Are you looking to interview or hire someone who stammers? Find out how to create an inclusive recruitment process.
Forget any outdated misconceptions you may have about people who stammer. Having a stammer doesn't mean they can't be effective communicators. And stammering has nothing to do with intellect, leadership skills or teamwork. At least 1% of UK adults stammer, contributing a wealth of talent to organisations — in all professions and at all levels.
You want to find the best person for the job. To ensure this, create a recruitment process that accommodates candidates who stammer. Be prepared to make reasonable adjustments for them where necessary.
People who stammer often think they'll be judged on how they speak. They might think they'll be marked down at job interviews for not having good communication skills. Many might not even apply for jobs that say they require 'excellent communication skills'.
Effective communication is about so much more than speech. It includes the ability to:
- use the right words via the right channel to the right audience at the right time
- analyse and summarise
- read situations
- moderate tone and message according to the situation
- read body language
- calm frustrated customers
- show empathy and understanding
- write well.
Stammering can bring some real advantages. Some people who stammer are brilliant, memorable presenters or conversationalists. Some have extensive vocabularies. Some find that others confide in them easily; others are skilled and active listeners.
In this context, how important is the ability to speak fluently and fast? Put down what you need from the list above and consider how best to assess candidates on those factors.
When recruiting for future roles, think before putting 'excellent communication skills' in the person spec. This risks missing out on great candidates who'll think you're looking for someone with fluent speech.
It can often feel like the recruitment process is designed to filter us out and make it near impossible to get the role."
Read Vicky's article 'Towards inclusive hiring'
Stammering during interviews
Standard interviews tend to discriminate against people who stammer. There's a pressure to perform 'well' verbally and to communicate everything through speech.
The effects of a stammer will often increase under the stress of a recruitment or assessment process compared with the day-to-day job. Some may struggle simply to get words out. For others, you may hear some stammering, but might not realise how much effort that person is using to sound fluent. Being judged on how they speak might make some people mask their stammer, if they can. This means it won't be noticeable to you but it may affect what or how much they say.
Whether the person stammers openly or not, the strict requirements of standard interview procedures can make someone who stammers:
- give answers which are short or lack depth
- look away while trying to get words out
- pause for some time before answering
- start somewhere different and scramble to try and find words they can say more easily
- give an overly elaborate or convoluted answer.
Such responses can be misconstrued. The candidates may have been trying to physically say a word or swap one for another word they can say. This behaviour may be misread as evidence that they were unsure of an answer. Or that they avoided answering, were nervous, reluctant, or they meandered because they didn't know what they wanted to say.
What matters is how the person will perform at work, not in the job interview. Focus on the content of what they're saying.
If you know that a candidate stammers, show that you want to support them in displaying their talents. You can do this by offering to make 'reasonable adjustments' to the interview process.
They might ask for these themselves. Stammering can be a disability under the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. See Is stammering a Disability? for more.
Examples of reasonable adjustments include:
- Extra time in interviews.
- More informal interviews.
- Face-to-face interviews rather than phone interviews. People who stammer are likely to stammer more on the phone and the lack of visual interaction can put them at a disadvantage. If face-to-face interviews aren't practical, video calls — with appropriate adjustments — would normally be the next best thing. Ask what the candidate would prefer.
- Written answers rather than an oral interview, with follow-up questions asked face-to-face or by video.
- Ask follow-up questions if spoken answers are short or lack depth.
- Consider the person's oral answers and written information from their application, giving the latter no less weight.
- Allow them to prepare a presentation beforehand and use the interview to ask questions about it (see 'Oral Assessments' below).
- Invite them to provide evidence of their skills from a previous job or set up a work trial.
- Give them the opportunity to write up anything they were unable to say after the interview.
- Provide written questions in advance.
Reasonable adjustments can also help you better understand a candidate's skills, meaning you won't miss out on talent.
Adjustments are not just about giving someone extra time. If a person doesn't stammer that much in the interview, you still need to take their stammer into consideration.
Read our 'Reasonable adjustments: a guide for employers' download — see the Downloads section below.
When inviting an applicant to an interview, ask them if they would like any reasonable adjustments.
If an applicant has disclosed their stammer in advance or has asked to make you aware of it, talk to them. Outline the interview format, including any presentations or oral assessments. Ask them how stammering might affect them and their speech in the process, and what adjustments would help. Discuss adjustments with them early so you have time to put them in place.
Reasonable adjustments are a great tool for making your recruitment processes more inclusive and for finding the best candidate for the job role. You risk legal claims if you don't consult and find out what adjustments would suit the candidate.
A stammer can make someone's presentation style interesting, memorable and encourage an audience to pay close attention. As we mentioned above, good communication skills and fluency are not the same thing.
Particular oral skills and the ability to cope in some situations, say a class full of children, may be important for the job. If so, assess candidates in mock scenarios. Make sure those scenarios match the job scenario as closely as possible.
- If the job involves presenting to one or two people, don't ask a candidate to present to a large group in the assessment.
- Don't require a client pitch if that's not an important part of the job.
- Don't use a group interview to assess how someone performs in meetings. Simulate a real meeting with typical topics.
- If you're setting up a group scenario where it would be reasonable to have a Chair, ask someone to chair. Ask them to ensure the candidate has a chance to contribute and to discuss this with the candidate beforehand.
Even if scenarios resemble the job, how much a person stammers during recruitment doesn't necessarily reflect what they'll be like in the job (see 'Stammering during interviews' above).
If a presentation is part of the interview but oral presentations are not part of the job, don't assess their oral presentation skills. Focus on the content.
If giving presentations is part of the job, how important is it that they be oral? Can people email a presentation to the meeting participants beforehand, and use the meeting to take questions? If so, allow candidates to do a written presentation followed by oral questions.
If it's a physical interview, think through the whole process from entry-phones to reception staff. You don't want a great candidate being put off by a member of staff thoughtlessly laughing at them, which may itself breach the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act. For many people who stammer, saying their name on demand is hard, so pre-warn reception staff. That way, staff can open with "Hello, are you Sam Jones?" (at the intercom and at reception), rather than waiting for a likely Sam Jones to introduce themselves.
STAMMA's Employment Service
We support companies and organisations in providing stammer-friendly environments and processes for their customers and staff. If you would like us to help you, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org Or, call our helpline free on 0808 802 0002 and ask to be referred to the service. See our Employment Service page for more on how it can help you.
If you've just hired someone who stammers, or if one of your team members has a stammer, see our Supporting Staff who Stammer page.