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Dyslexia and interviews: 5 tips that changed the way I approach them for the better

Monday 18 January 2021

As the symptoms of dyslexia will worsen for many under interview stress, it may be useful to have a plan with a few techniques to utilise and aid your memory to help structure your answers.

After being rejected from Oxford after interviews in 2019, I have learnt very clearly where I let myself down at interviews and the things I can do to help strengthen the way I approach them. After having worked on the techniques outlined below, sitting the interviews for my Oxford reapplication a month ago was overall a much more positive experience, as was sitting the interviews for my current job.

These tips are based on personal experience and the feedback I have had from interviewers. They, therefore, may not work for everybody, but if you are looking for a place to start to minimise the effects the anxiety/dyslexia combination has on your interview performance, then look no further. I hope you find something useful!

Two ladies sitting in front of a laptop having a conversation

1. Don't be scared to ask for a question to be repeated and write the question down if given the time to do so.

For a lot of people with dyslexia, remembering information under pressure can be difficult and, because of this, I cannot stress enough how useful writing thoughts and questions down in interviews can be. Unfortunately, sometimes candidates are not given the time or opportunity to do so. In this case, simply asking to hear the question again can be really helpful; it not only refreshes your memory but it also gives you more time to think about your answer and a chance to make your existing thoughts more relevant to the question.

Asking for a question to be repeated in an interview may seem like a daunting prospect but a well thought through answer gained from having a good understanding of the question is far better than not giving an answer that properly fits the question. The company/university has called you for an interview for a reason - they want you to do yourself justice too!

If you are given the opportunity to write down the question, your thoughts on the question or any questions you may have, it is useful to do so, particularly if you are given pre-reading to discuss in the interview. It can give you an opportunity to express your thoughts clearly while under less time pressure, and having good pre-reading notes may help calm your nerves going into the interview!

2. Voice the obvious answer first.

Though this may seem like a clear point for some, it took me a lot of practice to even start being able to do this! For some people with dyslexia, organising and prioritising information can be harder than for people who do not have the learning difficulty.

Before my Oxford interviews last December, I made some effort to practice voicing the most obvious answer first and addressing more abstract answers later, even though that may not be the order thoughts generally come to me. Dedicating an extra few seconds to ordering your thoughts can be useful and, following that, I found that voicing the obvious first and then addressing more abstract answers with a phrase, such as, “another interpretation could be…” can help add more structure to the answers.

I am aware that it can be hard to think in this way under interview stress; trust me when I say I was unable to do this in many of the questions asked at Oxford interviews last year due to nerves! But, as with everything, the more practice you have the easier I believe it will get. Therefore, if you struggle with prioritising information as I do, asking a friend or family member to give you mock interviews and to prompt you to stick to the question and voice the obvious first can be very useful.

3. If you feel it would be beneficial, ask for a few more seconds to think.

If more time is needed to consider the question or structure your answer then make sure to take it or ask for it if you feel under time pressure. If you have been invited to interview for a job or a university place, the institution is interested in you and will want to know what you have to say.

Feeling like you have done your best is important and for many people with dyslexia that involves having extra time, whether that be having a percentage of the entire interview time added onto the end as arranged before the interview or just letting the interviewer know you may need a few more seconds to think about the questions during the interview. More of that on the next point!

4. Consider telling HR/admissions of your disability and what access arrangements you need.

I am aware that many, like myself, worry about discrimination when considering telling a prospective company or university about dyslexia. However, I have learnt to think that if an interviewer is not willing to make the arrangements needed to put you on an even playing field then the institution they represent simply is not worth your time or effort. If this is the case, I would look to apply to a different institution who will value you as you deserve to be. However, most interviewers would be more than happy to make the adjustments needed to help you flourish during the interview.

The benefits of telling an interviewer about your dyslexia can include arranging extra-time for answering questions in the interview, arranging extra-time for pre-reading and being permitted to take notes during the interview. It may also give you a chance to talk about the unique strengths dyslexia has given you like resilience or creativity! You may be asked to submit diagnostic paperwork to make arrangements such as extra time, so, during your job hunt or UCAS application, make sure to have that to hand.

It may also be useful to look through the company or university’s ethos to see if they push equality and inclusivity as a priority. Particularly in my most recent experience job hunting, the vast majority of companies who do this really do make an effort to make you feel accommodated for during interviews. I am currently working for a company that has a core set of values including equality and both the interview and working for them has been a very positive experience.

5. Look through the job/course description carefully and think of possible interview questions they might ask you.

The job/course description can provide lots of useful hints as to what you may be asked in the interview. For example, if the job description mentions that you’ll have to perform a certain task they may ask you if you have had experience working on it in the past. Similarly, if a university course description mentions you’ll be covering a specific topic, have you studied that topic in the past? If so, what did you learn from it and have you been involved in any super-curricular activities related to it?

This can be a really good way to prepare for your interview and to therefore calm your nerves beforehand. Though, at the same time as this, try not to expect any specific question as it may throw you off if you are not asked it. Keeping an open mind, being confident in the knowledge of your subject/profession and being prepared to answer as wide a range of questions as possible will likely be of most use.

If you find that some of these techniques are hard to use under the stress of the interview, particularly the ones involving organising thoughts, be kind to yourself and know that it takes time and practice. My interview technique is nowhere near perfect yet, but with every interview that comes, I try to learn and improve.

Good luck with that upcoming interview!