If employers can’t understand you, they won’t hire you.
In the culturally rich Silicon Valley, accents are seen in two ways – oh, la, la or…. huh?
The French are lucky — most Americans hear a Frenchman speak and visions of fine food, the Eiffel Tower and a suave, debonair man, cigarette in the corner of his mouth come to mind. Oh, were the others so lucky. The German accent is accepted, sometimes thought quite cool, –reliability, punctuality and dependability attached to the speaker, the Swiss way of speaking also goes over well – watches, good cheese and skiing making a good connection; and so the picture goes for many more of the cultures and accents one hears around the “Valley”.
The accents, however, lose their charm when Americans and others listening to them can’t understand people as well and fast as they want to. Two things usually happen: the listeners politely stop listening and then, in the future, avoid those speakers when it comes to joint business efforts.
In an accent study I undertook several years ago, I taped 6 international individuals who were employed in Silicon Valley and asked them to speak about their jobs on tape for about 3 minutes. They were: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Argentine, French – and a German, whose English was too polished and who was taken out of the study.
Then, employers in Silicon Valley heard the 5 taped accents and answered 10 questions such as:
- Would you hire this person, given an equally qualified candidate with no accent who also wanted the job?
- Would you hire this person to deal with customers in person? On the phone?
- What level job would you give him/her?
The outcome was quite obvious – the less people’s accents were understood, the less employers were willing to hire them; employers were worried that people with heavy accents would be a problem especially when on the phone with customers; and, they felt these employees should be hired for internal work only.
More disturbingly, employers questioned told me they actually would not hire any of the people on the tape (whom they didn’t know) for more than low or mid-level jobs. And, if the accents were eventually not reduced to the point of being more understandable, the employees would probably not be promoted. What these employers didn’t know was that all of the participants on the tape already had well paying jobs as engineers, researchers and business consultants.
What’s the lesson in all this? If you have an accent (even if you are French and high on the accent charm scale) and people around you have a problem understanding you, learn to pronounce words in a way that people can follow your thoughts and ultimately want to have you on their team.
Don’t fool yourself by assuming that because no one has ever told you that your messages are unclear to them, that your accent is not a problem – even if you think it is appealing. Most Americans care about being polite and they will certainly never come up to you and tell you to your face that they can’t understand half of what you’re saying.
So, take heart,then take a class and work on it, it just might get you the job you are hunting for or, just as important, you will keep the one you have.
Don’t fool yourself by assuming that because no one has ever told you that your messages are unclear, that your accent is not a problem – even if you think it is funny. Most Americans care about being polite and they will certainly never come up to you and tell you to your face that they can’t understand half of what you’re saying. So the next step should be to take some American English accent training on or offline.
So, take heart, take that accent reduction course and work on it, it just might get you the job you are hunting for or, just as important, you will keep the one you have.