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Stammerer Ashley Morrison on the pitfalls of job interviews

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Laura Northedge | 17:10 PM, Friday, 18 March 2011

Getting a job can be a real uphill struggle in the current economic climate. But is it any harder if you have a disability? I have a stammer and whilst equal opportunities statements are all very well, realistically, do they actually count for anything? When rejecting a perfectly well-qualified applicant, it's very easy to trot out the phrase 'there was someone with more directly relevant experience than you'. Nobody will be any the wiser as to whether that is the real reason or not; it's impossible to prove. So in our ever more touchy-feely society, is having a disability in the current job market any less of a stigma now than it once was?

Looking at the evidence of my own struggle to change jobs, statistically, I should have got one by now - when compared to the experiences of my contemporaries. I have no other friends who have had the same number of interviews as me over such a long period of time (roughly 10 interviews in 2 years). You would think that this would therefore make me something of an expert. And, in a way, it does. Throw me any stock question and I can rattle off a solid answer: why do you want this job? What relevant experience/skills do you have...? And having run my answers past a number of people - including HR directors - I know my responses are robust.

The trouble may be my stammer, which can be quite severe at times. But we are constantly told by 'experts' that 90% of communication is non-verbal, so I have made sure that this other 90% is spot on. I present well; I shake hands firmly-but-not-too-firmly whilst maintaining eye contact; I express interest with my body language; I subtly mirror the interviewer's body language to illustrate subliminally that we are on the same wavelength; I come prepared with evidence of my skills; I have glowing references; I research the company to death and I try to exude self-confidence.

So my failure to win these jobs must mean that I am either:
A) not qualified for the job
B) not as qualified as other applicants
C) dropping the ball during the interview
D) up against someone already earmarked for the job
E) discriminated against because of my disability

The last thing I want to do is make it sound like sour grapes - that I would be a CEO were it not for my disability. But I have gone from being an academic high flyer at school, where I won a plethora of prizes, to someone who is professionally underachieving and underpaid and who sees his contemporaries earning megabucks. Admittedly, I did a Masters in music rather than business studies - but it was from a top-ten university rather than 'media studies' from the University of Northwest Dagenham.

I just can't shake the fact that interviewers might hear my stammer (and see the associated physical struggle which sometimes accompanies it), look again at the CV of someone as or marginally less well qualified than me and then go with that option because there is no underlying nagging concern about my ability. Or disability. In a way, stammering is more of a disability than many others, purely because every job these days requires 'excellent communication skills'. A wheelchair won't get in the way there, will it? Not that I am belittling any other disability, I hasten to add. But employers have a better understanding of other disabilities, whereas stammering appears to unsettle people. Therefore it is my belief that I have to work much harder than most people to convince interviewers that I am the right person for the job. Faster, better, stronger...

by Ashley Morrison - blogger, copywriter and editor
Listen to Ashley on job interviews
Read Ashley's previous blog


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