Interviewing

Interviewing is a potential minefield. Every law student (hell, pretty much everyone) suffers through this ordeal. In fact, one of my friends compared interviewing to prostitution.  That might be going a bit far, but interviewing can feel a lot like prostitution. Law students have to face a host of questions before they enter the interviewing room: what to wear (this is especially true for women), how to spin your resume, how to sell yourself and of course, how to avoid coming off as a jackass. Deaf folks like me, there are more questions than answers. How much should I talk about my deafness? Should I use an interpreter? How do I know when a question crosses the line? Well, I don’t have all of the answers today, but these questions are worth thinking about.         

To me, my deafness is part and parcel of my being, so I have no problem talking about it. To be honest, if my deafness fazes certain law firms, I don’t want to work there. However, let’s see how long my cavalier attitude holds up after the fall recruiting season. In fact, my deafness is a large reason why I decided to enter the legal profession. I usually mention this when the inevitable question comes, “So, why did you decide to go to law school?” However, this is usually as far as the issue goes because most interviewers do not want to address the pink elephant in the room and they change the subject. Why do they do this? I suspect it is the fear of violating employment laws.          

In a way, I feel that banning questions about disability is counterproductive. In reality, only direct questions about one’s disability are “illegal,” such as “how much hearing loss do you have?” and questions along that vein. Most employers think any questions about disabilities are illegal. The fuzzy definition of “illegal” questions about one’s disability usually results in the interviewer remaining silent on the subject. Some people might think that it’s great that the interviewer does not address the question of disability and that ensures an “even playing field.” Unfortunately, I don’t think this is true. Ignorance is usually the root of discrimination and keeping the topic of disability off-limits breeds ignorance. People naturally fear what they do not know. To tell the truth, I can’t blame them. It’s a natural urge to retreat into familiar waters, i.e. dealing non-disabled persons.             

My most successful interview was when the interviewer asked me how I communicated in a work atmosphere. To me, that’s a perfectly legitimate question because a large percentage of hearing people still have no idea how d/Deaf people function. It’s a sad commentary on society, but it is reality. Information is the only way to change mistaken perceptions. I told my interviewers how technology has vastly improved the ability of d/Deaf persons to participate in workplaces. Law is a profession that is conducted via writing. Emails have virtually replaced telephone conversations. Phone conversations can still be conducted via relay. I could go on but I won’t. He smiled at me and I got a job offer the next day. Since my interviewer obviously had no idea how I would function in a professional atmosphere, which makes me wonder how many of my other interviewers had the same attitude. That thought scares me more than the thought of being asked inappropriate questions.   

If the interviewer does not address the pink elephant, it becomes a catch-22 for me. If i avoid the issue myself, the interviewer might walk away with his or her mistaken preconceptions firmly in place. However, if I press the issue, I come off as pushy and overtly ‘disability-oriented.’ I do not want to guilt someone into giving me a callback or a job offer (which would rarely happen anyways).  I lose either way. My most successful interviews, the interviews where I got a job offer afterwards, has been the ones where the interviewers asked me about my disability and how it affects my ability to do the job. These questions might be on shaky ground with the EEOC, but the results are undeniable.    

Information is power, not something that people should afraid of.  I’m not endorsing the abolishment of EEOC rules, instead, I am proposing a clarification of guidelines regarding ‘illegal’ questions. I’m in favor for a loose rein on questions about disability, but that’s just me.

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3 responses to “Interviewing

  1. It’s best to take the tail of the pink elephant and swing the entire thing out of the room! 🙂

    In other words, you can bring it up yourself, but coach your comments in a ‘can-do’ context. Show how you can do the work, in spite of your hearing loss. Don’t talk up about how hearing loss prevents you from doing certain parts of the job. Just tell them you can do the job, all parts of it, but just in differing means. (i.e., im’s, emails, relay services, interpreters…)

  2. Hey there. I just stumbled on your blog, and I gotta hand it to you, you kick butt!

    And I sympathize with you completely about the interviewing difficulties–I had plenty myself for multiple reasons when I went through the process a few years back as a Penn 2L.

    I’m not actually “Deaf” per se, but merely significantly HOH. Thank God I lost most of my hearing postlingually, so people generally don’t realize I’m HOH at all unless they actually see my aids. So at least communication and unspoken EEOC tensions are not an issue on that front.

    However, I’m also an openly Orthodox Jew. I wear my Yarmulke all the time. Granted I shave and I’m willing to wear suits and shirts that aren’t simply black and white, and my black hat stays out of sight except on Shabbos. Nonetheless, all interviewers see the thing on my head.

    That and I’m on the short side, had a nine year gap between college and law school (four of which were spent studying full-time in Jerusalem Yeshivas, an activity which most law school interviewers simply cannot comprehend beyond the most superficial of levels), and have always been a nervous and somewhat stilted interview. To top it all, I had absolutely no concept whatsoever of what modern legal practice was really like entering Penn, and I didn’t begin to learn until I’d had a chance to listen to enough interviewers talk about what they did. Meanwhile, I blew a bunch of interviews in the learning process.

    I think my obvious religiosity was much more of a block than my hearing loss, and I dealt with it by assuring my interviewers that I was ready, able, and more than willing to work my tail off the way biglaw firms expect out of their associates. (It may be Egyptian slavery redux, but it sure pays well!). At any rate, we all have our challenges, and I doubt mine are that spectacular. Having taken employment law and looked at the way discrimination claims and their associated statutory and regulatory structures work on a broad level, I symphathize with your take on “EEOC rules.” Not all questions are inherently bad, and context ultimately is everything. (As much as Justice Scalia loves his bright line rules, we have judges for a reason. 🙂 )

    (As an aside, the nine-year gap in my secular education took me by surprise in a number of ways, the most significant of which was that I had simply been unaware of how much my hearing and listening abilities had deteriorated in the interim. Granted, I used a notetaking service which was sometimes but not always helpful. However, had I known when I entered law school what I know now about other assistive technologies, I would definitely have gotten FM receivers for my aids and flogged them for everything they were worth. I think I lost a lot during Socratizations and class discussions in big and echoey rooms, and I don’t think I really allowed myself to come to terms with this. From what I can tell from your earlier posts, you knew precisely what you needed and had no problem whatsoever asking for and getting it. Good for you!)

    At any rate, good luck. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

    – Jon

  3. You have the right idea. Yes, there can be gray area in terms of interview questions that skirt EEOC rules, but I think it’s especially important for d/Deaf candidates to address the issue of communication. Most hearing people will have zero idea of what it took for you to get to where you are (i.e. that you’re already in the top 1% of d/Deaf students in the country, if not the world), and won’t realize that you’re just as capable (if not more so) as hearing applicants if you don’t tell them HOW you’ll do it. What can we say? Sometimes, even bright people need help connecting the dots. So if you continue to frame your answers to their questions in terms of your abilities and how you’ll be up to the various challenges of the job, those offers should keep rolling in. The fact that you also have a realistic, no-chip-on-the-shoulder approach to the process is good. Realizing that you need/will ask for accommodations, but not making it the sole focus of your interviews and not going in with the “I’m Deaf and you WILL give me…(fill in the blank here)” will help to make potential employers aware without being off-putting. Good luck and keep us posted!

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