Did you know that 80% of employers admit to discriminating in job interviews based on accent alone? There is a time-old belief with recruiters that there is a correlation between accent and ability to fulfil a role. According to articles from BBC Capital and The Guardian, even local UK dialects are discriminated against.

I have been astounded by the amount of information on this topic. And, speaking from personal experience (I’m a Canadian living in London for over 20 years), I have been corrected more times than I care to mention on the pronunciation of particular words or phrases, even though my mother tongue is English! Despite my efforts, I’m still considered to have an American accent, and with that comes certain assumptions from people (even I cannot tell the difference between American and Canadian accents sometimes!). Whether you are a native- or non-native English speaker, your accent can play a vital role in how you are perceived.

Recently, some of my clients have asked if having an accent makes a difference in job search.

Having an accent and speaking multiple languages can sometimes be an asset and an advantage in the hiring process. If you are interacting with customers on a daily basis then naturally you would assume you need to be coherent and understood by them. However, in more ‘back office’ roles, it is not as essential as long as you can interact with team members and managers and do the job well. Being able to read and write as the job requires is essential.

Dianne Marley, Professor at the University of North Texas, whose graduate research focused on how accents impact the hiring process, found an incredibly strong statistical correlation between judging someone as cultured, intelligent, competent, etc., and placing them into prestigious jobs, based on the readily identified accent. Also, it is impossible to speak any language acquired later in life without an accent. Her advice for job seekers? Relax; an accent is not a bad thing, is part of who you are, and connects you to family and cultures. Watch your language, use good grammar, speak slowly and don’t get frustrated if you have to repeat yourself.

Accents are wonderful and should be celebrated, so here are my top tips to maximise your impact during your job search:

  • Be confident and clear.
  • If English is not your native language, get someone to check the CV for you. Grammar differs depending on the language, so you should be aware of the nuances.
  • Watch your pitch, pace and tone when speaking, and use pauses as this gives you a chance to formulate an answer. When presenting or answering questions, tell a story or give a concise answer to capture the listener’s attention.
  • If you’re aware that your accent may not be clearly understood, prepare some answers to interview questions in advance, and practice speaking them. This will not only help to assure the interviewer of your abilities; it will give you confidence.
  • Record/film yourself answering some interview questions. Play them back as this will help you understand how you come across to hiring managers. If you can, get feedback from someone you trust.
  • Use positive body language; this will help you relax and appear more confident and in control.

We live in a global wonderfully diverse world but sadly, and unfairly, ‘accentism’ appears to be an acceptable prejudice. There has been much more open dialogue about bias in hiring practices recently, so I would expect to see a decline in discrimination as people become more aware of their personal reactions – their unconscious bias. You may not be able to overcome the bias of recruiters and potential employers around foreign accents and dialects but following the tips above will set you on a more assured path to success.

If you need help preparing for an interview or want to learn how to use positive body language to build confidence during your job search, get in touch.