Study finds employers can determine your social status after just a few words

A new study has found that hiring managers are judging you on your social status, which they can accurately determine after hearing you say just seven words.

The study, conducted by Yale researchers, found that people can accurately assess a stranger’s socioeconomic position, defined by their “income, education, and occupation status,” after hearing them say just seven words. The researchers also discovered that hiring managers favour applicants from higher social classes.

Seven random words is all it takes

Five studies were conducted. The first four tested how accurately people perceive social class based on a few seconds of someone’s speech, and found that hearing just seven random words is sufficient to determine the speaker’s social class with above-chance accuracy. Also, it was people’s pronunciation, rather than the content of their speech, that more accurately communicated their social status.

The fifth study looked at how these speech cues influence hiring. Twenty people from different childhood socioeconomic backgrounds were recruited from the New Haven, Connecticut, community to interview for an entry-level lab manager position at Yale. Before the interview, each candidate recorded a conversation in which they were asked to briefly describe themselves.

Two hundred and seventy four people with hiring experience then either listened to the recordings or read the transcripts and were asked to assess the candidates’ professional qualities, starting salary, signing bonus, and perceived social class based solely on this brief pre-interview.

People from higher social classes were deemed more competent and a better fit

The people who listened to the audio recordings were more likely to accurately assess socioeconomic status than those who read transcripts. They also judged the candidates from higher social classes as more competent and a better fit for the job than the applicants from lower social classes. This is despite the fact that they had not yet read the candidates’ application materials or conducted an actual interview. They also assigned the higher social class candidates bigger salaries and signing bonuses than the lower social class candidates.

“We rarely talk explicitly about social class, and yet, people with hiring experience infer competence and fitness based on socioeconomic position estimated from a few second of an applicant’s speech,” said Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, in a statement. “If we want to move to a more equitable society, then we must contend with these ingrained psychological processes that drive our early impressions of others. Despite what these hiring tendencies may suggest, talent is not found solely among those born to rich or well-educated families. Policies that actively recruit candidates from all levels of status in society are best positioned to match opportunities to the people best suited for them”

This bias costs companies top talent

Indeed. This sort of thinking not only unfairly punishes people from lower economic backgrounds but also, undoubtedly, means employers miss out on top talent. And yes, it would be ideal if people got over their class prejudices. However, good luck with that.

Fortunately, people can overcome some this bias just by being aware of it. In almost all cases, when it comes to the job interview, it’s better to err on the side of formality anyway. This rule applies to what you wear and it can also apply to how you speak.

To sound professional, avoid colloquialisms and speak a little more formally than you would at home. Practice proper grammar beforehand and rehearse your answers for a polished, professional sound. Get past the snap judgment so the employer gets to know the real you.

Don’t lose out on the job because of someone else’s prejudice.

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