In my last interview blog, I mostly spoke about the struggles I have faced during interviews and what I hoped able-bodied people could learn from the struggles. Understanding, compassion, and most importantly having an open mind when interviewing a person with a physical disability.
Also, the list I discuss below is not extensive – there are always more options out there for you to try. And thus therein lies my first suggestion: all you can do is try. Interviewing can be so difficult because you have such a limited amount of time to impress the interviewer(s). All you can do is try to put your best self forward. To do this, you must figure out ways in which you can best or most express your capabilities in the limited time you have with that person. If you are shy, try to practice not being shy for interviews because this is the time when you need to be engaging.
One technique I have found that can successfully engage people in interviews is relaying your professional experience or skills by describing stories in which you have successfully displayed or accomplished the experience or skills the job is requiring. When I say “describe the stories” I mean for you to repeat real and specific situations in which your experience or skills have been used successfully in the past. Now, if you don’t have a lot of prior job experience to pull from, I don’t think is the end of the world. Pull stories from your personal life (not too personal obviously, this is a professional job interview after all – so keep it fairly professional), from volunteer work that you’ve done, from internships, or from school projects. Anything to show the interviewer that you have real life experience and real-life capabilities and abilities to offer.
I had a job interviewer ask me to describe a difficult situation and how I overcame it. I described to them how I felt after putting my heart and soul into the counseling field only to be repeatedly rejected from multiple counseling internships due to my physical disability. A couple of the places I had interviewed with had even cited my physical disability as being problematic for the job. “How are you going to handle it if a client punches you?” Or “you are unable to carry an average person down the stairs should there be a fire in the building.” Um… What the hell? Both of these places also employed an overwhelming amount of orderlies and is it not the orderlies responsibilities to be the physical strength required on the job?
Anyways, what I did was continue interviewing at agencies offering counseling internships that met my program’s standards until I landed one. Ironically I was offered an internship at two different places at around the same time. What’s the point I’m making here? Determination and perseverance. These are two extremely important traits for any employee to have and most employers want to see a good level of these traits in their employees. So I recounted the story in all its details and honesty, including how heartbreaking this process and experience of [what felt like] rejection by the counseling field was for me. Then I concluded my story as I did above with successfully being offered two internships. Further, I told the interviewer that before the internship I had accepted even ended, I received a job offer from that company for a full-time crisis counselor position. I was offered the job in which I shared this story during the interview.
In another interview, the interviewers asked me to describe a scenario where I had experienced difficulties with a coworker and how I overcame them. So I described another true story in which a coworker talked very rudely to me in front of a new hire. I met with my coworker later that day to address this situation because it appeared as if the processes between our two departments was not cohesive. I wanted us to work together to resolve the problems. My coworker proceeded to tell me she had sent me an updated form that was to be used in an email almost a year and a half prior to that moment. After looking back in my records I found said email and I apologized to her for forgetting about this particular email – on average I received 50 -100 emails in one day. And I was also honest with her in that I had forgotten about this email. I suggested that her and I work together to fix the process moving forward. She insisted we bring the HR director and COO into this mix. Even though I warned her against it she tried to throw me under the bus with the both of them. I was very open and honest with my HR director and the COO with what had occurred with this entire issue. I relayed my faults in the situation as well as her rudeness and unwillingness to cooperate. My coworker got written up.
I shared this story to show my real life experience and professional experience in dealing with difficult coworkers and people in general. My example shows how I tried to work directly with my coworker, how willingly I admitted to my own faults, what I offered as possible solutions before escalating to management, and how I was able to work through the situation. Employers want to know that you have the skills and abilities to handle yourself independently.
Let’s be frank for a minute. Perhaps you have a physical disability. The employer may feel as if they are at risk should anyone treat you poorly. This could result in a discrimination or hostile work environment lawsuit. But you have the chance to show or tell them you have the capabilities that every other employee has in dealing with difficult work situations. Also quite frankly, many able-bodied employees are not that great at dealing with difficult work situations. People in general are not great at addressing situations that make them uncomfortable or may result in a heated discussion or argument. I was offered this job in which I shared the above story.
Please don’t think I receive job offers all the time based on the two examples I gave above. It is simply not true. I had to apply for jobs and interview consistently for over a year and a half to two years before I was offered my current job.
Another technique I use during interviews is to be very upfront and honest. The two stories I have recounted above don’t exactly put me in the best of light at times but they are true stories and they show how I found success through the hardships. I am not a perfect person and I will not pretend to be even in an interview. Also, when asked if I have ever had experience with something that I haven’t, I say no, but I am a very quick and adept learner.
I am aware most people are not fans of interviewing but you have to find a way to try to show your personality. Employers want to know they are hiring generally nice and good people with whom they can get along with and will get along with other employees. Some employers can be put off when an interviewee is quiet or continues to give short answers. You may be a quiet person in everyday life, but in those 30 to 60 minute interviews, it is important to show you have adequate social skills to be a successful employee.
I’m just going to automatically assume people know to conduct background research on a position and the company before they attend an interview. Another suggestion I have is to ask questions about the position, the work environment, the culture, and the company. It’s most helpful to ask open-ended questions that are actually important to you. Interviews should ideally be a two-way street. Show your interest and intelligence by asking meaningful questions. Now I would caution you not to go overboard with the questioning because you also don’t want to come off as self-centered and all that matters is what you will gain from the company. What you are really trying to impress upon the interviewers is what you have to offer and what they are going to gain by hiring you.
It’s a delicate balance asking the right amount of questions while trying not to come off as if all you care about is what you are going to get in this situation. You can practice finding this balance by [hate to say it] interviewing! By this I mean, if you are able, attend interviews as often as you can and for jobs that you may not even be interested in accepting. Interviewing is a learned skill. You have to be able to practice in order to hone and improve your interviewing skills.
I know sometimes it can feel hopeless. As if no matter what you do you’re always going to be judged on your physical disability during interviews and therefore will not receive a job offer. This is a terrible mindset to get into and one that I have been in many times in my life. You have a physical disability (or maybe you don’t) and you are trying to obtain employment instead of just sitting at home. You are already strong and determined. Find the strength to continue to put your best self forward over and over again. You will find the perseverance as you continue to interview for positions. Further, as you continue to interview for positions you will also be practicing your interviewing skills and these skills will continue to get better each time.
A few quick last side notes, if one of the recurring reasons that are cited for you not receiving a job offer is a lack of experience – I would suggest finding some volunteer opportunities in which you can build your experience. Or a position at a lower level that will allow you to practice your skills and gain more experience. Also, earning different certificates in your field can be very helpful – increases your knowledge and boosts your resume. This is especially true in the information technology (IT) field. I realize these are not ideal situations but sometimes, whether you have a disability or not, you have to find workarounds in order to meet the end goal. Finally, if you can work humor into the interview/your answers can go a long way in easing the tenseness and can create sense of camaraderie.
Until next time.
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