I want to share this article from The Star Ledger because they interviewed me. Though I really grew up on Long Island – it is a true story. Of course, if you are mentoring someone with a very pronounced regional accent – this might be helpful, too.
By Lee Miller/The Star-Ledger – Published: Sunday, July 24, 2011, 11:09 AM
After college, East Coast native Susan Bender Phelps, president of Odyssey Mentoring, moved to Southern California.
Her first job was as a telephone solicitor selling solar hot water heating systems. After being on the job just two hours, her manager called me into her office and said, “You cannot talk to people like that! Your accent and the fast-talking are scaring people. Slow down and lose the accent, or you will not be able to work here.”
Well, she succeeded in quickly losing the accent when she spoke on the phone at work, but it took a lot longer to lose it in general conversation. Now, as a corporate trainer and public speaker, she occasionally uses her accent for humor or when telling a story to add character, but has found she is generally more effective without a regional accent.
A study conducted by Diane Markley and Patricia Cukor-Avila shows how regional accents can affect hiring.
The study involved 56 hiring professionals who were asked to make judgments about potential based solely on how candidates, with different regional accents, sounded. The hirers were asked to judge if each speaker sounded educated or uneducated, intelligent or unintelligent, energetic or lazy, uptight or laid back, outgoing or withdrawn, assertive or docile.
Of the 10 regional accents, a distinctive “New Jersey” accent received the most negative rating by hiring professionals. When asked to decide what types of jobs the individuals were suited for based solely on their accents, only 5 percent of the hirers selected the New Jersey speaker for positions requiring a high level of customer contact and more than 64 percent selected the New Jersey speaker for positions requiring little technical expertise and little-to-no customer contact.
Can a New Jersey accent hurt you in a job search or in your quest for a promotion?
For jobs located outside of New Jersey or for positions where you work with a national clientele, it may sometimes limit your options.
According to Sharlene Vichness, president of Roseland-based Language Direction, a company that specializes in accent reduction, employers often make snap judgments based on how you sound. She refers to this as “accent prejudice.”
Vichness suggests that “while you can talk any way you want with your friends, to maximize your career potential it is best to speak standard business English.” Her goal when she works with someone who feels that their accent is hurting their career is to “make sure that what comes out of your mouth reflects what is in your head.”
Everyone has an accent of some sort, even if it is a Midwestern “non-accent” of the type most television anchors have. Unless it interferes with your ability to communicate or affects how you are perceived, it is generally not a problem.
Some people, in fact, view their local accents as a plus. Jené Luciani, an on-air style expert, spent several years working in production “behind the scenes” before transitioning to the other side of the camera.
When she was contemplating the move to on-air personality, several people in the business told her she would have to lose her accent. They said she would have trouble getting work or getting an agent to represent her, if she did not get rid of her accent. They also suggested changing her name. She chose to ignore their advice and, as she notes, it has turned out quite well for her.
If you believe your accent may be holding you back, you can do something about it. Dawn Cotter-Jenkins, a speech therapist who works for Language Directions, recently worked with an accountant who felt that her local accent was impeding her chances of being made a partner at the accounting firm where she works.
Cotter-Jenkins was able to teach her techniques to change her pronunciation of words, such as dog and coffee, eliminating her local accent. Within six months her client was promoted to partner at the firm.
As Vichness notes, how you look and how you speak are the first things people notice about you. She adds, “first impressions matter and you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.