What do you think about on your way to a job interview?
Some people think about the questions they will ask the interviewer, will they be impressed?
Others will think about the questions that will be put to them, will they know the answers?
Lots of people will be worrying about what they are wearing, will they look the part?
Those with a visible difference are probably thinking, will my difference be an issue? Will they ask me about it? Will they still consider me?
In the UK, we are lucky enough to have laws around equality, in particular, those that cover the recruitment processes and employment. Therefore, you may be asking, why is it still necessary to have Employability Day? In fact, the leading UK charity, Changing Faces, have been campaigning for equality for those with a visible difference for over 20 years. Their recent report, Disfigurement in the UK, demonstrates the ongoing employment issues that those with a visible difference experience every day.
One of the respondents to the survey commented, 'I was compared to another female colleague - a friend of mine - we were called 'the beauty and the beast.' Further to this, almost 80% of the respondents said they had avoided applying for a job because of potential reactions at the interview or from new colleagues.
Going back my earlier thought-stream question, will my visible difference be mentioned during the interview, 56% of respondents to the survey said that it had been, 83% of the time by the interviewer. One of the most distressing comments left by a respondent was, 'I was asked if my condition could get into the water supply.' An even more traumatic experience happened to another respondent, 'I was told that the interview was cancelled with immediate effect because of my appearance. If they'd known before, they wouldn't even have invited me for interview.' I am sure some of you reading this will be absolutely shocked by these findings and comments. Even as someone who has a facial disfigurement, I was! I have been lucky in that only once has my birthmark been mentioned in an interview. The interviewer generally had a very positive attitude but to someone, like that person in my thought-stream above, this could have really have dented their confidence for the rest of the interview. This report demonstrates the reason that we need Employability Day and the work of Changing Faces. Not all those that have a visible difference need support into employment. Nevertheless, those support services should be ready to meet those needs.
My advice to interviewers - probably safer not to mention someone's visible difference unless they initiate the conversation. During my interviews, this sometimes comes out when I talk about the volunteering and media work I do for Changing Faces. Smile and make them feel comfortable by making regular eye contact, just as you would do with anyone else.
My advice to the interviewee - fake it until you make it! Even if you do not feel confident yet, fake it. I have said this before, sometimes you have to be the person to put the interviewer at ease. This can be done by smiling, making small talk, how your journey was to get there, how the weather was, how long have they worked there, etc. Automatically that person is now thinking of those answers instead of your visible difference.
It is not all doom and gloom. At the interview stage, it is normal practice to take pictures of the candidates to help the interviewer(s) remember who each candidate was. Candidates often comment on being either first or last to be interviewed, as it may help them be more memorable. I never have to worry about that. People always remember me; I would hope this is also because of my great answers, professionalism and positive attitude of course! But once you meet me, you cannot forget me!