Hiring managers judge social status of job interviewees within seconds of speaking

According to a new study, hiring managers judge the social status of job interviewees within seconds after they start speaking.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by researchers at the Yale School of Management.

The researchers based their findings on 5 different studies involving hundreds of participants.

The first four studies examined the extent that people can accurately identify a person’s social class based on only a few seconds of speech. The team found that reciting just seven random words is enough for people to detect the speaker’s social class with above-chance accuracy. Speech that adheres to subjective standards for English as well as digital standards is associated with both actual and perceived higher social class.

The fifth study examined how these speech cues influence hiring.

Twenty prospective job candidates from a range of different socioeconomic backgrounds were interviewed for an entry-level lab manager position at Yale.

The participants recorded a conversation in which they briefly described themselves.

Researchers then asked 274 people with hiring experience to assess the candidates’ professional qualities, starting salary, signing bonus, and perceived social class. Some of the hiring managers listened to the audio while others were only given transcripts of the recordings to read.

The team found that hiring managers who listened to the audio recordings were more likely to accurately assess socioeconomic status than those who read transcripts of the recordings.

Hiring managers were more likely to think a candidate was more competent for the job and a better fit if they were perceived to be of a higher social class. In addition, the hiring managers were more likely to offer those perceived to be from higher social classes a higher starting salary and signing bonus compared to those perceived as lower class.

“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,” said Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. “While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate’s social class matters, in reality, the socioeconomic 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.”

“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,” Kraus said. “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.”

Journal Citation

“Evidence for the reproduction of social class in brief speech”
Michael W. Kraus, Brittany Torrez, Jun Won Park, and Fariba Ghayebi
PNAS first published October 21, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1900500116