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Top tips for applying for jobs when you stammer

Posted on 13/05/2022 by Nikki Waite

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Guest blog post - Kristen Howells, STAMMA

Working and stammering

Stammering is simply the way some of us talk. It’s not good or bad. It’s just different.

For those of us who stammer, how we deal with our stammering is very personal. Stammering is naturally variable, and the way we deal with it might also change from day to day or from situation to situation. Some of us stammer openly and confidently. Some of us will go to great lengths to hide our stammering. Many of us sit somewhere between the two.

Stammering doesn’t reflect on our intellect or personalities, or our skills and competencies. But it can add extra layers of pressure or complexity into recruitment processes, and make interviews or other verbally-mediated recruitment processes particularly challenging.

Interviews

Interviews rarely reflect the reality of day-to-day of jobs. However, we’re often expected to demonstrate our skills and competencies in the interview setting where our stammering is often ramped up and the situation inhibits our ability to show the interviewers what we’re capable of. And we know that interviewers can misinterpret moments of stammering for uncertainty, hesitancy, or lack of knowledge. Fortunately, there are tools available to address those prejudices and help create a level playing field. The purpose is to ensure you are not discriminated against due to recruitment practices that disadvantage people who stammer and ensure you have as much chance of getting that dream job as someone who doesn’t stammer.

Reasonable adjustments

Where stammering has an impact on day-to-day activities (such as job interviews), it can meet the legal definition of ‘disability’. Organisations then have a duty to make what are known as “reasonable adjustments” to their standard procedures so that job candidates who stammer are not disadvantaged compared to other applicants.

Reasonable adjustments are tailored to the individual candidate and there is a whole host of adjustments that may be appropriate to reduce the disadvantage created by interview setting. A few examples of reasonable adjustments are listed below, but there are lots more possibilities:

  • Face-to-face or videocall interviews rather than telephone interviews

  • Prior to the interview, interviewers receive information about stammering in general, the individual candidate’s particular pattern of stammering, and advice on how listeners can helpfully respond

  • Receiving interview questions in advance

  • Extra time so that you have sufficient time to respond to questions

  • Responses written in the chat function in online interviews accorded equal weight as responses provided verbally

  • The opportunity to provide additional written responses to questions in the 15 minutes immediately following the interview

  • Other sources of evidence considered, such as additional information from current or previous employers or an on-the-job evaluation of skills

Top tips for applicants who stammer

1.  Use the tools available

Some people feel uncomfortable requesting reasonable adjustments, as if it’s somehow ‘cheating’ or being accorded an unfair advantage. It’s not. Standard interview situations typically discriminate against people who stammer. Reasonable adjustments aim to ‘level up’ the situation so that your skills and competencies can be fairly evaluated by the interviewers. The tools are there to make recruitment processes fair. Use them.

2.  Find out how the standard interview/recruitment process works

Contact the organisation concerned to find out how their typical recruitment or interviewing process works. That way, you can start thinking about any aspects of the process that might be problematic for you in relation to stammering or anything you’re doing to work through those moments of stammering.

For example, are you worried that the time allowed for the interview isn’t sufficient because you tend to stammer more than usual in interviews or stammering means you need a bit longer to speak? Are you concerned that you’re expected to use particular terminology, but those words are tricky for your stammering? Are you likely to become exhausted as the interview or assessment progresses due to the physical effort you expend if you’re stammering a lot? The issues are likely to be individual, so think about how your stammering works and how this might interact with the recruitment processes.

3.  Request a discussion regarding reasonable adjustments with the organisation

Contact the recruiter or organisation, explaining that you stammer and would like to discuss reasonable adjustments. It’s useful if you have an idea of the sort of adjustments you might find useful.

4. Provide documentation to support your request if necessary

Occasionally, some organisations require a written report or similar to clarify that stammering is eligible for reasonable adjustments. If so, contact STAMMA at employmentsupport@stamma.org and we can provide information and support regarding such documentation.

5. It’s ok to seek support

Seek out support from organisations like STAMMA. If you’re working with recruitment consultancies or agencies, look for those with experience and commitment to helping candidates overcome barriers in the recruitment process.

STAMMA is the UK’s national charity, supporting people who stammer and their networks. If you have questions or are looking for support or information, our helpline and webchat services are open 5 days per week. Or email us at employmentsupport@stamma.org.

Kirsten Howells works for STAMMA as Programme Lead for Adults as well as coordinating the organisation’s helpline and webchat services. She stammers herself and has a background as a specialist Speech & Language Therapist.