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Leadership

The Verbal Tic Of Doom: Why The "Vocal Fry" Is Killing Your Job Search

If you've fallen into the annoying and off-putting vocal fry habit, unlearn it if you ever want to get hired or promoted. Or should we say, "unlearrrrrn it if you everrrr want to get hirrrrred or promoted?"

There is no doubt that the Internet has changed the way people find and land jobs. And yet, a piece of technology more than 100 years old could keep you from getting hired.

These days, candidates and employers can use mega job boards and social networks to find each other. Applicants can email unlimited resumes, and organizations use software to screen them for keywords. Both sides use search engines to collect information about the other. Still, in spite of the Internet revolution, some things remain the same: For most of us, getting a job requires talking in person to a real human being. More often than not, that means an old-school preliminary telephone interview.

I doubt anyone has won a job solely based on their phone interview. But you can lose a job that way, and I saw it happen. We were interviewing for a position that involved a high degree of interaction with senior executive clients, so we were looking for someone with the skills and experience to operate at that level. In the leadership business, you get about 10 seconds to establish your credibility. We needed someone who had what it took.

We started by winnowing down a stack of resumes into a smaller, solid candidate pool. Then we set up a first round of telephone interviews to be conducted by a couple of our staff members. They reduced the pile further, and that’s where I got involved. I took that stack and did my own interviews by phone with the idea of reducing the number of candidates to three finalists. One of the staffers on the preliminary interviews handed me the shortened stack and told me that he had arranged the candidates in rank order based on their qualifications. He did a nice job because the resume on top of the pile looked like a perfect match of background and experience.

But when I spoke with the candidate, I ruled her out immediately. Why? Because of how she talked on the phone. Every sentence ended in a gravelly low vibrato. It was a grating, kazoo-like effect that made the candidate sound immature, unconfident, and, frankly, annoying. There was no way we could risk having her represent us with a senior executive audience in spite of her considerable track record and credentials. It turns out there’s a name for the way she spoke—it’s called glottilization or vocal fry, a voice trend among both genders and particularly prominent with young women. A recently published article in the Journal of Voice reports that two-thirds of the female college students studied used vocal fry. Some suggest we can thank pop culture influences like Britney Spears, Ke$ha, and the Kardashians for popularizing this way of talking. If you still have no idea what this sounds like, someone calling herself AbbieNormalOne does a great demo here.

This isn’t a new trend. I have heard it among school-age girls for years. (Maybe I just haven’t, like, been paying attention since my house is occupied by three, like, teenage boys and I have, like, my own speech pattern issues to deal with.) It’s just the first time I have seen it cost someone a job.

Most linguists agree that vocal fry is a learned behavior. If you can make it all the way through this morning show interview with Kim Kardashian, you see the interviewer actually starts out speaking normally but by the end of the interview she is frying like a short order cook. (Spoiler alert—Kim’s favorite holiday is Christmas!)

One of the authors of the Journal of Voice article, speech scientist Nassima Abdelli-Beruh of Long Island University, says in a Science Magazine interview that, "Young students tend to use it when they get together…Maybe this is a social link between members of a group."

In other words, it is a behavior we learn in order to be like other people. Here’s some advice if you’re an up-and-coming professional and even an established one who has fallen into this habit: Unlearn it. Your 10 seconds are up—and you didn’t get the job.

Craig Chappelow, who specializes in 360-degree feedback and the development of effective senior executive teams, is a portfolio manager at the Center for Creative Leadership (www.ccl.org), a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education and research.

[Image: Flickr user Louish Pixel]

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