Seven Passwords to Success

Your first seven words could make your job interview a success or be complete lemons

First impressions

You only get one chance to make a great first impression.

Candidates were always told that recruiters would make a decision about whether or not they were right for employment by an organisation within a few seconds of first seeing them. So, it was very important to look the part when attending a job interview and looking confident in that look.

Sight and sound

​Now research published by Yale University has identified that interviewers not only judge a candidate on they way that they look but also on the way that they speak and the types of words that they use.

Class and competence indicator

Anyone from the United Kingdom knows that it is very easy to identify where someone is from by listening to their accent in their voice.

It is also possible to make a reasonable guess from someone’s voice about where they went to school and what type of family they are from, in other words how much money they have and their social class.

But the research from Yale University suggests that that same information is driving assumptions about a candidate’s attitude to work and their competence to do a job.

First seven words

These assumptions are made within the first seven words that a candidate speaks.

Candidates are being rejected for jobs because their first seven words indicate that they are either too working class or too posh for the role, or to fit into an organisation.

Speech patterns

Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at the Yale School of Management, explained that even during brief interactions, a person’s speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job.

Speaking as someone who, at the age of 34, gave the wrong answer when asked in an interview what type of school he went to I am shocked to hear that this sort of assumption is one of those unconscious biases, and disappointed that most recruiters would probably deny that they have ever made such an assumption.

Economic mobility

If the social class of a candidate can be assumed within seven words and a decision made whether or not to appoint them there is the risk as with all other forms of conscious and unconscious bias that an organisation is going to miss out on the opportunity to recruit talented people.

That assumption also limits the ability for people to achieve any form of social mobility through learning new skills and developing their career.

Five studies

The researchers’ findings were based on an analysis of five different studies.

The first four focused on how well people could accurately identify the social class of a speaker from a few seconds of speech.

The fifth study examined how perceptions about a candidates’ social class impacted recruitment decisions.

300 Recruiters

300 experienced recruiters were asked to assess candidates for an entry level laboratory job by listening to audio recordings. They were not given any other information about the candidates.

The candidates with a perceived higher socio-economic class were described as being more likely to be the most competent and the better fit for the organisation.

Just seven words

Listening to just seven random was enough to give an above average chance of correctly assessing someone’s social class.

Higher pay

The candidates who were perceived to be from a higher socio-economic class were also perceived to require a higher level of salary, bonuses and signing on payments, than candidates perceived to be of lower socio-economic status.

Works both ways

It would be easy to conclude that this research is simply another bias that keeps the working class in their place. But a quick ring round of recruitment consultants found that they have as much experience of candidates being perceived to be too posh as they do of people not being perceived to be too posh.

One recruiter told us of a privately educated candidate who was rejected because their private school was not a public school, so sometimes a candidate can find themselves not being posh enough!

Julian Israel

Careers Advisor

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