Managers hire people who they think sound ‘more high class,’ study finds

Employers judge your social status based on your first few SECONDS of speech – and are more likely to hire those they think sound ‘high class’

  • Research has shown that humans make judgments about one another’s faces in as little as a tenth of a second  
  • A new study from Yale University examined how employers judge people on how they speak – not what they say 
  • Hiring managers accurately guessed the incomes, education levels and  current job status of job applicants based on recordings unrelated to qualifications
  • They were more likely to hire those whose pronunciations in a few second of speech made them sound like they had higher social status
  • Recruiting policies need to offset these ingrained tendencies to judge on class and status, the researchers said  

Job candidates are judged on their social status just a few seconds after they start to speak, according to a new study.

Hopeful interviewees expect to be evaluated on their experience, conduct and ideas.

But new research shows class bias in recruitment is based on just a few seconds of speech – and those first words can shape the way they are assessed in their competence and fitness for a job.

The findings demonstrate that people can accurately assess a stranger’s socio-economic position, defined by their income, education, and occupation status, based on brief speech patterns.

Hiring managers are influenced by these snap perceptions in ways that favor job applicants from higher social classes.

And that suggests better measures to make sure recruitment really is equal opportunity may need to be put in place.  

In a new study, hiring managers judged job candidates’ socio-economic statuses within seconds of meeting them, based not on what they said but how they spoke – and favored those who sounded ‘higher class’ regardless of qualifications 

Dr Michael Kraus, Assistant Professor at Yale School of Management in the US, said: ‘Our study shows that even during the briefest interactions, a person’s speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job.

‘While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate’s social class matters, in reality, the socio-economic position of an applicant or their parents is being assessed within the first seconds they speak – a circumstance that limits economic mobility and perpetuates inequality.’

The researchers based their findings on five separate studies.

The first four examined the extent that people accurately perceive social class based on a few seconds of speech.

Researchers found that reciting seven random words is sufficient to allow people to discern the speaker’s social class with above-chance accuracy.

They discovered that speech adhering to subjective standards for English as well as digital standards such as the voices used in tech products like the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant is associated with both actual and perceived higher social class.

The researchers also showed that pronunciation cues in an individual’s speech communicate their social status more accurately than the content of their speech.

The fifth study examined how these speech cues influence hiring, based on 20 prospective job candidates from varied socioeconomic backgrounds who were recruited to interview for an entry-level lab manager position at Yale.

Prior to sitting for a formal job interview, the candidates each recorded a conversation in which they were asked to briefly describe themselves.

A sample of 274 individuals with hiring experience either listened to the audio or read transcripts of the recordings.

The hiring managers were asked to assess the candidates’ professional qualities, starting salary, signing bonus, and perceived social class based solely on the brief pre-interview discussion without reviewing the applicants’ job interview responses or resumes.

Findings suggest the hiring managers who listened to the audio recordings were more likely to accurately assess socioeconomic status than those who read transcripts.

Devoid of any information about the candidates’ actual qualifications, the hiring managers judged the candidates from higher social classes as more likely to be competent for the job, and a better fit for it than the applicants from lower social classes.

They also assigned the applicants from higher social classes more lucrative salaries and signing bonuses than the candidates with lower social status.

Dr Kraus added: ‘We rarely talk explicitly about social class, and yet, people with hiring experience infer competence and fitness based on socio-economic position estimated from a few seconds of an applicant’s speech.

‘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.’

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.