Does Your Accent Affect Your Job Interview?
You think you are ready for your job interview when you check everything twice. You have your notes in front of you for a phone interview or in case of a face-to-face one, you are there early with your suitable clothes and you are sure that you have the necessary knowledge about the position and company and have the correct answers for those predictable questions. But have you ever thought about your accent may not be ready for your interview? Unfortunately, studies show that there are positions and employers that can affect your chance to be hired regarding your accent.
Job Interviews in Expat World of Accents
If you are reading this article, there is a high chance that English is not your native tongue, or if it is, maybe your English is not considered the mainstream dialect known as “proper”accent-free English. Am I right?
I am an ex-pat living and working abroad, surrounded by other expats from all over the world, away from the countries their native languages are spoken. Take a guess what language connects all of us here? Correct, it’s English. Especially in beautiful Barcelona where Catalan is the second mother tongue and English is almost the third one thanks to the dense tourist and expat population here, even if you speak Spanish you cannot expect the same performance from the other expats or their visitors who you hang out with. Not just in Barcelona but almost in every big city workplace is going international with the effect of a never-ending increase in global movements. So English somehow (of course we all know the story of how) became the common tongue of the expats and in my experience, everyone’s here trying their best to communicate fully. As long as we communicate, who cares about the accents!
However, especially working in a recruitment agency taught me that some clients might have specific expectations regarding the accents of candidates. Let’s take a look at in which cases this is a sign of discrimination or just a necessity for the position.
Accent Discrimination in Job Interviews
As you may already acknowledge, it’s illegal to discriminate against candidates based on their race, ethnicity, or nationality but accents are often not considered as a trait to take into consideration in discrimination in the workplace. However, isn’t it exactly the same when it comes to accent and the prejudices that accents might awake in terms of one’s regional background, class, ethnicity, and even criminality. Do you think an accent can show one’s education, skills, and abilities, criminality, class and more importantly do these traits affect the decision of employment regardless of the applicant’s knowledge and experiences in the field? I’m sure we are all aware of accent discrimination based on the negative answer given to the previous question in our native tongues and which sociocultural discourses produce those negative effects regarding one’s accent. But what about the international accents in English? What kind of conclusions your brain starts to make? If someone has a thick accent, does it show his/her inability to adapt to a new language even though grammatically everything sounds correct?
It is definitely not a myth, but if you still have doubts check Baugh’s study where he made phone calls for apartment advertisements using different English accents (“standard” and “non-standard” accents) as cited in BBC (2017). Can you guess what happened? Of course when he used “standard English” there were more open doors available for him. According to Lippi-Green (2006), there is a standard language ideology which is basically a “bias toward an abstracted, idealized, non-varying spoken language that is imposed and maintained by dominant institutions” but it is also impossible to have a homogenous language standard for everyone and there’s always gonna be a room for discrimination if one holds this ideology.
When Accents Really Matter in Some Job Interviews
Another study conducted by Timming(2017) in the US shows that during phone-based job interviews, there’s a high chance of discriminating specific accents such as Mexican-, Chinese- and Indian-accented English especially in customer-facing jobs while British-accented English male applicants were favoured among all others (surprised?). However, this result also brings up the question of whether customer-related jobs really need native speakers. For Customer Service-related jobs, Markley(2000) says “that position requires excellent communication skills, and someone who could not be understood well would honestly interrupt the flow of business”.
Not everyone who speaks a certain language as their second tongue has total control of that language which is required for customer service representatives. However, if an accent doesn’t really lead to misunderstanding, especially on the phone, it shouldn’t be an excuse for not hiring someone whose execution of a language is at native level regardless of the accent.
What to Do With Our Accents in Job Interviews
All in all, keeping an accent shouldn’t be seen as negativity, especially in the workforce and it is always one’s right to take legal action for an unfair rejection based on an accent if they cannot disprove. Nonetheless, if you think your chances will be higher with a slighter accent in job interviews against employers with an unconscious bias against accents, here are some tips:
Do not focus on hiding your accent if you already speak fluently and it does not affect the pronunciation of the words. Pronouncing the technical job-related words incorrectly can interfere with the process of your work and is definitely undesirable.
In the expat world, we are used to having friends who cannot pronounce our names correctly no matter how hard they try. However, try to pronounce correctly when it comes to your employers, colleagues and future clients especially if your mispronunciation might cause misunderstandings (think all those beautiful names can be turned into unpleasant words to be called by only with one letter change).
Speak slowly and repeat what you want to say if necessary. In most cases speaking grammatically correct is gonna be more important than your pace.
Be confident and if you think the employers have a biased view of your accent make sure they feel ashamed of themselves. Check our offers and let us help you to find a non-discriminative and peaceful working environment.
Lippi-Green, R. (2006) Language Ideology and Language Prejudice. In E. Finegan & J.R. Rickford (Eds.), Language in the USA. 289-304. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Luu, C. (2017) “Does Your Accent Make You Sound Smarter?” Retrieved from:http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170523-does-your-accent-make-you-sound-smarter
Markley, E., D. (2000) “Regional Accent Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Language Attitude” Master Thesis.
Timming, A. R. (2017) “The effect of foreign accent on employability: a study of the aural dimensions of aesthetic labour in customer-facing and non-customer-facing jobs” in Work, Employment and Society. 31 (3), 409-428