We are lucky to have the opportunity to interview Miss Elis Tan on her corporate journey. Elis is a Tax Partner specializing in transfer pricing at BDO Singapore, an accounting and professional services firm. She is also the mother of two lovely girls. After contracting meningitis at 7 years old, Elis had nerve damage to the left side of her body, which impaired the use of her left hand as well as her speech.
Note: Responses have been edited for brevity.
Have you encountered challenges when you were interviewing for jobs?
Yes, during my interview for a junior consultant role, a senior Partner told me that I should not be going into the professional services sector because clients would have difficulty understanding my speech. On hindsight, I believe that he was deliberately being tough in order to test me. While his comment did shake me up at that time, I was careful not to show it.
What advice would you give to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) preparing for their job interviews?
My advice for PWDs going for interviews would be:
1. Do not let your disabilities define you.
Focus on your strengths and sell those. Prepare a list, including specific examples, to show the interviewer how you can add value to the organization.
2. Be quietly confident.
Do not be too eager to convince the interviewer that you can do a job and risk over-selling yourself. The key is to understand the job requirements, self-assess where the gaps are and articulate to the interviewer how you intend to fill those gaps.
Proactively suggesting solutions helps. In my case, I told the senior Partner that I would enhance my communication with clients through more face-to-face interactions (versus phone calls) so that clients would get to know me personally and thus, understand me better.
What do you think employers can do for PWDs to help make the interview experience better? What would you suggest should be the first step?
Employers should focus on what PWDs can do and how they can contribute, rather than their limitations. Ask the applicant the same questions that you would anyone else. It would also help to explain your workplace’s inclusive culture and ensure that interview questions address the inherent job requirements, without discrimination.
How should PWDs navigate tricky interview situations?
Whatever happens, keep your cool! Take the opportunity to provide your interviewer with information that could change his perception about your disability. If you have examples that disprove the stated concern, discuss them briefly and specifically to the job description, if possible.
Are there any other resources you hope can be provided during interviews?
For some PWDs, an interview may not be the best way to fairly evaluate their abilities. In those instances, we should consider adjustments such as a work trial or allowing a support person to accompany the candidate during the interview.
What is a misconception about PWDs you would like to change?
We need to stop placing PWDs only in jobs where we are 100% sure they will not fail. Everyone should have equal opportunities. The right to fail is as important as the right to succeed. Do not hold back a PWD from a position or promotion because you think that there is a possibility they may fail. We need to let people take on bigger challenges so that they step up, face tasks that scare them and experience the thrill of achieving something they didn’t think they were capable of. Growth is important. They might fail at first, but that is okay.
What have you discovered about yourself in your career?
Resilience is key. Having a disability means I have to advocate for myself daily. I have to plan ahead and be prepared for any situation. It also means I have to work harder than my peers to present a sales pitch and win a client. Sometimes I do not win; I have some ice cream to cheer myself up and then I start over.
Finally, what is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Do not worry so much. For every job opening, there are many applicants and only person will get the job. While it might be more complicated for PWDs to secure employment, it does not mean that employers cannot see your strengths. Do not take it personally if you do not get the job but try to learn from it. Never give up.
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