You might be wondering if your accent can have a negative impact on your interview. You certainly raise a valid concern. Unfortunately, the short answer is yes.
At some point, you will have an interview. You might attend a job interview, a college interview, or even a review of your immigration status. Regardless of the reason for the interview, you must make a top-notch impression on the interviewer. If you don’t make a great first impression, you’re far less likely to achieve a positive outcome.
Your Accent and Unfair Judgments
You might be assuming by now that you’re being judged by the interviewer unfairly based on national origin or race. That’s not necessarily the exact truth. The fact of the matter is that we make judgments about accents, even when communicating with our fellow native-born Americans.
Think of the unfair jokes about southern accents or New Englander accents. Anyone who does not speak Standard American English is unfairly judged. Let’s use our southern and New England accents as examples.
For example, people assume that a person from the south is clearly uneducated. In fact, the south is the hub of some of the nations hottest tech hubs and is home to some innovative minds in emerging industries.
Alternatively, they may assume that a person with a New Englander accent must certainly work on a lobster boat. However, New England is home of some of the nation’s top universities and global corporations.
Standard American English
What is Standard American English that I mentioned above? It’s the accepted, neutral dialect that you hear on the nightly news. You might think of it as “broadcast English.” We accept this dialect as “standard” because it’s easy for everyone to understand. This is because speakers enunciate words clearly and maintain a pleasant cadence of speech that’s not too fast but not too slow.
You’ll hear this dialect spoken by national news broadcasters and on nationally syndicated radio programs. This is the most professionally acceptable dialect of American English.
This dialect is achievable by you through accent modification. Need proof? Look at long-time news host Robin Roberts. Not a trace of her native Mississippi dialect creeps into her speech when she’s delivering the headlines to you. This is the result of Roberts making a commitment in time to learning to speak in the dialect that would carry her career to the highest level.
How Your Accent Makes a Negative Impact
As previously stated, interviewers can make unfair decisions about you based on your accent. Here are just a few of the reasons how your accent can make a negative impact.
The interviewer assumes you won’t be understandable
Some interviewers wrongly assume that your speech won’t be understandable to colleagues or clients. This can send you, the more qualified person, to the bottom of the list on a job or scholarship interview.
This isn’t to say that they can’t understand you. Perhaps they can. However, they are jumping to the conclusion that others will not be able to do so.
Interviewers can’t follow your rate of speech when you answer
It’s a fact. Some cultures speak at a faster rate than others. Those whose first language is Japanese, Italian or Spanish will tend to speak fast as it’s what’s expected in their own language. On the other hand, native Germans will have a slower cadence.
If your rate of speech is either too fast or too slow in English, it can sound unnatural, stilted, and hard to follow. Literally, the interviewer might have a hard time understanding what you are trying to communicate.
You might misunderstand the interviewer’s accent!
Sometimes, your interview can go awry if the roles are reversed. Have you thought of that possibility? You might actually misunderstand the interviewer’s accent, especially if they have a non-standard American accent. You could head down a path of miscommunication that can sink your interview quickly in this situation.
An accent can trigger other interviewer biases
Absolutely, 100%, American employers cannot discriminate against a legal resident based on national origin, gender, religion, or a number of other biases. However, sometimes interviewers don’t even know they have a deep bias.
Here’s an example. My friend Kim is from Japan. We were recently eating lunch together and the server asked her about special dietary requirements of Buddhists. Kim’s response? “I don’t know, I’m Catholic,” she said as she pulled a crucifix out from under her blouse and showed it to the server.
This situation was amusing, but it points out hidden biases. I’m sure the server was a nice guy who was trying to ensure a pleasant meal. However, Kim could have taken it very offensively had she not kept a sense of humor.
These types of biases can leach into an interviewer with the interviewer unaware of the thoughts.
What You Can Do to Ace Your Interview
Here are five easy tips to help you communicate clearly on your next interview and avoid that negative impact.
- Ask questions to ensure your comprehension. Interviews are nerve-wracking for everyone! If you’re uncertain of a word or phrase that the interviewer asked, use contextual clues. Then, restate it to the interviewer to ensure that you completely understood the question. That will help you formulate a savvy answer.
- Use good grammar. Make sure to avoid slang phrases and use your best English grammar during your interview. This will show the interviewer that you do have a great grasp of the language, even if you do have an accent.
- Find a good rate of speech. Remember that if you speak too quickly or slowly, the interviewer might have difficulty understanding you. Find a medium ground.
- Enunciate your words. This goes hand in hand with speaking at an appropriate cadence. Take time to enunciate every word to the best of your ability. Doing so tells the interviewer that you do care about your speech and you’re working hard on it!
- Most importantly, relax and breathe! When you’re nervous, your breathing will be off. This can make your pitch less pleasant and cause you to inadvertently start speaking quickly again. Relax. Breathe. It will help you in the interview.
The Bottom Line
To summarize, your accent actually can have a negative impact on your interview, if you let it. Being aware of the importance of mastering a Standard American English dialect will help you become more self-aware. It gives you a point of reference to strive for a goal to set.
This awareness can help you overcome the accent obstacle and ace your next interview.
If you missed us last week, check out our last post, American English: 10 Common Hard to Pronounce and Mispronounced Words.
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