpful way of reducing the pressure you feel prior to attending an interview. It can also be a useful opportunity for you to advise the interview panel on anything they can do to support you with regards to stammering. Prepare for questions well and arrange ‘mock interviews’ if possible. And remember the way you come across is not just about your speech — you can be a highly effective communicator and still stammer. Good communication involves interpersonal and presentation skills that do not depend on fluent speech.”
Claire: “All stammerers are different from one to the next. If it helps at the start of the interview (phone or face to face), tell your interviewer that you stammer sometimes – the number of times I’ve been told I’m “too nervous” is massive – whereas actually I’ve just been stuck in a block [stammering moment]. For phone interviews, have any necessary paperwork in front of you (such as your CV) so that you are prepared, and make yourself as comfortable as possible. Unless it’s a video call, the interviewer won’t be able to see you!”
Presentations and assessment centres can be extra stressful if you have a stammer. Should you ask for extra time, or whether you can present to a smaller group? Or is it bad to be seen to be asking for special treatment?
Rachel: “You are perfectly within your rights to ask for extra time or any other ‘reasonable adjustments’ (the term used in the Equality Act 2010).”
Clare: “If a stammerer asks for extra time, this shouldn’t be seen as bad – just as someone who has mobility issues asking for a ramp is not seen as bad, but a necessity. Extra time is useful, though does not necessarily reduce the severity of the stammer. I had extra time in my final year oral examination, and even though it was a comfort knowing that I had no time constraints, I didn’t stammer any less.”
If employers have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, dose that mean stammering is considered a disability, in law?
Rachel: “Yes. The Equality Act 2010 says that a person has a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which ‘has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. ‘Substantial’ only means ‘more than minor or trivial’ so you should be covered if your stammer has more than a minor or trivial effect in normal day-to-day activities — such as having a conversation or using the telephone. Therefore, stammering is considered a ‘disability’ in law and employers are required to make reasonable adjustments which might include giving extra time during interviews and greater consideration given to information in writing as well as spoken answers.”
If a graduate isn’t worried about their stammering what should they do? Is it wrong to behave totally normally and just not address it?
Rachel: “There is no right or wrong. If someone is not worried about their stammer, they don’t need to do anything. It’s fine to just let their stammer be, and focus on finding their ideal job.”