For many new Vancouverites, the local labour market can be a challenge to integrate into. The requirement for “Canadian work experience is often seen as a veiled attempt at screening newcomers from the pool of applicants. Assessing language skills is often limited to the writing in a cover letter or the performance at a job interview.
Many internationally trained professionals have been in an akward situation where they were misjudged. One client told us about how he was misjudged at his bank. When the bank teller could not understand his pronunciation of Trafalgar street, she spoke very slowly and said that she had to call her manager. She gestured with her finger on an imaginary rotory phone while saying “call the manager”. This is very frustrating, especially when on paper, the person is fluent in English.
When studying at University of British Columbia, Howard, who moved to Canada when he was 16, said accented speech was not a big concern. ”Sometimes I think it hurt my mark when I had an assignment that involved a presentation. But usually those kind of assignments were part of group work so I didn’t feel that all the responsibility was on me.” If anything, Howard noted that some of his professors were hard to understand. Howard never thought his accent would be viewed differently outside of academia until he started looking for work after graduation.
During the job hunt, Howard found that he struggled on the phone. Face to face interviews didn’t bother him so much. During his time at university, he had done a lot of networking and clubs. ”I didn’t feel shy”, he said, “I’m an outgoing person.” The biggest problem was the initial phone call. ”I don’t want my accent to be my first impression.” When Howard got a call to arrange a time for an interview, phone conversation was difficult and he felt it set a bad atmosphere for the rest of the job vetting process.
With accent reduction training, Howard learned that some of the sounds he made were influenced by his background of learning English in Hong Kong and Australia. ”I didn’t know that 15 and 50 sounded the same to other people when I said that.” When you confirm your interview time is 2:15, you want to make sure that they don’t hear 2:50.
Howard isn’t alone. University enrollments by students like him are steadily increasing. Many Ivy league universities tout their demographic diversity, however the reality of the job market is not as accommodating. Kurt Hill, former executive director of the Career Management Centre at Simon Fraser University sees value in accent reduction training. ”Graduates tend to enter the workforce with all of the qualifications, education, and ambition, but those with strong foreign accents often hit a huge roadblock during their very first phone interview. They may have a great vocabulary, but many employers have had a hard time seeing beyond the accent.” says Hill.
Some universities have taken these concerns on by providing workshops for students that can improve their ability to get jobs. MIT, for example, in order to combat the stereotype that its students are nerdy, provides Charm School. In Charm School students can learn business etiquette related to how to dress, how to dine, how to give negative information, and more. Our ability to give a good first impression means identifying our own weaknesses in social settings. After that, it is just a matter of practicing so that our weaknesses no longer stand out. Practice makes perfect.