As your students prepare for the world of work, there are many components that contribute to their ability to secure and maintain a job. Succeeding in a job interview is one of the most crucial parts of the job search process, and can make or break an individual’s chance to get hired. Interviews can be challenging and anxiety-provoking for anyone, but for people who are blind or visually impaired, succeeding in an interview can be especially difficult. Interviews require an awareness of professionalism and social cues that are often only perceived visually (i.e. business attire, posture and eye contact). Furthermore, interviews are often the setting where the employer learns about the applicant’s vision impairment for the first time, which can add discomfort to the mix for both parties.
Just because interviews are difficult doesn’t mean they aren’t doable. On the contrary, an interview can be a fantastic opportunity for a job applicant with a vision impairment to shine. The key is to have some strong interview skills.
There are a number of things that teachers can do to help students build up great interview skills to carry with them. Here are a few strategies that are sure to help your student be well-prepared:
1. Teach about interview attire and other Visual Expectations.
First impressions can be lasting impressions, and first impressions are often made within only the first few seconds of a meeting. This means that things like attire, hygiene, and posture are some of the first things that an employer will notice. Since these things are generally perceived and understood visually, it may take some special attention to teach your student how to present well visually for an interview. Hands-on lessons are a great way to teach these skills. To teach about professional interview attire, for instance, try letting your student feel different types of clothing and shoes (button down shirts vs. T-shirts, dress pants vs. jeans). With female students, try showing them different kinds of shoes. Some heeled shoes, for example, are great for an interview, while others are more appropriate for wearing out dancing. Talk about color patterns and make sure your student has a way that he or she can identify colors. Allow your student to understand what a well-pressed shirt looks like, how to use a lint brush, etc. It is often not enough to say “dress professionally” or “stand up straight.” Making it hand-on also makes it meaningful.
2. Talk through a job description.
In doing interview practice, it can be helpful to look into the specific job duties that go along with a position. Have your student pull up a job description for a job she is interested in. then, look at the job description together. Talk through each of the duties, making sure your student understands what they entail, and then discuss what if any accommodations the student might need to perform those duties. If a job requires filing paperwork, talk with her about what that means, and how she will do it. Will she use a handheld magnifier to read paperwork? Will she need a tactile labeling system in the filing cabinet? This helps to make the job search more realistic and concrete, but also is great preparation for an interview. Understanding specific job duties, as well as the compensatory skills and/or accommodations that she can use to accomplish job tasks will allow her to communicate confidently with the employer about her disability-related needs.
3. Practice, practice, practice!
Role playing is a technique that sometimes goes by the wayside because it makes people uncomfortable. But when it comes to helping a student build interview skills, role playing can be one of the best ways to do it. Try setting up a mock interview situation for your student. You can make it simple and just do a few interview questions, or go all out and prepare a mock interview from start to finish, even asking the student to dress as if he is going to a real interview. Evaluating everything from posture to handshake to the way he answers questions can help give him an idea of the expectations the employer will have for him. Practicing answers to interview questions can be a great way for a student to learn what type of response to give, how much information to share, and what to do with an especially hard or unexpected question. Mock interview practice can also be a great way for a student to come up with ways to talk about his disability. The interview is sometimes the first time that the employer learns of an applicant’s disability, so mastering away to talk about a vision impairment ahead of time can help the student to communicate that information confidently to a potential employer when the time comes.
If you have access to a sound or video recorder, you can record the practice interview so that your student can critique himself. When the interview is done, talk about what went well and what didn’t. Point out some areas for growth, and be sure to emphasize some of the most positive components. This practice will be invaluable preparation for your student when it comes time for him to do the real thing.
Interviews can be a challenging part of the job search process for everyone, but using these 3 strategies with your students who are blind or visually impaired can help them be well-prepared, confident, and able to stand out with excellence.