The Interview Conundrum

 

I want you to imagine a scenario.

You are looking for work and, after weeks of networking and coffee chats, you land an interview at your dream company. With a slight note of apology for the short notice in their voice, the recruiter asks if you can come in tomorrow. You wish you had a bit more time to prepare, but you certainly aren't going to turn down the opportunity you have been waiting for. So the next day, you get dressed in your best suit and grab a cab to the company's shiny new offices. You arrive a few minutes before the scheduled start time, and when you are called in to meet the hiring manager, you shake their hand in a professional greeting and sit down. Your answers are slightly nervous at first but you gain confidence with each question. At the end of the interview, they ask if you have any questions and you ask about the start date. You leave the interview, shaking hands before you walk out the door, and go back home feeling pretty good about your chances of landing the job.

Now I want you to imagine that same scenario but with some added text.

You are looking for work and, after weeks of networking and coffee chats which you manage to fit in around your daily care needs, you land an interview at your dream company. With a slight note of apology for the short notice in their voice, the recruiter asks if you can come in tomorrow and your immediate thought is there is no way you can book Wheeltrans in time because it has to be booked days in advance. You wish you had a bit more time to prepare and arrange personal support workers, but you certainly aren't going to turn down the opportunity you have been waiting for as you scramble to find an accessible cab. So the next day, you get someone to get you dressed in your best suit and grab a very expensive wheelchair cab to the company's shiny new offices which you really hope has a door button on the front door. You arrive a few minutes before the scheduled start time (thankfully!), and when you are called in to meet the hiring manager, you have to ask them to pull a chair away from the table, then you try to shake their hand in a professional greeting but because your hand is spastic and oddly shaped they just look at you awkwardly and sit down. Your answers are slightly nervous at first but you gain confidence with each question, all the time wondering if you should bring up the accommodations you need. At the end of the interview, they ask if you have any questions and you ask about the start date but wish you had asked about the accessible bathroom. You leave the interview, making an awkward attempt at shaking hands before you walk out the door, and go to figure out the accessible transit route to get back home feeling pretty good about your chances of landing the job but wondering how your disability will impact their decision.

The above is an illustration of how many more layers there can be to the job seeking/interview process when you have a physical disability like mine. In fact, the above scenario is closely based on my own experiences. The fact is that the interview process can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks when you have a disability (it's important to acknowledge here that the barriers can be different but no less problematic depending on your disability) and can include a lot of extra considerations. The sad reality is that in many cases, it is the interview which we as disabled job seekers are most afraid of. I could - and likely will - write a whole article some day about how recruiting practices and interview processes need to change, but that's not where I'm headed now. For now, I want to talk about what the job seeker can control, their approach.

So how did I change my approach? I certainly didn't hide my disability. It's impossible for me to do that as it is so visible, so instead I re-framed my disability as the best asset in my interviewee toolkit. Before they could awkwardly not shake my hand, I said "Left hand fist bump." and put them at ease. Rather than waiting for them to ask about accommodations, I gave them a typed out list so that they weren't wondering while we talked. And most importantly, I made sure that every interview answer had some clever nod back to the assets - the creativity, the lateral thinking skills etc. - that my disability gives me as a potential employee. In essence, I turned my biggest interview liability into my best interview strength simply by talking about it with honesty and wit.

So if you are worried about that next interview and how your disability may change perceptions, remember that your disability is one of the most unique things you bring to the table. Don't be afraid to use it.

 
Tim Rose