Does an accent affect your employability or, more specifically, your likelihood to be hired?

I was brought up in the north of England in a small town miles from anywhere.

This meant I only ever really heard our accent other than what was on TV.

When I hear our accent it reminds me of how the peasants speak in movies.

  • Me becomes mih

  • I becomes ah

  • Shouldn't becomes shunt

And we drop h off the beginning of words.

Those are the particular ones I struggle to shake now. Should I keep trying to change my accent, or should I embrace it?

  • Just for a bit of fun here is a quiz to check how well you would understand is m.sporcle.com/games/Alecto/BarnsleySlang – Terry May 13 '16 at 16:41
  • In what country you're trying to get a job? – Dan May 13 '16 at 16:49
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    This one is changing by the minute. 10 years ago it was a serious problem, but most of us have worked with people from all over the world, and sometimes even on trans-national teams. Being "biased" about accents shows that a person is anachronistic to the point of being detrimental. That being said, we don't have all the deadwood cleared out, yet. – Wesley Long May 13 '16 at 16:52
  • I thought me and mi ("do-re-mi") were normally the same. – Brandin May 13 '16 at 16:56
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    I'm from Liverpool. In the UK, I have a slight Scouse accent. In the USA, they all think I talk like the Queen.... (I don't contradict them, of course!). I think as long as you're understandable, you should be OK in most jobs. – PeteCon May 13 '16 at 18:38

It depends. Certainly there are professions where it absolutely matters such as the entertainment industry and newscasting. On the other end, there are professions where people are much more concerned about what you do than how you speak (especially when many people from all over the world work there) such as computer programming.

Location also matters. What can sound like a country bumpkin to a Londoner could be considered pleasantly exotic to a New Yorker and vice versa.

And who you will be talking to in the course of your duties matters. Accent can be a sign of economic status and sounding like the people you are dealing with tends to make them trust you more. So people in professions that deal with people of a higher economic status frequently are often rewarded economically for changing to the accent used by those people. Particularly if they are in sales.

And of course it is critical that your accent be understood. I remember the first time I was in the the US Deep South in the 1960s. I could barely make out what people were saying. Someone with the thick accent that many southerners had at the time (TV seems to have ameliorated it some in today's world) would have had great difficulty being understood in New York or Chicago because the accents were so far apart as to almost be different languages. If people who do not have a hearing loss keep asking you to repeat what you said, then you might need to look at changing your accent. And even those of us who do have a hearing loss find it easier to understand people who speak in a similar accent to the one we have.

And of course hiring officials are all different. What is off-putting to one person is ignored by another.

So it may matter or it may not, but will there be any harm in changing your accent so that it doesn't matter? It could improve your employability and it most likely will not harm it. It may mean, though, people from you home area will think you sound stuck up when you visit.

On the other hand if you move to a different geographic area and work there for a few years, your accent is likely to get closer and closer to the norm for the area where you live. So if you can find a job in that are and you don't have difficulty making yourself understood, then likely the problem will go away in a relatively short time with little effort on your part.

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  • Is it intentional that you suggest that there are benefits to a high-status accent when dealing with high-status clientele, but not to being able to use a more working-class accent when working with more working-class clientele? It seems to me that if you were, say, working at a car dealership in a very blue-collar area sounding like a stuffed suit might be detrimental. – Casey May 13 '16 at 20:22
  • I didn't say anything about using the accent for a working class, but yes if you were selling your product to them, sounding too hoity-toity could be detrimental. I used the upper class as an example because more people seem to need to fake that one. – HLGEM May 16 '16 at 14:27

I don't think an accent in and of itself negatively affects job prospects. More important is your ability to make yourself understood to a majority of people.

People can have very distinctive and pleasant accents, and still be able to communicate effectively. Others may have the same regional accent as you, but still cannot be easily understood, because they do not speak loudly or clearly enough.

I believe one should have and practice a "business voice" for those occasions when important information needs to be verbally exchanged.

That voice might be slower, louder, and employ more repetition, but it should be somewhat distinct from an everyday voice you might use informally with friends or family.

It's also important when speaking to others to pick up on informal, non-verbal cues others make to indicate that they understand you.

So I would embrace your accent, but make sure you're conscious of any words, phrases, or habits that might not make it easy for people to understand what you are saying.

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    Mostly useful, but to say that "others may have no accent at all" is misleading. Everyone has a way of pronouncing the languages they speak. Some people speak a dialect which is prominent, heard often in broadcast media, taught in schools, etc.; this is often the dialect of the more politically or economically powerful regions, but may not be the most easily understood dialect. – user52889 May 15 '16 at 8:16

Accent these days is less important than HOW you speak, for me anyway. I have a strong accent, but I enunciate clearly and people have no problem with it for that reason. What you are talking about is not the accent, dropping the 'h' is speaking in patois, I think 'jargon' is the English word. That's fine amongst others speaking the same, but not in an international setting.

I work in several languages and I have an accent in all of them, so it is important. A lot depends on what the position is of course. And these days in many positions you rarely talk to anyone outside the office, so I have a guy in Southern Ireland who I've spoken to once on the phone and couldn't understand what he was on about. But he types fluent formal English, and that's all I cared about.

If however I was looking for someone who'd need to attend meetings with my local clients, I couldn't use him, they learnt their English formally like I did, they wouldn't have a clue. Especially if he used colloquialisms or whatever passes for slang in his neck of the woods.

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  • unless they're incapable of enunciating the 'h' then it's just a mannerism which can be trained away. Samoan for instance has two forms, one of which uses a 't' and the other is almost identical except it uses a 'k' wherever there was a 't'. In informal situations people use the 'k' in formal situations they use the 't' and they would be frowned upon or worse for not doing so. – Kilisi May 16 '16 at 20:22
  • I think a foreign accent is pretty different than a low-status native one for the purpose of this question, though. – Casey Aug 12 '16 at 0:01

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