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Is the way you speak keeping you from getting a job?

Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps ...

Use of slang and different accents may be keeping you from landing that job

Ever wonder if how you speak affects your chances of getting a job? Unfortunately, it does. While it’s illegal to discriminate against race or national origin, including accents, the lines are a bit blurred.

But it’s not just foreign accents, it’s also slang, local accents and the new “vocal fry” way of speaking, also known as “frying.” Vocal fry is a pattern of speech mostly seen in young women, but men are not immune to this trend, either. It’s signified by a low, creaking sound of the voice, particularly at the end of sentences. A study conducted in 2011 found that roughly two-thirds of college women have adapted this new way of speaking.

Whether English is your second language and you carry a thick accent or you speak with a Southern twang, communication is a vital part of the hiring process. In fact, according to research by the law firm Peninsular, 80 percent of employers admit to making hiring decisions based on accents.

Types of jobs and accents in the workplace

While thick, foreign accents are harder to understand than local accents, if the job is based on communication with the public — such as a telephone sales job — any type of accent may hinder the applicant’s ability to perform the job. In this case, it is legal not to hire someone even if he or she is otherwise qualified. If the job is not based on customer service, it is illegal to discriminate based on an accent, but that may be hard to prove in court. If you think you have been discriminated against because of an accent, speak with an attorney right away.

Also, certain accents — while not right — do come with certain stereotypes, which can affect an employer’s decision to hire someone. Accents that are viewed as “less educated” include Hispanic, Southern and slang, whereas British, French and Asian accents tend to make people appear more educated. Unfortunately, this way of thinking just doesn’t hold any truth. A Hispanic individual could very well hold a Master’s degree and be significantly more qualified than his or her Caucasian counterpart. The focus should be on what the person is saying, not on how it's being said.

What about vocal fry?

Vocal fry affects hiring decisions greatly, even though most people don’t have any issues with understanding what the person is saying. According to this study, individuals whose voices exhibit vocal fry are typically thought of as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive and, therefore, less hirable.

How to avoid not being hired because of an accent

Though it’s extremely difficult to completely rid yourself of your accent without intense speech therapy, there are things you can do to help minimize it. Whether your accent was “learned” — such as that of vocal fry— or it’s because of your native language, you can help increase your chances of landing that job by:

Focusing on clear communication skills. In other words, speak slowly and concisely. Don’t think you need to get rid of your accent altogether. After all, it’s a part of who you are, and diversity is a good thing. Companies typically like to hire people from all different origins.

Ramon Santillan, founder and chief interview consultant at PersuasiveInterview.com, shares the following:

  • Employers love talking about how big and internationally diverse their payroll is, which is why I tell my clients to own their accent since that will be one more thing that will make them stand out from the candidate pool.
  • An accent can be endearing and maybe even add a dash of excitement to what a candidate brings to the job.
  • The key is to slow down and enunciate. No matter how exotic or cosmopolitan your accent is, if people can't understand you, you won't get hired.

Focusing on your qualifications. If you do have an accent, don’t stress about whether or not it will affect the hiring decision. Focus on everything that makes you qualified and on being friendly instead. The employer should look past your accent and focus on what you’ll bring to the company — both legally and professionally speaking.

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