Advice » Job Hunt Strategy» Getting Started » Do You Sound Right for the Job?
Do You Sound Right for the Job?

Do You Sound Right for the Job?

Everyone knows it's illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity and national origin. But what about an English-speaking candidate with a foreign accent?

The answer is no. Well, maybe un poco.

Dianne Markley, a professor at the University of North Texas at Denton (UNT) whose graduate research focused on how accents affect the hiring process, says it is "almost impossible to speak any language acquired later in life without an accent." A UNT study showed "an incredibly strong statistical correlation between judging someone as cultured, intelligent, competent, etc., and placing them into prestigious jobs," based on the lack of a readily identified accent.

Accents Trigger Emotional Responses

"A professional tries not to let an accent get in the way of hiring decisions," says Victor Arias, co-managing partner of the diversity practice at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. "But subtle emotions can come into play, and they may make a difference. Clearly, people make judgments based on accents."

Arias notes that assumptions work two ways: "Not only may someone with a Hispanic accent be deemed ‘less educated,' but someone with a British accent may be seen as ‘more intelligent,' again with no basis." By the same token, Markley says, an Asian accent could be viewed as a plus by a scientific or engineering company. "It's all very situational," she adds.

Worldly or Unrefined?

Someone with a slight accent of any kind might be viewed as more educated or worldly than someone with a thick accent. "I've fallen for that," Arias admits. "I've heard a thick accent and thought, ‘Boy, he hasn't left the neighborhood.' And I've been completely wrong. I've had to slap myself."

An accent, Markley notes, is "a pattern of pronunciation." That is not the same as whether a person uses language well and forms sentences correctly. "A person can speak flawless English, but an accent causes him or her to be seen as someone who can't do the job," she says.

Strong Accents Can Affect Hiring Chances

Candidates should be hired on their qualifications alone, Markley says -- provided their verbal abilities are appropriate for the job. Unfortunately, "sometimes an accent leads to the perception that that person can't perform this job," she adds. In fact, it is legal to not hire someone whose accent materially affects his ability to perform key aspects of a job.

Markley cites the example of a customer service representative: "That position requires excellent communication skills, and someone who could not be understood well would honestly interrupt the flow of business."

However, Markley emphasizes, "It's not OK to use an accent as a proxy for discrimination based on national origin." For example, a company can't claim a person with a thick Hispanic accent can't communicate with English-speaking customers, while someone with an equally heavy French accent can.

Focus on Clear Speaking Skills

Arias says that while most companies understand the importance of diversity, he knows of no company that addresses the effect of accents on hiring. As a result, every person with hiring responsibility should be aware of the possibility of unconscious bias against speakers with accents.

Markley's advice for job seekers with accents:  

  • Relax: "An accent is part of who you are," she says. "It connects you with your family and a particular part of the world. An accent is not a bad thing."
  • Watch Your Language: "Be sure to use good grammar," she says. "Speak slowly. Don't get frustrated if you have to repeat yourself. There's plenty of stress in job seeking. Don't add more by worrying about your accent."

Carlos Soto, president of the National Hispanic Corporate Council, adds this hint: "Prepare more than anyone else. Practice your answers in English. An accent shouldn't matter, but it does. That's life."

Latest Jobs

Encore Repair Services
Posted: 05/28/2015
West Dundee, IL, 60118
Welcome Wagon
Posted: 05/28/2015
Memphis, TN
Welcome Wagon
Posted: 05/28/2015
Columbia, MO
Posted: 05/28/2015
Denver, CO, 80246
Kforce Inc
Posted: 05/28/2015
New York, NY, 10017

Want more personalized results?  Update Your Profile


Monster Communities

Teaching Community
Where teachers meet and learn.
Create and connect.
Networking for the career-minded woman.
Nursing Link
Where nurses call the shots.
More Monster Communities

Monster Partners

Scholarships, financial aid and more ways to pay for school.
Find top campus and online degree programs.
Military portal for the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Financial Aid
Scholarships & financial aid.
Staffing for Government Jobs
Staffing and hiring solutions for federal government agency jobs.
More Monster Partners

Job Hunt Strategy

Six Ways to Make a Recruiter Hate You
If you want to blow your chances with recruiters -- and, by extension, with the companies they work for -- here are six perfect ways to do so.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Rev Up Your Resume to Relocate
Hoping to relocate? Get the ball rolling on landing the right job in the right location with these expert resume and cover letter tips.


100 Potential Interview Questions
Interview questions can run the gamut. You probably won't face all 100 of these, but you should still be prepared to answer at least some of them.

Salary & Benefits

10 Questions to Ask When Negotiating Salary
Most of us aren't natural negotiators, but asking these 10 questions during salary negotiations can help you get everything you deserve.

Employee Sourcing

Alt text
November Monster Employment Index Grows 13% Year-Over-Year, Tenth Consecutive Month of Positive Annual Growth.

For Seekers

Campus and Online Degrees
Advance your career and earn more with an online degree.
Free Salary Wizard
What are you worth? Find out and negotiate a better salary.
Research Careers
Get information on jobs and career paths to help guide your choices
Questions & Answers
Find answers to all your career related questions -- powered by Yahoo! Answers
Resume Distribution Service
Our distribution service puts your resume right in the hands of recruiters.
Resume Writing Services
Our experts will craft a keyword-rich resume that stands out in the crowd.
More Career Resources

For Employers

Career Ad Network
Target your job posting to more candidates on thousands of websites.
Hire Right Background Checks
Explore our background check packages to improve the quality of your hires.
Hiring Home Page
Find the best candidates for your business with Monster hiring solutions.
Job Postings
Find the right solution for your hiring needs. Starting at $99.
Power Resume Search
Monster's new search technology precisely matches people with your jobs.
Resource Center
Find staffing insights, labor trends, HR best practices and more.
Target Post
Connect with skilled, hourly and administrative candidates for only $99.

Social Media

Jobs on Twitter
Find jobs in your area and industry.
Monster Careers
Tune into our career advice and discussions tackling a wide range of topics and industries.
Monster Corporate & PR
Stay up-to-date on the latest news. Get the 'Who', 'What', 'When', and 'Why' on all things Monster related.
Monster Customer Service
Got a Monster question? We've got the answer. Whether you're a job seeker or employer, we can help you find the answers you need.
Monster for Employers
Find advice on hiring.
Follow Us
Check out our many pages and stay connected with the latest industry news, events, career advice and job openings.

Other Links

Monster Company Profiles
Explore companies and get information to guide your career decisions.
Compare Salaries
See how your pay stacks up to others in your field.
iPhone Application
Download the Monster app for iPhone and iPod touch.
Monster Job Seeker Blog
Monster Job Seeker Blog.
Monster Thinking Blog
Monster's Recruitment Trends Blog.
Jobs & Career Resources
Search Jobs:
For Employers: Post Jobs | Search Resumes | Advertise
About Monster | Work for Monster | Advertise with Us | AdChoices | Partner with Us | Investor Relations | Social Media
Terms of Use | Privacy Center | Accessibility Center | Help | Security | Contact Us | Sitemap | Mobile
©2015 Monster - All Rights Reserved U.S. Patents No. 5,832,497; 7,599,930 B1; 7,827,125 and 7,836,060 MWW - Looking for Monster Cable? - V: 2015.8.0.34-203