Job interviewers make judgements about your class from the first seven words you say, study says

First impressions count, but unconscious biases also work against you (Picture: Getty)

During one of the first job interviews I had after I graduating university, I nervously exclaimed ‘I done a English degree,’ the grammatical error ironic, given the contents of the sentence.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job. While it may have been a result of several factors, my absent-minded blunder probably hindered my chances too. Or perhaps it was the first seven words I uttered.

Researchers at Yale University found that interviewers often make assumptions based on class from the first few words said by candidates.

The results from five studies conducted by scientists found that employers not only make snap judgments, they then use it to assess the person’s ability to carry out the job.

And even worse news – interviewers are dismissing candidates from working-class backgrounds within the first few seconds of introduction.

The study, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also showed that people can identify with ‘above accuracy’, a stranger’s socioeconomic position from a brief speech pattern.

These snap perceptions then influence hiring managers in ways that favour applicants from higher social classes.

The way you pronounce things may also hinder job prospects (Picture: Getty)

‘Our study shows that even during the briefest interactions, a person’s speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job,’ said Michael Kraus, a professor of organisational behaviour at Yale.

‘While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate’s social class matters, in reality, the socioeconomic position of an applicant or their parents is being assessed within the first seconds they speak — a circumstance that limits economic mobility and perpetuates inequality.’

The researchers based their findings on five separate studies. The first four examined the extent that people accurately perceive social class based on a few seconds of speech.

The fifth study examined how these speech cues influence hiring.

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There were 300 participants involved in the study, 20 of whom were ‘prospective employees’ and the rest ‘hiring managers’, recruiting for an entry-level lab manager position at Yale.

Hiring managers were asked to assess the candidates’ professional qualities, starting salary, signing bonus, and perceived social class.

Their only material was the candidate’s brief pre-interview discussion, either via an audiotape or by reading a transcript.

Those who listened to the audio recordings were more likely to accurately assess socioeconomic status than those who read transcripts, according to the study.

The research showed that pronunciation in an individual’s speech made it easier to judge an applicant’s social status more accurately than the content of their speech.

Professor Kraus concluded that employers must be cognizant of these unconscious biases.

‘If we want to move to a more equitable society, then we must contend with these ingrained psychological processes that drive our early impressions of others.

‘Despite what these hiring tendencies may suggest, talent is not found solely among those born to rich or well-educated families.

‘Policies that actively recruit candidates from all levels of status in society are best positioned to match opportunities to the people best suited for them.’

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