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Strategies for Job Interviewing with a Disability

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Rainbow interviewing with a disability

Job interviews are nerve-wracking for many people. If you have a disability, the anxiety often climbs another notch. Let’s look at strategies for successful interviewing with a disability. 

Although people with disabilities may be just as gifted, just as skilled, and just as qualified as anyone else, a potential employer may not always recognize that this is the case, making the prospect of entering a job interview with your disability even more daunting

According to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five adults have a disability. In spite of this statistic, stigma in some workplaces sadly remains, disclaimers on recruiting materials notwithstanding.

The good news is, with preparation and practice, you can get interviewers to notice you for you, and not your disability.

Project Confidence

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One of the most important elements of interviewing, with or without a disability, is confidence. You may have to fake it at first, if you struggle with feeling confident naturally, and that’s okay. Everyone feels unsure at times, and feeling nervous about your big interview is completely understandable.

However, make sure you enter your interview projecting as much confidence as possible, in your body language, strong handshake, and easy manner.

One way to bolster true, authentic confidence is to enter interviews as prepared as possible. Think carefully about the following critical topics (Big Interview’s Fast Track course is a great way to get up to speed quickly on these basics):

• Why the job and company are a good fit for you – and how to convey that to interviewers
• How to “sell” your strengths and accomplishments and stand out from other candidates
• Which interview questions are most commonly asked AND most important to ace
• How to avoid common interview mistakes
• What to wear to project confidence

During the interview process, even little things can make a big difference. For example, recruiters say that being rude to the receptionist or being too early can hurt your chances of landing the job. You are also less likely to project confidence if you’re wearing clothes that don’t flatter you or fit properly.

Doing your research, preparing well for interview questions, and knowing how to conduct yourself verbally and physically will give you an advantage over a majority of applicants and help you build a base-line confidence.

Now that you’re prepared and feeling great, let’s turn to the matter of your disability.

Disclose (Or Don’t)

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Many people prefer not to disclose a disability before or during an interview if they don’t have to. In quite a few situations, however, non-disclosure may not be possible.

For example, if you are deaf, you may need to request an interpreter for an in-person interview.

For a phone interview, you may need to explain how a relay service functions or why live chat via a messenger service may be more effective.

If you use a wheelchair and are applying at a company that works out of an historic building that has no elevators, you may want to ensure that the interviews are on the first floor.

If you are blind, you may merely prefer not to catch an employer off guard or to make an interviewer feel misled.

In short, no matter your disability, there are many good reasons to disclose. There are, of course, good reasons not to as well. Use your judgment, and do what makes you most comfortable.

That said, the rule of thumb is that if you need accommodations for the interview, disclosing beforehand is a must. How you disclose makes a world of difference.

Again, confidence is key. Never apologize for your disability (i.e. for making a company go to “extra trouble”). Do remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, does not require that all employers provide accommodations. For example, a private employer that has 14 or fewer employees might choose not to, so be sure to take that in to consideration.

Have a Backup Plan

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Speaking of accommodations, having a backup plan is critical in maintaining your confidence. We live in an imperfect world where human resource personnel forget to get in touch with interpreter agencies, or interpreters call in sick.

Likewise, an employer may forget to provide assistive technology for a test taken by a blind applicant, or interviewers forget to move meetings from the second floor to the first for a wheelchair user. As a person with a disability, you are probably used to envisioning everything that could go wrong.

It is crucial, however, that you do not overthink and tailspin in to negativity. Yes, things may go wrong, but you will have a plan in case they do.

If you are deaf, make it easier on the hiring manager who is likely clueless about how to get an interpreter. Explain which agency he or she should contact, and express a preference for specific interpreters (give names).

If you will be doing the majority of your job without interpreters, you may even choose to forego an interpreter altogether for the interview.

This is more feasible for one-on-one setups rather than group interviews, so get the scoop on how interviews will be structured before the day arrives.

Envision what you will do if things start going wrong. Imagine yourself remaining cool, calm,collected,and providing solutions.

Your interview is an opportunity for you to figure out what working for this employer may be like, so take advantage of it. Remaining cool under pressure is a great mark in your favor and will not be lost on your possible future employer.

Recognize and Develop Strengths

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A critical aspect of projecting confidence is knowing that you have what it takes to be the right fit for the job.

To that end, cultivate at least one strength that you will use to position yourself as especially qualified during interviews. This strength (or strengths) could be a soft skill such as communication, persistence, motivation, leadership or research. It could also be a hard skill such as unusual proficiency in a software program.

This strength is your ace card. It’s your key to maintaining confidence because you know, no matter what, you have this strength, and any employer would be lucky to benefit from it.

When faced with questions such as, “Why should we hire you?” or “If we asked your current employer what stands out about you, what would they say?” you can answer with this particular skill or accomplishment that makes you uniquely qualified.

When you try to figure out what sets you apart from other applicants, it can be useful to look to your disability as a starting point.

Because of it, you may have met people you never would have otherwise, or it may have caused you to work hard to overcome challenges that other people cannot begin to fathom.

Persistence, patience, creativity and thinking outside the box are great strengths that just might have their roots in your disability.

However, when discussing these strengths, take care to not make everything about your disability. Interviewing with a disability doesn’t need to be interviewing about a disability. You do not even need to bring it up during such a discussion if you would rather not.

Ultimately, understanding how your disability has contributed to your life helps you present yourself confidently.

Never Associate Your Disability with Your Weakness

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Many variations of the question, “Tell me about your greatest weakness” exist. They can even be situationally based (i.e. “Tell me about a situation where your greatest weakness tripped you up.”).

Whatever you do, never associate your disability with your weaknesses.

If you are deaf, your weakness could be that you are a bit of a perfectionist, and that caused you to almost miss deadlines on projects several years ago. Since then, you’ve worked on achieving a better balance between quality work and cutting it close.

Great! That is a perfectly understandable weakness. You do not want to say something such as, “I have trouble communicating with customers sometimes if they whisper on the phone.”

For more in-depth help forming an answer to this difficult question, make sure to read our full guide to answering “What is your greatest weakness?” 

Show Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence goes a long way toward showing interviewers that you are more than your disability. Avoid painting yourself as a victim, and do not overcompensate.

Put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes. What would you like to see? What would you like to know? What would turn you off?

Employers are not allowed to ask about your disability, but they certainly are wondering about your ability to perform with it.

One indicator of emotional intelligence is the ability to speak naturally and openly about what you do. For example, when asked about a project you have worked on, you can weave in bits of insight about how you excel at your job while having a disability.

Similarly, you may prefer to discuss in an honest and simple manner the realities of working with a disability. Show that it isn’t scary, that it’s very doable, and in fact, can benefit the company as a whole.

In other words, show emotional intelligence by discussing your disability as one of many parts that make up who you are. It need not be portrayed as a negative, simply a fact of life.

You can even inject humor or practicality into situations (i.e. “My manager chose me for the surprise project because of my ability to focus. Good thing I’m not bothered by people shouting at one another across the room!”).

You’ve Got This!

Your disability does not define who you are. You have every reason to enter your interview with confidence, knowing you are fully prepared, well presented, and ready to articulate your best self to your future employer.

Written by

Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

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