When I’m nervous, my hearing goes south, right through the floor. When crossing the border, for example, I have trouble understanding customs officers even though I have absolutely nothing to hide, the odd shopping spree aside.
One of the most nerve-wracking human experiences – with or without hearing loss – is the job interview. And for the hard of hearing person, the pressure rises with interviewers who mumble, have thin lips, or who are really, really tired because you’re the 15th person they’ve interviewed that day.
OK, hands up, everybody – who identifies their hearing loss in a job application letter? During the phone call that offers you an interview? How about the actual interview?
Many people have found they are more likely to be interviewed if they do not disclose a hearing loss in an application. Job seekers requiring an interpreter do need to mention it, if invited for an interview. But when it comes to the actual interview, EVERYBODY’s hand should go up.
Yet, many do not disclose during a meeting with potential employers. People with hearing loss often try to hide their hearing loss and bluff their way through job interviews. Some are desperate for the job, or worry about being seen in a negative light because of their disability. And many more people simply don’t know how to self-identify in a positive way, a skill that takes some knowledge, practice, and determination – but which can have big payoffs.
Here’s a fantasy situation with hard of hearing job-seeker Nancy Smith. Yes, I made Nancy up, but she could be any evolved person with hearing loss who knows how to express his or her needs.
Marketing Professional Wanted for Local Tourism Board.
Must have good communication skills (both oral and written),
tourism experience, talent, and a desire to travel.
Wow! What a wonderful job – they are describing me, Nancy Smith. Stand aside, world, I OWN this job!
To Whom It May Concern,
Please accept my application for your advertised position of marketing professional.
I’m a superb communicator with a passion for travel and I have the experience and skills you seek. I look forward to an interview to discuss my candidacy for this position.
Hmmm, should I mention my hearing loss? Nope. It has nothing to do with my qualifications or ability to do the job, but everything to do with my application being tossed into the “I’m-Sure-She’s-A-Nice-Person-But-Do-Not-Interview” pile. I’ll advise them when the time is right.
Receptionist: Just have a seat. They’ll be with you in a few moments.
Nancy (inwardly screaming): They? There’s more than one interviewer? I’ll get whiplash trying to read all their lips. Breathe, Nancy, breathe! You can do this – you OWN this job!
Nancy (entering room and swallowing panic): Oh no, could it be any worse? All three are sitting at the boardroom table with the window behind them, and one guy has a bristly-stupid-handlebar mustache!
Interviewer #1: Welcome, Ms. Smith, please have a seat.
Nancy (plunging in): Thank you, but before I do, would you mind if we change the seating arrangements – just a bit? I have hearing loss, like many people do, and it helps to see a person’s face when talking with them. With the light behind you, your faces are in shadow – like you’re in the witness protection system, heh heh! (Clears throat.) There’s a round table over there…could we use that? Thank you.
(Major shuffling by interviewers and major sweating by Nancy.)
Interviewer #2: Alright, now that we’re finally settled, tell us about your experience, background, etc.
Nancy (smiling): Well, I did this, I did that, and my roles were this and that, etc.
Interviewer #3: What attracted you to this field?
Nancy: I have a passion for travel. When I graduated with my marketing degree, tourism seemed like a natural fit. But the bottom line is that I’m a communicator – it’s what I do best. And speaking of communication, I know you’re not supposed to ask me about my hearing loss, but I want to be upfront and tell you how I’ve made it work for me.
#1: Thank you.
Nancy: As you can see, I wear two hearing aids. Oh, you can’t see them? Well, look, they’re right here, behind my ears. You think they’re small – and adorable? Well, thank you. They seem gigantic to me, but I’m not trying to hide them. Anyway, I’ve learned – through trial and error – that if I’m open about my communication needs, my hearing loss ceases to be such a big barrier. Whenever I did try to hide my hearing loss, it always backfired. People would suspect something was up – I may have seemed to ignore them, or answered a question strangely – and it never occurred to them that it was hearing loss that made me seem ‘odd’!
#2: My father has hearing loss, but he won’t wear his hearing aid, which makes us all crazy and we have to yell at him.
Nancy: (… maybe the yelling is why he won’t wear them…) Well, hearing aids do take some getting used to. I always wear my hearing aids – they’re my lifeline. And, strange as it may sound, my hearing loss has made me a better overall communicator, including the fact that I always maintain eye contact.
#3: Does the phone pose a problem for you?
Nancy: Usually not. Most phones now have amplification, and if your phones don’t, there’s a simple fix. I often use my neck loop for cell phone and Internet voice conversations. Email and text messaging make communicating easy – as does anything in print, such as meeting agendas and summaries.
#2: We have an open office concept; it can get a bit noisy.
Nancy: Noise is a problem for everyone, don’t you think? I can’t ‘hear’ behind me, so I turn my desk face-out, so I can see people coming.
#3: And do you know sign language?
Nancy: It’s a beautiful language, but my language is spoken English. The bottom line is that my hearing loss does not get in the way of good communication or doing a good job. I know how to have my needs met.
Hired – Nancy OWNS the job!
Hooray for Nancy, who has learned how to communicate her needs and nail the interview. And hooray for all employers who see beyond the disability to the applicant who wants nothing more than to do a good job.