- Do you have a disability?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Is that a Spanish name?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children?
- How old are you? (But it's OK to ask "Are you over 18?".)
- Chris? Is that a girl's name or a boy's name?
- Ryan, eh? Is that Orange Irish or Green Irish?
Each interviewer will have his or her own style, even though they may follow the same general script. You should observe the interviewer and the surroundings carefully as the interview begins. If it takes place in the interviewer's office, take a look around. What sorts of pictures are hanging in the room? Certificates? What kinds of memorabilia or knick knacks are displayed? Is there music playing? What sort of computer equipment is being used? These will all give you clues to the personality of the interviewer. Those clues can help you shape your answers.
Also, throughout the interview, observe the body language of the interviewer. If she is leaning forward in her chair, that is usually a sign that you have her full attention. If she is glancing at her watch or over your shoulder toward a door or window, you may need to make some alterations to your tone or delivery.
Reading the interviewer is a challenge for all job seekers. There is an added dimension of challenge for people with visible disabilities, however. In addition to looking for nonverbal indicators of your performance, you need to be looking for indicators of how the interviewer is responding to your disability. Again, the goal is to have the person see past the fact that you have a disability as quickly as you can. If you can bring the focus of the interview to what you can do, you will have a chance at succeeding.
The Interviewer's Emotions
You are likely to encounter several different emotions in the interviewer that relate to the presence of your disability. The following sections discuss them in more detail.
Some of these issues are well beyond your control. You certainly cannot change in five minutes what has been ingrained in someone since childhood. From Captain Hook to The Fugitive's "One Armed Man" to "Two Face" from Batman, the public is bombarded with negative images of people with disabilities that are not balanced by many positive images. You need to focus your energy and attention to make you and your abilities the focus of the interview, rather than your disability and the interviewer's perception of people with disabilities.
Most people are naturally curious about disabilities. They may wonder how it occurred is this congenital, or was it something you acquired later in life? If you have a guide dog, you already know this: People love to pet them. Things like the Braille and Speak also fascinate them. You may detect some curiosity in the interviewer. The best way to get past that curiosity to is to address your disability early in the interview, perhaps with the first icebreaker type question "Tell me a little about yourself." By working that information in, and discussing anything that you anticipate they will be curious about, you can move on to the things that you need to discuss if you are going to be successful.
Although it is more difficult to detect, one other natural emotion experienced by people who see people with visible disabilities is guilt. The expression "There but for the grace of God go I" has a particular resonance for people who encounter people with a visible disability. There is little you can do to deal with this emotion, because it will never come too close to the surface. You should be aware that it might be there, however. It is often present along with pity.
For the most part, people feel sure that they would not be able to cope if they had a disability. Even some well meaning exercises that are used to raise awareness, like making a person use a wheelchair for a day, or blindfolding someone so that they can "experience blindness," do much more harm than good. When people see the challenges of a disability as insurmountable, they are moved by real pity. While they often believe that they are better people for experiencing this emotion, their actions often are far worse than a crass person who isn't fazed by a disability and expects the same results from anyone regardless.
If you detect feelings of pity in the interviewer, you will have your work cut out for you. In this case, you want to focus the conversation on how little the disability impacts you in relation to the tasks that are required by the job. The more they feel sorry for you because of what you can't do, the more likely they will be to lose focus of what you can do.
Most of the people that you encounter are likely to be ignorant of disability issues. Unfortunately, they are also likely to have perceptions regarding the limitations that may be associated with a disability. Sometimes these perceptions are worse than having no opinion at all, because you first have to disabuse the person of the prejudices they have that are based on misinformation, and then educate them.
Some people simply have a fear of the unknown, and tend to shy away from those who are different from them. This is true in cases of ethnicity, religion, nationality, as well as disability status. This heightens the need for you to bond with the interviewer on a more personal basis. Making the disability issue secondary, and establishing a level of comfort in interacting with the interviewer, needs to be done early on in the interview.
The Day of the Interview
As I mentioned before, you should be prepared to arrive at your interview a half hour to forty five minutes early so that you can unwind and get your thoughts together before the interview begins.
Others will find the suggestions "way repressive." In general, the idea is to keep the focus of the interview on the content of what you are saying. Anything that distracts the interviewer's attention from that content works against you.
That means that nothing should be visibly pierced other than one ring per ear. At the time of this writing, this is still more acceptable for women than for men; however, earrings for men are far more mainstream than they were even five years ago. It also means that if you wear a fragrance, keep it subtle. You want the interviewer to remember you long after you have left, but not necessarily every time they walk into their office for the next week. Be sure you get rid of the gum before you enter the building, and hold off on the cigarettes until after the interview, even if offered. Your clothing choices should be tasteful, if not necessarily colorful. It won't matter if your wardrobe is dull if you are not. For best results, scope the organization out and see how the employees dress. If they are dressed casually, be sure to go back again another day to be sure it wasn't a "dress down" day. At any rate, it's still a good idea to dress better than you expect your interviewer to dress.