The Telephone Interview As Someone Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Joe Strechay, using his iPhone

More and more companies are now conducting job interviews over the phone or via Skype or a similar type of video conferencing. The many reasons for his include the ease and affordability of interviewing somebody remotely, to narrow down a large number of applicants mostly due to the current job market, the ability to have a panel of interviewers from different locations and the availability of technology to make it possible. I have had several phone interviews over the years, so I will provide some suggestions that will hopefully lend to success with your phone interviews.

When you are initially offered a phone interview, you may think great, now I don’t need to put on my suit and tie as they won’t see me. Those were my initial thoughts too, but after my first phone interview, I decided that it makes me feel more professional when dressing up, and therefore I concluded that I would likely perform better on the interview if I were dressed professionally. If it is a video call such as Skype or FaceTime, this is absolutely essential.

When offered an interview, generally the employer will contact you, set up a time and ask for a good number at which they can contact you. If at all possible, I suggest using a landline. If not, you want to make sure that you are at a location where you have good phone reception. You also want a quiet place with no kids or roommates running in and out, and you want a clean area to sit, such as a desk or work table. You want this area to be free of clutter and distractions. I generally keep it very simple with a clean area, something to take notes with and a glass of water, as I find my throat may get dry from talking a lot. You want to make sure you speak slowly and project your voice. I always use the headphones for my phone, as it is easier for me to hear the interviewers, and it frees my hands for taking notes. I also tend to have some notes that I’ve put together prior to the interview, such as questions I’d like to ask them, notes on the company or peoples’ names. I find this to be very helpful if I get nervous and suddenly forget a question I wanted to ask them or forget somebody’s name. If the phone interview is being conducted by a panel of interviewers, which most are, I find it is often more difficult to know who is talking. At an in-person interview, they generally begin by going around the table introducing themselves. This makes it easier to know who is talking, as you can hear where their voice is coming from. So with a phone interview, you may want to ask for clarification of who is talking so you can address them by name. After introductions, they often start out by saying we have x amount of questions, and you will have so much time to answer them, usually 30 minutes. For this reason, I like to wear my braille watch so that I can inconspicuously check the time. You don’t want to give answers that are too short, but you also don’t want to ramble on endlessly. There is a fine line between giving short, precise answers and allowing some of your personality to shine through and not saying too much.

As with all interviews, it is important to remain calm and focused and to express enthusiasm about the job you are interviewing for. With most people, including myself, you may have some degree of nervousness. Even if it is not a video interview, you still want to focus on not tapping your foot or your fingers on the table and focus on speaking clearly and not too fast and try not to fidget. I find that being prepared for the interview is my best defense against nervousness. Just like school days, this means doing my homework and getting a good night’s rest. Your homework should include researching the company you are interviewing for, including the people who are interviewing you if possible. You should also review the job description and know how to talk about your skills and abilities relating to every aspect of that job description. You also want to make a list of questions you’d like to ask them. Generally interviewers will allow five minutes or so at the end of the interview for you to ask questions of them, but sometimes I find I like to ask them a question or two during the interview to help me answer a specific question.

Disclosure: Whether or not you choose to disclose your disability is something that people have widely varying opinions on, and it is certainly a topic worthy of its own blog article. Although I know people who have been offered jobs following phone interviews, they often are the gateway to an in-person interview. So my suspicious mind says that if you think that disclosing your disability is going to exclude you from a second interview, then you may not want to disclose. On the other hand, employers don’t like surprises either. The last couple of phone interviews I had, I chose to disclose and was invited for in-person interviews. In both cases, at least one member of the panel knew me, so it felt better to expose the white elephant. Just make sure that when you disclose though, you address your adaptability and how you can perform the skills of the job. I once was on an interview panel, and the applicant, who was blind, asked if he could have a phone interview as it was difficult for him to get to the interview site. I would not recommend this, as if you can’t get to the interview, then the employer is going to wonder how you will get to work. If it is a long distance than it is definitely acceptable to ask for a phone interview if not offered one, but use the distance, not your blindness as the reason for it.

I hope my suggestions are helpful for your next phone interview. I also hope you do well and are offered an in-person interview, or better yet, are offered the job in question.