job interviewing when you have a speech impediment

A reader writes:

I have a speech impediment (stuttering) that comes out mainly when I am nervous (i.e., job interviews). It seems like no matter how much I practice, I always stutter or use the word “um” (which I really try not to do). This has become very frustrating to me because I know I can do a job well once I get the job, and I feel that my stuttering has gotten in the way of me getting job offers.

In the meantime, I have been temping, where I get glowing reviews from my coworkers about my work ethic and how good of a job I do. Also, I am starting to take speech therapy lessons as a way to practice job interviews.

So, what I really want to know is how to handle my stuttering when it comes to job interviews. If I catch myself stuttering, do I just say that I have a speech impediment or just act like it is nerves getting the best of me.

I would absolutely address it. Do it nonchalantly, because people will generally take their cues from you, and if you seem comfortable mentioning it, they’re likely to be more comfortable too. Say something like, “I sometimes stutter, mainly when I’m nervous. I’ve been working on it with a speech therapist, but it’s never gotten in the way of my work.”

I think you’ll feel better if you’ve addressed it, because you’ll be putting yourself under less pressure to hide it. Also, read this article. Good luck!

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Craig*

    The article you attached seems a little ridiculous. I think talking like a robot while giving s hort speech about your stammering is worse than the problem itself.

    In my experience as a stammerer, it cannot be cured, only managed. I do it during interviews and have to remember to slow down while speaking. Coming off as a dork with a prepared speech just seems odd.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it depends on personal style. Some people could pull off addressing it right at the start, wouldn’t sound like a robot giving a speech, and would be more comfortable for having done it. Others wouldn’t, and would rather wait until there’s a natural opening (like repeated stuttering) to raise it. I think either is fine, depending on what the person is most comfortable with. But I do think it’s better to say something about it directly when/if it happens.

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      well, not necessarily the showing embarrassment part, but the OP bringing it up and it possible influencing the OP’s interviewing self-confidence

  2. Kate*

    I stutter and faced the same thing when interviewing. I decided to bring it up after my first stutter. I keep it very light and say it brightly and with a smile (yes, even in a phone interview!). “You may notice that I stutter…it comes up every now and then, but you’ll notice it never stops me from talking!” EVERYONE then says, “oh that’s not a problem at all” or something positive. It helps them understand what is going on and not wonder if I know what I’m talking about or that I’m overly nervous. This also helps me stutter less as I am not worrying about how they are interpreting/focusing on my stuttering. I do not suggest you dwell on it, or ask if they have any questions. Once they respond just move on like you never mentioned it. This should not become the focus of your interview.

    Craig, talking slower rarely helps a stutterer. Talking fast is not the cause of stuttering. Talking slower just gives me more time to anticipate a stutter, thus causing one! What does help is practice. Out Loud. A LOT! Know the key questions and situations that you want to talk about, and say them over and over, in different ways, changing the order and word choices, get very comfortable with the “stories”.

    I was not a fan of the suggestions in the article. I do not believe in leading with your stuttering.

  3. Kate*

    Craig, I just re-read your post, and realized that you were speaking as a stammerer. If talking slower works for you, GREAT! I grew up listening to non-stutterers and people who were not speech therapists tell me to slow down, I’m thinking faster than I talk, etc.

  4. noah sturdevant*

    I have an old speech impediment that pops up when I’m excited or nervous. I notice it shows up when I’m interviewing, so when it does I take some deep breaths and remind myself to slow down while I’m listening to the next question. Also, when I notice it I usually say something like “sorry, you can tell I’m excited about this opportunity” or something.

  5. Charles*

    The best part of that article that I like as it can be applied in several other situations as well is this:

    “. . . this will help explain why I may have some repetitions, blocks and hesitations. It’s only due to the stuttering, nothing else.”

    The “nothing else” part is priceless.

    1. Anonymous*

      The important thing to do is right before you say “nothing else” lock eyes with your interviewer, and don’t break contact until you finish saying it. Also, it would be helpful to say it in a deep baritone voice.

    1. Cruella*

      As someone who also suffers from a stutter, I second joining Toastmasters! I’ve been a member now for over 20 years. The principles I’ve learned in Toastmasters have helped me to not only control my stutter, but other nervous ticks as well.

      1. ChristineH*

        I’ve thought about joining Toastmasters myself. However, I always thought it was designed for those who want to engage in public speaking (e.g. lead meetings, make presentations), but that is not something I’m interested in at this point.

        1. Anonymous*

          I found Toastmasters helpful for all situations, not just leading meetings or making presentations. It’s helpful for any time when you may have to come up with an answer, or participate in a meeting, or realize that when you’ve answered your phone there’s a Sr. Vice President waiting to ask you something.

  6. Jaime*

    If you think your stuttering might be a factor in not getting jobs, I would definitely mention it. Wait until you actually stutter though – I wouldn’t lead with it unless you think it will make YOU more relaxed to do so.

    I would wonder though why you think it’s keeping you from getting job offers? Is it possible that you are inflating the significance of your stuttering and the “um”s? It’s easy sometimes to become hyperfocused on our own perceived negatives, when it might be more likely that it’s the poor job market at play.

    Not to deny your own experience, but if you hadn’t written in I would never have thought someone with a stutter would be considered less capable in some way. I suppose if 90% of the job was public speaking, then I would be concerned about a speech impediment but it certainly wouldn’t make me think you couldn’t negotiate a contract or master excel pivot tables.

    1. Lexy*

      I think it would vary wildly depending on the person. I have a friend with a truly debilitating stammer when she’s nervous she very nearly can’t make herself understood.

      She is able to work in her field because she is exceptionally skilled, well respected, and involved in the industry. However, when she was first out of school she could only get a job through family connections because job interviews made her speech impediment a huge brick wall.

      On the other hand my dad has a slight stammer and even when he’s nervous he can get his point across, he might have to start a sentence over or say something a couple of times, but it certainly doesn’t have any real impact.

  7. Anonymous*

    I agree with most of the advice here. As a recruiter, if someone is stuttering, I’m going to assume this is their normal way of communicating which for certain jobs can be an issue (especially ones which require a lot of verbal communication). If I’m told that’s not the case – that it only happens in high stress situations (and interviewing certainly qualifies!), I can make a better judgement about whether this is going to prevent you from doing the job well.

    My gut says that addressing it calmly and lightly and then moving past it will not only make you more at ease (which will likely lessen the stuttering), it’ll also put the interviewer at ease so they can focus on your experience.

  8. Mike*

    As a stutter myself, I agree with Jaime, mention it but wait until it actually comes up. Stuttering has not stopped me from moving into the executive ranks. I do believe that stuttering is treatable though. This site has helped me master my stuttering – I don’t get any thing from recommending the site.

  9. Henning Makholm*

    I don’t have any stutter-relevant advice, but please do stop worrying about “um”s. Everyone does that unless they are working from an absolutely rigid script, and it would have to be at the level of more “um”s than actual words before a listener would even notice.

    For example, go look at some of the Language Log posts where they provide accurate sound-for-sound transcripts of various politicians’ off-the-cuff answers. These people are certain to be charismatic, confident, fast-thinking public speakers (or they wouldn’t be where they are today) — and even they have staggering numbers of “um”s, “er”s and verbal backtracks when you count everything, the way it sounds like the OP is aware of his own disfluencies.

  10. Asha*

    Hi myself Asha., i read all comments, i also want to share my experience. I do stutter since my childhood… It was too much as compard wid presnt. 2 days ago, i went for an intrvw which was at intrnational level.. First, I was ok.. Bt when i met wid HR,didnt knw, my breating was blockd.. I started stammrng wid d word kkkkk…den didnt said nythng.. I was rejectd.. It was worst for me.. Kindly tel me wht shuld i do, coz usually i stammer in words k n p.. And when i face becomes too much..:-(

  11. Vikram*

    I’m 30 and I too have stuttering problem. I have given an interview few weeks back and this is how it went:

    Initially I had to face a telephonic interview. The interview went very well. Intially I stuttured a lot and interviewer felt due to the signal issue my voice was breaking. So I mentioned I had stuttering problem and immediately the interviewer made me comfortable saying its not a big issue and started asking me technical questions. I answered all the questions and in between the call, another interviewer joined and I answered her questions too. Both were very much satisfied the way I answered. After few days, I was offered for a face to face interview. I started doing my home work on the company. Read more articles on past and present goals of the company. The company took care of my flight and hotel expenses. My interview started at 9am and was interviewed by 5 members including the interviewers who took my phone interview and the CIO of the company. Interview lasted till 1pm and everything went fine. In fact I was very much satisfied by the way the interview went. At this moment, I was 99% sure, I’ll get the position and I was ready to take up any challenge after joining the company. But after few days, I got a mail from the HR, saying they found another candidate and unfortunately couldn’t hire me. It took me a week to come out of the depression and now all I could do is practise more on reducing my stuttering and look for the companies who could accept me though I stutter.

  12. Paul*

    I have stuttered all my life and one thing i would advise people to do is to be honest and open at the start of the interview. Tell your listener you do have a stammer but are working hard at controlling it. They will be impressed! If they know you stutter then your fear level reduces and you are no longer trying to hide your secret from them.
    If you dont tell them and you then stutter during the interview how will that make them feel and how will it make you feel?
    Honest and open = reduced fear level

  13. steve*

    Having stuttered since the age of about 6 and being teased at school about it i can honestly say it has impacted on my life in a big way,i dont use the phone unless i really have to and job interviews are a nightmare,i recently had one where i thought the interviewer was going to pee themselves laughing at me! its tough but you will eventually find a caring employer or recruiter who understands and gives you a chance,and most people agree that stutters make good employees as they work harder to compensate for other areas of their work.

  14. soumya*

    actually i do have a stammer since i was at 12.i had took admission into a boarding school .where i could increase my communication skill but because of my stammering problem i could not face anyone in the i am graduate & searching for a job .when i face interview i get nervousness & substitute the other word in place of it what i want to say.due to this stammering usually i dont like to attend phone calls.

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