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.

Find a job you love

Looking for better work?

Explore job postings, create alerts, save resumes, and more on CareerBeacon.

You may also like:

are you committing these mistakes when interviewing
Interview Tips

The 17 biggest job interview mistakes

Don’t make these 17 major job interview mistakes that could cost your the position, even before the end of the interview. Prepping for a job interview? There’s a whole checklist of things you should definitely not do. A new survey has found the most egregious mistakes job candidates can make

Find a Job

Four Habits To Adopt Immediately To Make Yourself More Hireable

If the job search is not going well for you, there are several ways through which you can improve your hireability. Hey, it can’t hurt, right? What else have you got to do? We assume you regularly update your resume and cover letter and tailor them to the job description.

Career Advice

Has working from home has gone too far? Economists are concerned

Are we headed for an employment and real estate crash? Some Canadian economists see dark clouds on the horizon. Many Canadians have radically changed their work and lifestyles in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have lost jobs, transitioned careers, and a great deal of us are working from