Preparing for a job interview if you have a visible difference

If you have a visible difference, you may worry that your appearance could affect your job interview. Here are some ways you can prepare.

Just thinking about going to a job interview makes many people nervous! If you have a visible difference or disfigurement, you may feel even more anxious, worrying about how people might judge the way you look.

Being nervous can make it more difficult to focus on the interview itself, which can leave you under-prepared and affect how well you do on the day.

Some simple techniques can help you prepare for your interview, manage anxieties you have about your appearance and stay focused on the day.

Preparing for a job interview

Being well-prepared will help you feel more confident on the day and may lessen anxieties about your visible difference or disfigurement:

  • Look at the person specification and the job description.
  • Look back at your application, CV or letter to remind yourself how you fit the job description and person specification. Remember that your expertise has got you an interview.
  • Note down the key responsibilities of the role and evidence of how you fit them. Think of examples you can use to demonstrate your competency in each area of responsibility.
  • Read up on the organisation you are applying to work for and be prepared to show your knowledge.

Think about how you might respond to these common questions and note down your answers:

  • Why do you want to work for the organisation?
  • What is it about the job that appeals to you?
  • What skills would you bring to the role?
  • Give an example of a challenging situation you have managed.
  • What are your strong points? Or your weaker points?

If you’re not sure what questions you might be asked, ask a friend or family member who might have more experience, look on the internet or ask your recruitment consultant. Practise at home with someone you feel comfortable with.

Think about responding in the context of the role and the employer. What specific details would they want to hear about you to decide you were the person for the job?

Providing evidence

Alongside your answers above, prepare examples as supporting evidence of your skills and previous experience. For example, you could be asked, “What is your experience of dealing with customers on the phone?”

You might reply, “I have several years of experience of speaking to customers on the phone and feel confident doing this. When I was at employer X, I spent a few hours each day responding to customer queries. To resolve their enquiries, I would…”

Managing anxieties about your appearance

An interview is designed to determine who the best candidate is based on their skills, qualifications and attributes. Your appearance does not have any bearing on your ability to do the job and should not have any bearing on the interview or the decision made. Under the Equality Act 2010, interviewers cannot ask about your appearance or general health in an interview. To do so is discrimination.

If you feel anxious about your appearance and how this will be perceived by interviewers, here are some tips for managing these concerns. Think about them in advance as part of preparing for a job interview.

  • Decide if you are going to mention your condition, mark or scar. The interviewer should not mention your visible difference. However, you can of course mention it yourself if you feel this would be helpful to you.
  • Have a planned response. The fact that it is illegal does not mean it will not come up. Some people are ignorant of the law and just plain insensitive. Having a planned response in case it does come up can help to remove some of the anxiety you are experiencing.
  • You might feel that you want to tell an interviewer about your appearance prior to the interview. In this case, think about the wording you want to use and how you will describe yourself.
  • Wear something that makes you feel good and confident.
  • Focus on your skills and abilities. This is what the interviewers will ask you about.
  • Focus on the present situation. If you have had previous negative experiences at interviews, this might make you feel more anxious. Remember, this is a different group of people, who have different ideas, thoughts and beliefs.
  • Take the pressure off yourself. Yes, you might want or need this job, but see the interview as practice – it is also an opportunity for you to decide if you want to work there. Do you want to work with people who are uncaring about other people’s feelings?
  • Interviewers come in all shapes and sizes. You might be worried about your appearance, but the interviewers may have their own worries about the interview too. You have an interview because your application was strong, so the interviewer will want to impress you too.
  • Try some breathing or relaxation exercises. This will help you manage any pre-interview jitters.

What to do if the interviewer mentions your appearance

If an interviewer does ask you about your appearance, contrary to the law, you can respond in a number of ways. You should try to do so politely in a way that doesn’t detract from the positive vibe of the interview:

  • Answer the question if you are comfortable doing so but remember you are not legally required to.
  • Politely make the interviewer aware that this is not a question they can ask under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Tell the interviewer that is not relevant.

The way you choose to respond may reflect the manner in which the interviewer raised the topic. You may decide privately that this is not an employer you feel comfortable working for, regardless of the outcome of the interview.

Talking about your appearance

If you do decide that you will bring up your appearance in the interview, it will really help if you practise what you want to say beforehand as part of the process of preparing for a job interview. This way, you will sound fluent and appear at ease. You should make sure the interviewer knows:

  • You are bringing it up for their benefit, in case they are curious to know.
  • It does not have a bearing on your ability to do the job.

There may be different opportunities to mention it. At the start of the interview or early on you might say something like, “I’m sure you’ve noticed my appearance. It can be a little distracting for people and I know that it often helps if I give a quick explanation. I had an accident which caused some scarring. It doesn’t affect me day-to-day and becomes less noticeable after a short while.”

Alternatively, you could talk about it as part of your response to a question, incorporating it into your answers and turning it into a positive reason to hire you.  For example, if the interviewer asks you to give an example of how you have coped with an awkward situation or impressed a client, you could say something like:

  • “As you can see, I have birthmark. I am very used to putting people at ease. When I worked at…”
  • “One of the advantages of having an unusual face is that clients remember me”.

It is best not to mention your scar, mark or condition at the end of the interview. It should not sound like an afterthought or an apology. If the interview has gone well without the need to raise it, there is no need to mention it at all.

What to do if the interview is going badly and you suspect it is because of your appearance

It can often be obvious when an interviewer is distracted by your visible difference. Signs might include staring the area affected by your condition, mark or scar, not making any eye contact, not responding to what you are saying, or rushing to end the conversation.

You can handle this in a couple of ways:

Take control of the situation

Describe what you see, saying, “I can see that you are having trouble meeting my eye and I’m not sure if you are hearing what I am saying. Is everything OK?” or, “I have noticed you are a bit preoccupied by my appearance and it is quite distracting when I’m answering your questions”.

This is not easy and requires a lot of confidence. However, these types of statements send a strong message that you are aware of what is going on while also giving the interviewer a chance to turn the situation around. Whatever the outcome, you will feel better for having taken control.

Reconsider whether you want to work there

You might choose to say nothing during the interview, but decide you would rather not work for an organisation whose representatives struggle to hold a conversation with someone who looks different.

Contact human resources or your recruitment agency

You can say nothing during the interview, but still raise it afterwards by emailing the HR manager or speaking with your recruitment agency. You can point out that it seemed as if your appearance was a distraction and that under the Equality Act 2010 you felt discriminated against. Regardless of your application, it is important that employers understand and obey the law. They must work to ensure a tolerant, welcoming and inclusive culture in their organisations.

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