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Interview with Cassandra Chiu

Cassandra Chiu with Esme (adorable guide dog) photo

Cassandra Chiu is a counsellor, psychotherapist, lecturer, a motivational and inspirational speaker, as well as an advocate for people with disabilities. But this didn’t happen overnight. Born with Stargardt disease, Cassandra lost her sight when she was 8 years old. Today, she relies on Esme, her adorable guide dog, to commute. In fact, she is the first Singaporean woman to use a guide dog!

Read on to find out her experiences with job interviewers, how she overcame challenges and difficult situations, and how employers can help unleash the full potential of PWDs.

Note: Responses below have been edited for brevity.

You faced a lot of challenges during your job interviews. Some companies discounted your work just because you had a disability. What advice would you give to PWDs who are looking for jobs and/or going for their first interview, particularly in terms of preparation, negotiating and managing the entire interview session?

Here are some simple tips that I find helpful to calm my interview nerves

  • Do your homework before the interview! Triple check your resume and make sure your accomplishments and experiences stand out.

  • Find someone else and practise answering common interview questions. Also take the opportunity to build your confidence

  • Be yourself during the interview

  • Show the prospective employer that you can value add to the company

  • Come prepared, especially when you are asked about your disability. Tell them about how your disability will not affect your ability to perform your job scope. You can propose an alternative to measuring your KPI or work performance

Most of all, don’t give up. For myself, I have sent hundreds of resumes and have gone for only a handful of interviews. After that I accepted my first job offer where I was paid below market value and was only tasked to write reports in the office. When I was unable to get my prison pass approved, I decided to leave to venture out and set up my private practice.

There is always a way. If one door closes, we should keep searching, and we’ll find the right door eventually.

What are some steps that PWDs can take to climb back from tricky interview situations? I heard that you had the phone hung up on you once, after you said you have a disability.

Having a supportive network of friends and family definitely helped me. We find ourselves whining from time to time. But what I have found helpful is to keep picking myself up and encourage myself and everyone else to start again. Until we succeed.

What about employers? What do you think they can do for PWDs to help make the interview experience better for them? What should be the first step?

Try conducting more ‘blind interviews’ over the phone or the internet e.g. Skype. This will enable employers to judge the candidates based on their skill sets, not their appearances. Ultimately the interview should be structured in a way to identify the candidate with the skills that the employers are looking for.

For those of us who may not be able to perform regular jobs, we can try seeking interviews with social enterprises. These companies provide the training and the platform for many to ease into the job. My wish is to push for a pool of employers who are inclusive and ready to employ PWD in conventional jobs, educating that PWD are not just employed for ‘special’ jobs. We want everyone to know that PWDs can be a significant and important part of the workforce too.

Workplace modifications or assistive devices are easy ways that companies can implement to enable PWDs to achieve their full potential. But not every office has them. What advice would you give PWDs for them to proactively recommend to their prospective employers?

Show. Don’t just tell. Figure ways to clearly demonstrate to your prospective employers how assistive equipment and/or work place modifications can enable you to perform your job to your fullest; mitigating your disability.

What have you found out about yourself or your capabilities in your career path, where you have gone from interviewing for jobs to setting up your own counselling centre?

There will always be problems. Often times, it is not your fault. But most importantly, you need to remember that there will always be solutions if you look hard enough.

What is a misconception about PWDs you would like to change?

We need to start debunking the myth that PWDs need to be ‘babysat’ at their work place.

Finally – what is that one advice you’d give to your younger self, who has just completed her university education and looking for her first job?

Don’t give in so easily when people around you are discounting your abilities. Your abilities, including your disability, are your biggest assets professionally. Cherish, nurture and hone them!


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