Your accent: Shrinking the elephant in the room
Accent. Everyone pretends it doesn’t matter. But after interviewing both employers and internationally trained professionals, it was the one topic that was consistent on both sides of the equation. Immigrants say accent stops them from getting hired. Employers say they have to consider accent with regard to how it could affect their business, and have mentioned that it is a prime reason for not promoting people who are otherwise qualified.
To find out where this accent prejudice originated, read this article from the Canadian Encyclopedia. It shows that accent prejudice is one of the negative effects of colonialism and is rooted in conscious or unconscious white superiority. On a less frustrating but still irritating note, a recent study by the University of British Columbia found that people prefer accents that sound most similar to their own. That is the bad news. So, like it or not, your accent is the elephant in the middle of the interview room.
But are we going to let this stop us from getting good jobs? Certainly not! Let’s name that accent beast and shrink it down to size.
Mark Goulston, author of the book Just Listen, explains how naming what others might perceive as your weakness and then showing how it is actually a strength can be key to getting around resistance. Using numerous examples, he demonstrates the power of pointing to the “elephant,” naming it and then showing what are doing about it, and why it matters less than people might think. By showing people you understand that something about you might be difficult for them, you allow them to let go of that issue and focus on who you really are.
Picture this scenario. You walk into a job interview knowing that the minute you open your mouth, the interviewers are wondering about your accent. They would deny it of course, but they can’t stop those judgmental thoughts from rearing their negative influence. So you say:
“You have probably noticed my accent, I’m from _______ and we speak ________language(s) there. You might be worried that my accent would be a shock to your clients, and you certainly don’t want to lose business! I have been paying attention to how my accent is received and made a few adjustments, and I have noticed people no longer say “pardon?” or look confused when I speak to them. Of course when you look at my credentials and recommendations, you will see that I have been instrumental in increasing business for my past employers. Some of the difficult and resistant clients I won over have become so loyal that they still send chocolates and flowers to the company at Christmas, years after I left!”
With this sample dialogue, you just named the elephant in the room, showed how you were dealing with it and then demonstrated that it did not matter because you are so much bigger than that elephant with regards to your skill and influence. This transitioning technique helps others to move beyond their obstacles and go directly to the place you want them to go – your strengths.
You will of course need to come up with your own reasons why people might have a problem with your accent and what you can do to show them that it really does not matter. The example has to be authentically from you and should not go on too long. The point is to name the issue, shrink it, and then get back to showing how necessary you would be to the employer.
Everyone moving to another country has to consider accent. My Canadian son with multiple credentials was not getting work in the USA. He made specific changes to his accent and in a week, employers started focusing on his skills instead of asking him about his accent or how long ago he had come from Canada. He landed an excellent job and progressed to the decision-maker level within two years. He credits his success with modifying his speech for the employer instead of expecting the employer to adjust to him. You could follow his lead and also invest in some vocal coaching, or download an accent reduction app to practice with. Taking the “edge” off the parts of your accent that make people see you as being less like them is all that is required. You don’t need to change who you are. A slight change to your accent can be the difference between staying at a low-level job and getting a promotion, so consider it a job tool similar to getting resume writing advice or buying a new interview outfit.
Here are a few speech studios in Alberta, but an online search will turn up quite a few more wherever you live:
The Speech Studio does customized vocal coaching to meet your specific requirements.
Free Mind Learning Services offers English language tutoring and accent reduction – when you get really good you might like to apply to be a tutor yourself!
Voice Power Studios has specific accent reduction exercises you can try.
A cheaper alternative to coaching lessons are online practice sessions. Here are a few YouTube clips that are quite helpful – and free:
There are also accent reduction podcasts – free – and more instructive than the YouTubes:
Online Accent Reduction for Non-native English Speakers – iTunes
Online Accent Reduction for Non-native English Speakers – Player FM
Should you decide to go mobile, two accent reduction apps for Android phones are:
For iPhone – go to the app store on your iphone and look for “Get rid of your accent” or “EAC echo”.
To recap, your accent is a part of you that you can have some fun with. Rather than lamenting the accent prejudice of employers, use Mark Goulston’s technique for naming the objection others might have with your accent, shrinking it, and then getting on with showing your skills. Then, if you are willing to make some small accent changes to get that next promotion, there are quite a few accent reduction tools to fit every budget. Now that you know how to shrink that elephant in the middle of the room, enjoy your new powers and go get that job!
Marie Gervais, PhD, CEO, Shift Management Inc. is a business to business entrepreneur who specializes in helping employers train their supervisors to lead, get their workplace learning online and interactive, coach for performance, and conduct team assessments to figure out who to promote and how. She has a background in integration of internationally trained individuals to the workplace and has supported many businesses in their efforts to hire, retain, support and promote immigrant and diverse employees.