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How to Succeed in an Interview With a Speech-Language Disorder


The job interview process is difficult and stressful for all job applicants. To be chosen for a desired position, a candidate needs to make a good first impression and convey his or her skills effectively while interviewing. Even the most charismatic of people can find themselves stumped on a question or having an “off day,” and are left wondering what a company thought of them following an interview. This is a natural part of the application process.

For those who struggle with communication, interviewing can be particularly stressful and worrisome. Maybe they do not pronounce all words correctly, or they have difficulty expressing their thoughts fully, or understanding questions asked of them. They may feel uncomfortable when looking people in the eye, or become overwhelmed when meeting a number of people at once. All of these aspects are part and parcel in the interviewing process and can trigger anxiety in an applicant during an interview.

How Communication Issues Can Impact the Hiring Process

These feelings can negatively affect an applicant’s overall performance in a number of ways. They can affect how the person views their chances of attaining the job, how the person feels during subsequent interviews, and in relation to the hiring managers, they can make negative judgments about the behaviors they notice during the interview. These judgments can cause the company to decide that the applicant’s skills and job readiness are not up to their standards, even though this may be far from the truth. On top of this, second guessing one’s skills and abilities can occur naturally when a qualified candidate is turned down from a number of jobs, applicants can become increasingly anxious as they continue to go on more interviews, and they can even start to doubt they will find a suitable job they are qualified for purely because of employers first impressions.

What an Applicant Can Do

Given all these variables, there are some things that job candidates can do prior to going on an interview that can help them feel confident and share their thoughts, ideas, and passions more effectively.

For one, many of us have heard of “Power Poses”, which are postures and poses that, through research, have been shown to boost a person’s effectiveness during job interviews and other stressful social events. These poses help a person feel more confident and sure of themselves, they take but seconds to perform, and they are a great way to start preparing for an interview.

Many applicants need to practice shaking hands as well. This may seem like a minimal part of the interview to practice, but it all goes into making a strong first impression. Shaking hands is something easy to practice with a family member, friend, or peer. While practicing,  ask the family member, friend, or peer what they thought of the handshake—was it firm, did you smile and look towards them as you shook their hand, did you introduce yourself with natural and friendly intonation? These are good things to get feedback on, as they give specifics of what went well and what can be adjusted in the future, and it will help the applicant feel more confident and prepared when they are at the interview.

During the interview itself, greetings are so important and help to make everyone feel a little more comfortable. It is often helpful to practice a short opener, such as “Hi, I’m___________________, I am excited to be here today” or “it’s nice to meet you.” For those who struggle with communication,  it is often helpful to practice saying this while looking at a person and using friendly intonation. The goal is to be friendly, but still natural. Even if this feels a little outside an applicant’s comfort zone, it is better to err on the side of being too excited than not excited enough during an interview. Again, asking a family member, friend, or peer to share their thoughts as to if the statements sound natural and friendly is key.

Preparation for a Deeper Interview

As the interview progresses, the interviewer often asks candidates to share a little about themselves. To prepare for this, an applicant can have a few sentences prepared, again practicing using friendly, but natural intonation and looking in the person’s direction. It is nice for an applicant to share some professional things, such as where he or she went to school, what made him or her interested in the field, in addition to a hobby, favorite past time, or even that he or she has a pet. This simple little tidbit at the end the statement is a nice way to break the ice during the first few minutes of an interview and gives the interviewer something to relate to on a human level, in addition to a professional level. 

One other note is that often for people who have speech and/or language struggles, they know that others can tell something is different about how they communicate, and it can become a matter of trying to hide this difference, or becoming frustrated over the response of others. If an applicant feels comfortable, he or she can share a little bit about their communication struggles, express what they have learned from it, and reiterate that they are capable and qualified for the job at hand.

 Practicing structured questions ahead of time is also beneficial. This helps an applicant think about what is important to say and plan his or her responses. Thinking of questions that are popular for interviewers to ask, such as how did you get involved in this field, what has your work experience been like or taught you, and why do you want to work here, are all things an applicant can practice beforehand. This can make an applicant feel a little bit more comfortable during the interview itself because he or she knows they have some answers ready. 

Finally, everyone needs a second to think about an answer to a question they were not expecting, so having a phrase ready such “that’s a great question” or “no one has ever asked me that before” gives you an extra second to think about what you want to say. 

Photo credit: COD Newsroom Career Fair at College of DuPage 2014 14 via photopin (license).


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Amelia Willcox

Amelia Willcox

Amelia Willcox is a Speech Language Pathologist, Board Member, Northwestern University. She is a recent graduate of the Northwestern University Speech, Language, and Learning (SLP) program. Through her studies at Northwestern University, she found a passion for working with children and young adults, making gains towards communicating effectively with others, expressing themselves fully, telling stories, and having the communication skills they need to live the successful lives they want. Additionally, she studied psychology at Clark University for her undergraduate degree and became immersed in the idea of how to think about a person as a whole. This concept entails taking into account their personality, goals, desires, and attitude towards life and therapy. Working with The Speech Factor to help young adults succeed in college and obtaining meaningful work and supporting employers who hire individuals with speech and language disorders is something she is passionate about. “I have seen firsthand how helping a candidate gain the skills they need to have a successful interview with an open-minded employer can change the candidate for the better, in addition to the company itself.”

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