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