Skip to main content

What does your accent mean for your employability?


Consciously or otherwise our first impressions of people, further judgements of them and how we perceive their intelligence, capability and personality are massively influenced by the way they speak.

Your accent is your pronunciation of words and the overall sound of your speech. For example, a person from Surrey would probably pronounce 'bath' as 'barth'; a northern person would say 'bahth' and a Cockney would probably say 'barf'. The different sounds are representative of the speakers' accents and carry social connotations with them. Do revelations like this mean you should attempt to dial down native accents? Here, the Graduate Recruitment Bureau investigate a few of the wealth of accents and how the potential unfair biases (and positives!) associated with each can affect your job prospects.

Please remember GRB does not discriminate in this context what so ever - this is simply a topic for discussion!

1. Multi-Cultural London English
This mouthful of an accent label refers to the cultural accent that is spoken by certain groups in London- think Ali G, Kidulthood or the kids in Eastenders. It has also been labelled 'Jafaican' as people who aren't from Jamaica speak with the accent. In reality, there is of course no difference between the levels of intelligence or capability between speakers of MCLE or another accent and both could live in a mansion or in a council house, but their speech could affect how well they will each be received by employers in different settings.

2. Irish
The musical notes of an Irish accent are typically regarded as pleasant to listen to, which obviously acts in the speaker's favour when it comes to their career. The accent is certainly 'magical' however, a strong accent could be overwhelming to the listener. Irish speakers need to be aware of their dialectal markers when working in 'Standard English' areas to ensure they are fully understood at companies where Irish is not the dominate accent. In any case, the luck of the Irish will get them through!

3. Standard English
A broad term, but one used to refer to the perceived 'correct' English. Think 'The Queen's English', 'BBC English' or 'Public School speak'. Instantly, the three references for this accent are upper class, 'posh' and associated with high society. If you speak with this accent you will not drop your 'ts' or 'hs' and use 'proper' grammar according to traditionalists. The perceptions in stereotype can be positive - potentially intelligent from expensive schooling and respectable which would serve them well one-to-one. However, negative associations could include vanity, unsympathetic and aloof - think Made in Chelsea. For example, imagine applying for a role and not being taken seriously because it sounds as if you have never done a day's work in your life which, although maybe far from the truth, would be a harsh result.

4. Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham
Cheryl Cole was let go from the American X Factor because the viewers couldn't understand her; (Really? It's not that bad!) the strong speech of Liverpudlian tongues can be hard to understand and sometimes taken as sounding aggressive when they don't mean to be. Dependent on the role, an interviewer could find your accent too strong for certain communications tasks. However, Northern cities have a huge sense of pride and express their identity through their accents, meaning they are less affected by unreasonable and ungrounded prejudices from other parts of the world. It also means if they are applying for jobs in their home cities they have an advantage over outsiders with different accents.

5. Yorkshire and Wales
The sing song accent of Wales gives them a friendly appearance, similarly for Yorkshire which is perceived as reliable and kind. The stereotypes of these accents centre around rural living and are associated with manual labour rather than technology or finance for example. In 2013 this connection is obviously flawed by career exceeding business minds on the modern world - The Apprentice has some top talent! 6. Scottish
A broad Scottish accent can have a lovely, homely tone to it, however, ironically it also sometimes perceived as very serious. The accent itself is authoritative, a massive advantage in some occupations. Perhaps because of its associations with the 'rough and tough' North compared to the metropolitan South it has a no-nonsense, purposive feel, which some employers love.

Justly or otherwise, accents affect how we are perceived. French accents are 'sexy' which is why they are used in cosmetic adverts- would you get the same feeling from a scouser trying to sell you perfume? It's just food for thought and interesting to consider our own subconscious stereotypes. Whatever accent you have been blessed with just be sure to speak well and have good pronunciation at interview. Many people tone down their accents purely for their career prospects - do you think this is right or wrong?

It might help to hear some voices? American born Amy Walker does 21 worldwide accents in this video:
What do you think about each accent she does? Do any seem more intelligent than others? Do you think it is fair that job prospects can be affected just by the way you sound? Would you ever change your voice for a job?
anna pitts grb author

Anna Pitts studied English Language at the University of Sussex and was a marketing assistant and online researcher at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau. She now works in Marketing and Advertising for Hearst Magazines UK.

Latest Blog Posts

Discover the benefits of teaching. Learn how STEM graduates can utilise transferable skills to transform education. Pursuing a career in teaching can be a fulfilling and impactful choice.

Read more

Hi, I’m Farrah AKA The Grad Coach on socials. But what you probably don’t know is I’m somewhat of an expert in rejection.

Read more

It’s widely acknowledged that numerous industries still face challenges regarding gender representation. In operations, women make up only a fraction of professionals, highlighting a significant...

Read more