29th July 2021
Stammering can be a barrier to employment. But proper planning when applying for jobs and seeking support will help, says retired careers adviser and former Trustee Colin Marsh.
As a retired careers adviser, I must have helped several thousand young people take their first steps on the career ladder. That was despite being told that with my "speech defect" I ought to consider an alternative occupation, preferably one that did not require high–level verbal communication skills.
Most of my working life was spent helping people to overcome various barriers to employment. There was the student who came to my office distraught — a few weeks away from his final university exams he was told he was unlikely to get better than a Third Class degree. He'd made little attempt to look for a suitable job on graduation, fearing that his lack of a 2:1 would render him 'unemployable' and, unlike most students, he'd never had a part–time job, not even written a CV.
I had about 45 minutes to restore his confidence and get him thinking about approaches to job hunting.
And then there was the smartly–dressed, politely–spoken middle-aged man who needed help getting back into work. He was a qualified Chartered Accountant and finding work should not ordinarily have been a problem. However, he told me that he had recently served a prison sentence. His reply, when I asked him what for, took even me by surprise: "Armed robbery", he said.
These examples are all to do with making yourself more marketable. Possession of a stammer is yet another barrier to employment, and as a person who stammers, I think I know of which I speak.
I cannot stress enough that job hunting is not a 'five-minute' task, nor is it easy. It needs time and planning to do properly — and I have seen the outcome of too many rushed, badly prepared job applications to be sanguine about the process.
My own experience, both personal and professional, over a number of years suggests that employers are getting more selective and are raising the bar. After all, there are a lot of graduates about and it is in a sense a 'buyers' market'.
Do not be put off putting in high quality applications because of fears that your stammer will rule you out at the beginning of the process.
A quick scroll through a selection of websites and a hastily written application to a few jobs that take your fancy is not the best way to hunt for a job, nor is the technique used by a number of job seekers which is simply to send your CV off to as many employers that you can think of without tailoring the application to the requirements of each job. Employers are not impressed by CVs sent without a covering letter or any indication of which post or posts you are interested in.
You think I exaggerate? Sadly, I do not.
What does this have to do with stammering? Simply this — given that job hunting is a complex, time-consuming process, then your stammer is an additional complication. Your application has to be so good that it gets you an interview, and your stammer should not prevent you getting through the selection process. Sadly, all of us who stammer know that this is too often not the case — but do not be put off putting in high quality applications because of fears that your stammer will rule you out at the beginning of the process.
There is support available. Those of you at University will have access to high quality Careers Advice and Guidance on campus, and thanks to work done by BSA/STAMMA over the years, advisers working in Higher Education should be aware of the issues around job hunting that people who stammer face over and above the normal pressures of job hunting. Further, if you have already graduated, your former University Careers Advisory Service would still be able to help you — but policy varies from institution to institution. (See our College & University page for details of how to access support in Higher Education)
Having a stammer can make the difficult task of job hunting more difficult than it is for the fluent — but that doesn't mean that I haven't seen some poorly prepared applications from candidates who are fluent and are simply not giving the process the importance it should have.
If you are not a graduate, or are a young person not planning on going onto Higher Education, the provision of careers and employment advice is not always so easily accessible, but it is there.
The point that I want to make is that, whether we like it or not, having a stammer can make the difficult task of job hunting more difficult than it is for the fluent — but that doesn't mean that I haven't seen some poorly prepared applications from candidates who are fluent and are simply not giving the process the importance it should have.
Third party websites
One student came to see me clearly agitated. He had had an email from a prospective employer inviting him for an interview — but he had no recollection of ever applying to the particular organisation nor had he even heard of it!
After a bit of probing, it became clear what had happened. He had been applying for jobs that he liked the look of by using a third party website which didn’t identify the companies whose vacancies are listed. A client company saw his application, liked the look of it and wanted to meet him, meaning he had just a few days to research them to find out what they do and how he might fit into their organisation.
The tendency for students to use this method of applying is becoming a problem. I suspect that people who stammer are more likely to use this method as it enables them to keep a distance between them and a potential employer.
I would say that if you see an opportunity that you want to apply for, try to find out as much as you can about the organisation. Also, keep a record of where you have applied — it is not a good idea to make more than one application to the same employer.
Finally, don't try to cut corners by submitting identical applications to several different employers — they will see through the tactic, and will do your cause no good at all.
We as people who stammer have to work that much harder, and you will get better support from your Careers Advisory Service the more often, and the earlier in your job hunting process, that you start.
Please don't be like the student who breezed into my office on graduation day, his gown and hood trailing in the wind, who said, "I had better come and see you tomorrow — I have to find a job!"
To quote my old Navy instructor: "Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!" Probably the best advice that I was ever given.
Coming soon: Colin talks about disclosing your stammer when applying for jobs.
Please note: This article is Colin's personal view as a retired Careers Adviser and a person who stammers, and should not be seen as the official view of STAMMA, nor that of The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, the Career Development Institute, or any other body.