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Do accents really matter in a job interview?

24 / 04 / 2017
Do accents really matter in a job interview? The UK is well known for having wild variance in accents and dialects in spite of the country's relatively small size. It is not uncommon for English-speaking foreigners to find regional accents difficult to understand; in fact, even UK nationals can struggle to decipher some of the more impenetrable pronunciations!

But are there other disadvantages to having an accent besides the occasional incomprehensible conversation? Well, research has indicated that possessing a strong accent could hamper your job prospects. 

A study from law firm Peninsular showed that 80 per cent of employers had discriminated against a candidate because of their accent. People with a Birmingham twang were the worst hit, although Liverpudlians, Geordies, Glaswegians and cockneys may also face challenges.

A 2013 ITV poll found that 28 per cent of Britons feel they have suffered discrimination because of their accent, although not necessarily during the recruitment process. 

Accents in finance and banking

In the finance world, more than four fifths of senior figures believe the way in which employees from disadvantaged backgrounds present themselves in an interview could prevent them from securing a job. 

While the Sutton Trust and Deutsche Bank figures are hardly surprising - interview presentation is always key - one of the factors included under presentation was accent.

Meanwhile, 62 per cent claimed interviewees from disadvantaged backgrounds might struggle to fit in with the cultural environment. 

"Finance and banking offer rewarding careers for talented young people," said Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust. "However, today's research shows that it is very difficult for young people from low- and middle-income backgrounds to access them."

The results echoed a similar survey from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. The report showed accents may still hamper people's job progression, although discrimination is much less common in the City now than in the past. 

Should you hide your accent?

It is unsurprising, given the evidence, that six per cent of Brits have tried to tone down their native patter at some point in their life, whether it's to impress on a date or sound more sophisticated in an interview. 

The poll, from artificial grass firm Trulawn, showed that 16 per cent of Brummies had softened their accent, compared with just two per cent of Scots. Overall, eight per cent of people in the country have tried to sound more posh. 

But is this the right approach to take for interviews? According to National Careers Service adviser Francesca Turner, people shouldn't feel like they need to ditch their accent, but they might want to fine-tune the language they use. 

"It's pretty difficult to hide your accent," she told the Guardian. "Some might say why should you? After all it's part of you. What you might want to be aware of is speaking 'properly' and avoiding regional slang."

Senior career adviser for the University of Bristol Brian Staines agreed, adding that he would never suggest altering an accent and hadn't recommended it in the past. So do candidates have other options?

Can candidates avoid accent discrimination? 

An alternative approach to softening an accent may be to tackle the underlying assumptions people may have about a regional twang. 

Professor Laura Huang, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said some employers believe people with accents may have fewer political skills. 

In other words, businesses may fear that candidates will struggle to influence others and effectively manage a team. 

Talking to the Financial Times in November, she said: "There are a lot of implicit things that a person with an accent can do that help make the accent an asset.

"Humour, having high emotional intelligence, being able to improvise. That all helps."

Ultimately, most experts advised against hiding an accent, claiming that it's a key component of your identity and intrinsically difficult to convincingly conceal over the long term.

Our 2017 Market Reports combine our review of the prevailing conditions in the corporate governance recruitment market together with the results of our latest employer survey.

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