Is Your Accent Hurting Your Career?

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: March 28, 2012

For Tony Danza, having a thick regional accent keeps him working. But for the rest of us who are interviewing and looking for jobs, sounding like Snooki from Jersey Shore or Matt Damon when he played that "wikkid smaht kid," is not helpful.

Research indicates human resource professionals hold biases against different accents, and it affects their decisions.

But which accents are the worst offenders and what can you do to make sure you avoid being screened out simply for the way you talk? Read on, we've got you covered.

Address the Accent

All it takes is one higher-up making an issue of your accent for you to lose your footing on the career ladder.

People with strong regional accents can be viewed as less refined or polished. So if you expect to leave the reservation for a job in a far off place, career coach Lee Miller says you should consider addressing the accent issue.

Pick Your Industry Wisely

Just how much your prickly pronunciation can hurt you depends upon the industry you're in.

With a strong regional accent it may be more difficult to get a job as a newscaster. Client-facing jobs such as sales and customer service may not be for you because many customers need to be impressed.

If you need to talk for a living and need to win people over, watching them cringe at your accent or struggle to understand you is going to be difficult.

Some Experts Advise "Neutralizing" Accents

Some people don't think they have an accent, or they view their regional accents as a badge of honor.

No one wants to believe they talk funny. And even if they can cop to their accent, they probably think it's cute or unique. Therefore they might believe they shouldn't do anything about it. But they're wrong.

"I recommend you spend some time to neutralize your accent," says Lee Miller, career coach and author of "UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective---The Art of Getting What You Want."

After all, how you look and speak are the first things people notice about you, and they often make snap judgments.

Others Say "Be Yourself"

While some experts advocate for change when it comes to your accent, others disagree.

Patricia Cukor-Avila, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of North Texas, says, "When you try to mask it, you're not going to come across as yourself. Be yourself, and hope you will sell yourself because of who you are."

However, if an employer indicates the accent is holding you back from a promotion, Professor Cukor-Avila tells clients to change it.

Your Hometown Matters

How much can your accent drag you down? It depends on where you're from.

If you sound like Scarlett from "Gone With the Wind," you might be okay. The so-called "Dixie accent" is among the most well-liked accents.

But if you're sporting one of the other more jarring regional dialects---we're looking at you Maine, South Boston and Philadelphia---can leave employers questioning your intelligence and what level of work you can perform.

Which begs the question, which accent is most detrimental to your career?

New Jersey!

Despite the Jersey Shore's television ratings, a study by Diane Markley and Patricia Cukor-Avila found the New Jersey accent is the worst in the United States when it comes to hiring.

The 56 hiring professionals in the study rated the New Jersey accent as the most negative and unprofessional, and only 5 percent of the hiring managers selected someone with a Jersey accent for customer-facing positions.

Cheer up Garden Staters. You'll always have Springsteen.

Don't Let Your Accent Torpedo Your Chances During a Job Interview

So what if, despite all your hard work, a "you betcha" slips out during a job interview? Don't worry, all is not lost.

Do your best to build rapport with the interviewer if you can. Unless the person across the desk is from plain-spoken Nebraska, chances are they know what it's like to have someone comment on their own accent.

Acknowledge your vocal challenges and consider saying something like, "Please excuse my accent, I expect it will fade once I'm working in this region full-time."

The truth is, it probably will.

Prove You're a Good Fit Even If Your Accent Isn't

When hiring, Cukor-Avila's research shows that employers are less concerned with your potential job performance as compared to how you would fit into the workplace culture.

Friendliness and joviality are vital indicators of success, she says. So if you can prove you'll be a good fit in the office and a valuable addition to the existing team, that will help trump your future employer's reservations regarding your accent.

Don't Like Your Accent? Take Action

For many people, just being made aware of the most troublesome words and cringe-worthy sounds can help dampen the dialect, Miller says.

But if you decide to seek professional help, there are private companies that offer accent-reduction classes, online courses, and even self-help tapes.

You Can Go Home Again, But Your Accent Might Not

It may be difficult to "go country" after you've "gone north."

If you do dampen your dialect, you can expect to receive some odd looks when you return home. And if you plan to ultimately continue your career back near where you grew up, know that it may be difficult to reacquire your verbal calling card, and you may be viewed as an outsider.

Here's a Video of What NOT to Do!

In the end, tweaking your accent is a small price to pay in exchange for climbing the corporate ladder. Just avoid the instructions in this video, and don't get caught up in any "Cawfee Tawk" with Snooki and The Situation at the Jersey Shore!

Recommended Reading/Self-Help (try an ebook)

Lose Your Accent in 28 Days: Audio and Video training helps you lose your accent in days, not months or years.

Say Goodbye to Your Southern Accent: Workbook & CDs to neutralize your southern drawl.

Accents: A Manual for Actors

Mastering the American Accent:

Second Dialect Acquisition

Accent Reduction Made Easy

Smart Speaking: 60-second Strategies for More Than 100 Speaking Problems & Fears

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