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I used to heavily stutter when I was at school. My parents didn't pay much attention to the problem but I started working on it when I entered college. It was hard to completely get rid of it, but I spared no effort in trying to minimize its effects on professional interactions.

One of the most effective strategies my speech therapist employed was training me to talk slower than average and wait for a couple of seconds before responding in a conversation. It didn't completely remedy the problem but made it less noticeable. I continue to work and improve till this day.

However, my experience with phone interviews, which is always the first stage in any recruitment process, has been nothing but negative due to this. Because they're not aware of the problem, my occasional pauses, stuttering and overall “patient” way of talking overshadow the positives. I get embarrassed when they lose interest and try to wrap up the call by interrupting me to ask another question, which makes me stutter even more.

My stuttering is a problem, I get that. But I want to show interviewers that I'm a hard worker who spared no effort in trying to get rid of this problem. I paid money, spent hundreds of hours working on it alone and with groups, and worked hard in my career to compensate for stuttering.

What's the best way to approach this? Interviewers usually reach out by email to set up a phone interview. Should I inform them of my stuttering problem so it doesn't come as a surprise?

I work in the marketing industry. My job usually requires 70% writing and 30% interaction with colleagues and clients.

  • Do you think the stuttering is of a considerable degree? Will it impair or at least difficult such phone interview? – DarkCygnus May 18 '18 at 17:16
  • It won't impair it, no. But like I said: I believe my occasional pauses, blocks and repetitions come as a surprise to them, and they lose interest in what I have to say. – Reyona May 18 '18 at 17:20
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    Do you think a video call would be any better for you? If you have any visual tics associated with your stutter, having a video call might help clue your interviewers into what is going on. – David K May 18 '18 at 17:25
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Since you've already noticed that phone screens don't go well when the interviewer isn't forewarned, you have little to lose by telling them. I recommend working on a sentence to include in the email when you agree to the screen. Something like:

I have an occasional stutter, which worsens if I talk fast or am in an overlapping/interrupting conversation. I'm a fast thinker, and a slow talker sometimes.

If you need to take a pause during a phone screen, give them a signal (in person you could hold you hand up) like "hang on" or "one sec" and then take the pause you need.

If the phone situation is specifically worse for you than in-person, you should mention that. Clearly you can write persuasively, since you're getting the interview, so it's just a matter of setting expectations to enable the interviewer to understand what your pauses mean.

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    "hang on" or "one sec" and then take the pause you need -- excellent advise. – Mister Positive May 18 '18 at 17:33
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    I am aware of someone with significant hearing loss. They always inform the interviewer beforehand that they will often have to ask for the question to be repeated. While less common, a stutter should be no different – Tim May 18 '18 at 23:26
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    @MisterPositive not necessarily. As someone who used to suffer from an awful stammer (it's still there but not nearly as bad as it used to be), I tended to find that often you can't even manage to say something as simple as "one sec". On the phone if the choice is between stammering or saying nothing, I'd often choose stammering, just to show that you're "about to say something" - they are probably more likely to take silence to mean that you have no answer than a stammer. If in person you have the option of gesticulating at least. – Muzer May 18 '18 at 23:41
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    (just to be clear, I sympathise with OP. My stammer was really bad at times, but I was fortunate enough to have had enough advice, experience, and speech therapy which, while it didn't work at the time, somehow all managed to come together by the time I got to university and I find that I'm more or less on top of my stammer now - though the phone is still far and away the worst situation for it. I can't imagine trying to get a job with phone interviews and a bad stammer - it's unfortunately a problem that never seems to be taken particularly seriously. Good luck! – Muzer May 18 '18 at 23:44
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First off I would like to commend you for your hard work, I can only imagine getting rid of a stutter is a very long and frustrating process.

That being said you should definitely inform your interviewers ahead of time. You don't want your slow methodical speech to be misinterpreted negatively. If you choose to inform them in an email I would go with something along the lines of

"Just so you're aware before our phone interview, I have a stutter that I am working hard to combat, thank you in advance for your time and patience."

But even so you might wish to warn the interviewer again right at the beginning of the conversation incase the information was not passed along.

"Before we begin I just wanted to warn you I have a small stutter, I work hard to minimize it but let me know if it gets hard to understand me"

With this phrasing you not only inform them about the stutter but you show you have taken steps to fix it and signal that you are accommodating and thoughtful of others and who doesn't want that in a future employee

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  • I like this response. The only suggestion I would slightly change is "I work hard to minimize it but let me know if it gets hard to understand me". You don't want to let them think that colleagues and clients will have a hard time understanding you. Maybe something like "I work hard to minimize it and so it shouldn't affect the conversation overall." – Drew May 18 '18 at 21:30
  • I think it's not a good idea to warn the interviewer. That strongly implies that there is a relevant problem, which is not what you want to say. – Volker Siegel May 19 '18 at 0:11
  • When I was a teenager, a friend's sibling used to stutter a lot. Like @Reyona, they tried to work with their stutter, and greatly improved over their understanding and control over time. What helped me a lot, was their parents telling me to go along in the lower tempo of the conversation, and let the person with the stutter finish at their own pace. It's not the responsibility of the stutterer to educate others, but presenting the solution together with the 'problem' tells anyone there does not have to be a problem. If your interviewer is a willing professional, they will pick up on this. – Xano May 19 '18 at 8:05
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    I would add that in addition to signaling the problem, and that you are working hard to fix it but it is not fixed yet, you should indicate what the impact on the interview will be. Namely: the interviewee will be speaking slowly and after a pause. I personally would never have guessed that would be the implication of "I'm working on a stutter", and probably would never even have connected this behavior with the upfront warning about a stutter. (Then again perhaps I'm especially dense.) – Daniel Wagner May 19 '18 at 13:56
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    I might consider skipping comments like "Let me know if it gets hard to understand me", unless there's a concrete plan you have in mind for taking action in response to an interviewer who says they have difficulty understanding. – Daniel Wagner May 19 '18 at 13:58
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I have a hearing problem myself. I wear hearing aids but that isn't obvious by a phone call or video conference. I usually tell the other person in such a case that I am hard of hearing and I may ask them to repeat things. Everyone I talked to agreed with this but I don't know if it lessened my chances ever.

With that said, disclosing a disability might be helpful, especially if it is debilitating. You can inform them that you have a stuttering problem and may take a second to answer questions. It may also prepare them if you do stuttering and they can act accordingly. Most people I seen are okay with a disability.

Good luck.

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  • "disclosing a disability might be helpful" The keyword here being might... you never know the thoughts of the other person. When I disclosed in applications that I had ADD, I was never contacted. The $64K question is whether it was mere coincidence or if I was really discriminated against, which would be illegal (at least in the US), but it's not like I'll ever get to know the answer to such questions... this may be ill-adviced, but I often prefer to take my chances without disclosing it and hope for the best... which doesn't always get me the desired outcome anyway. – code_dredd Jun 4 '18 at 20:21
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I would start the phone interview by indicating that you have a stutter, and you've worked hard to minimize it. Tell the interviewers that if it becomes a barrier in communication, please be vocal about it, because the important part is that they understand you well. Typically it will take a second or two to compose yourself, and then the interview will press on.

This does a few important things:

  1. It gives them the right impression, that you care about communication.
  2. It gives them the formula for telling you when communication is suffering.
  3. It lowers the barrier of their speaking up, so they don't hide if they'll deem the communication issues too severe.

While I agree that indicating you stutter is a good idea before the interview, you never know who's going to be on the call; so, don't indicate before the call.

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I agree with Kate - tell the interviewers ahead of time that you have a stutter and use pauses and slow speech to compensate. Thank them for their patience ahead of time.

In addition to a hand signal, you might want to experiment with a sound that tells the interviewer you are listening. Lightly clearing your throat or a "thinking" noise such as "hmmm.." might be a good indicator that you are working on your answer.

On a side note - if you are open to moving, you might consider job hunting in areas where the local speech is slower paced. This would help camouflage your own speech and your coworkers would be accustomed to a slower cadence. If you are in the US, the Atlantic has a full list.

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Assuming a stutter isn't a problem in the job you are applying for, I'd advise against disclosing it ahead of an interview - it may get you excluded from consideration. Anything you say can and will be used against you, to keep the shortlist short. But you do want to acknowledge it before it happens, so open the interview with it in a way that shows you're owning it not apologising for it.

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  • This is ridiculous, dangerous advice. Stuttering is a disability that is protected in many countries and mentioning it should be no problem. – user428517 May 21 '18 at 16:42

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