Is Your Voice Costing You the Job?

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Your resume is impeccable, your interview answers are well thought out, and your outfit is spot-on. But according to a new study in PLoS ONE, the sound of your voice might be sabotaging your chances for employment. [Tweet this news!]

The culprit is vocal fry, lowering your voice so that your vocal cords vibrate and create a croaky, hoarse sound. (It's often accompanied by slow, drawn-out words, especially at the ends of sentences.) The trend was identified back in 2011 by Science magazine and again in 2012 by The New York Times, which cites the music of Brittany Spears and Ke$ha, as well as Maya Rudolph's SNL portrayal of Maya Angelou, as popular examples.

Previous research has associated vocal fry with "upward mobility and education," says Casey A. Klofstad, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and the study’s author. Women tend to use it to mimic others around them or people they see on TV. But "creaky voice," as it's sometimes called, can also communicate disinterest or insincerity.

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In his study, Klofstad and colleagues at Duke University recorded women and men speaking the phrase, "Thank you for considering me for this opportunity" in both their normal tone and in deliberate vocal fry. Then researchers played those recordings for 800 study participants, and asked the listeners to choose which speakers sounded the most educated, competent, trustworthy, and attractive.

People chose the “normal” voices over their low, creaky counterparts more than 80 percent of the time for all four of those questions, as well as for a fifth question: "Which person would you hire?" The study also found that people perceived vocal fry negatively when either gender used it, but negative connotations were stronger with female speakers. Because women tend to have higher voices than men, a lower pitch may sound particularly unusual and leave an unfavorable impression on potential employers.

So what's a job-hunting girl to do? For many women, vocal fry is an adoption of a vocal fashion trend, not a natural tone of voice, says Klofstad. Simply making an effort to avoid using it in an interview—by not speaking lower than normal or drawing out your words, for example—will give you an automatic advantage. Phew. (Did we say that right?)

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