Interviewers judge new employees' social status based on accent
Study finds that potential employers can accurately judge an interviewee’s socioeconomic status after hearing them say just 7 words.
When preparing for a job interview, you might want to think about changing the way you speak. Potential employers can accurately judge an interviewee’s socioeconomic status after hearing them say just 7 words, researchers have found. This can affect their perception of the interviewee and even lead to them offering a higher starting salary to those deemed higher in social class.
To discern if predictions of social class were accurate, researchers at Yale University reviewed four separate studies. American participants listened to a few seconds of speech and were asked to assess the individual’s socioeconomic status. It was found that they only needed to hear 7 words pronounced by the speaker to accurately determine their class.
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The way words are pronounced and in what accent, the researchers found, gave an audible clue as to a person’s education, childhood and occupation status.
The researchers then examined how this judgment of social class impacted not just whether an individual is hired for a role, but their wage, hiring bonus and perceived qualifications.
20 prospective employees for an entry-level position at Yale University were asked to provide a short recording of them talking about themselves. This was then given to 274 individuals who had previous hiring experience, who were asked to comment on each candidate’s social status, professional qualities and the starting salary they would offer the candidate.
“Our study shows that even during the briefest interactions, a person's speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job,” said Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the Yale School of Management.
“While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate's social class matters, in reality, the socioeconomic position of an applicant or their parents is being assessed within the first seconds they speak - a circumstance that limits economic mobility and perpetuates inequality.”
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Reader Q&A: Can you ‘catch’ an accent from someone?Asked by: Simon Thompson, Liverpool
If you spend enough time with them, it’s almost inevitable. Studies have found that we subconsciously try to imitate speech patterns of strangers, especially if we spend time abroad, where everyone speaks with a strange accent and we are the odd one out. Natural selection seems to have favoured people who have a desire to show empathy and fit in.
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.