Chances, Chances, Chances... (Job Hunting with a Stutter)
I've noticed a common theme in most of my recent conversations with people about my stutter.
I spoke with a young woman who stutters, and she expressed her fears about entering the job market after college. Another woman asked for advice about interviewing in the workplace. And I found myself speaking at length about my own career as a stutterer with a friend of mine.
As I noted above, a common theme was present: chances.
In the last conversation, I spoke openly about my struggles with breaking into the world of journalism as a young, disabled Black woman fresh out of college. And I found myself acknowledging one element of the job search that I hadn't really thought about until then.
"You know, when you talk the way I do — or have any disability, really — people tend to automatically assume you may be incompetent. And that was really a struggle for me first starting out. I know I'm a good writer and reporter, but I guess most of my job search consisted of me trying to convince employers to take a chance on me, a stutterer. Once they got over my stutter and let me in the door, I could prove to them that I belonged there."
This surprised me even as I said it. I had never articulated this experience and the conversation made me think about the early days of my career more in depth. I remember being terrified that no publication would hire me because, of course, interviewing requires "excellent verbal skills."
I got a lot of rejections, and a lot of interviews for jobs fell through after employers heard the way I speak. But, I persisted. When I submitted cover letters, I was sure to be open and honest about my stutter. In fact, I portrayed it as a strength rather than a weakness. Doing so made me much more comfortable when going into interviews — one thing that's helped me most with my speech over the years is being open about it.
When I finally did land my first big-girl job here in New York City, I knew I had to work three times as hard as everyone else as not only a Black woman, but as a disabled Black woman. Of course, it is disheartening to know that I had often been viewed as being slightly incompetent solely because of the way I speak. But I've learned that there is very little time (or space) for self-pity when trying to build a career as a disabled person.
I'm grateful for the employers who took chances on me. And I learned a lot from those who did not. As I told the young woman gearing up to graduate college, the only thing to do when job hunting is to keep moving forward, no matter how many doors are slammed in your face.
I've learned that the world is going to open up to people who stutter, we just have to keep trying every door possible.