Striving to be noticed can be one of the biggest challenges, and for an international job candidate in the U.S., this especially rings true. A business owner once gave me the advice, “You can be the prettiest or you can be the ugliest, just don’t be in between.” What he meant, of course, was that you need to stand out from the hundreds of people competing for the same opportunities.
So for all this talk about being standing out this surely raises a few questions: What differences count as being “competitive” or unique in what they can bring to an organization? How might an accent, of all things, give someone a unique edge to a career opportunity?
According to an article published in Human Resources Management Review “bilingualism and biculturalism are indicative of cognitive flexibility and openness to experience.” And even more recently, those who participate in global mobility programs, versus those who don’t, are looked at more favorably. Even more than that, larger companies with a more global presence are beginning to prefer membership in a global mobility program as a key ingredient in promotion. Thus, you can look at your accent in English one way: as an outward symbol for bilingual and bicultural diversity.
So if you are not feeling at home with your accent, it’s time to consider the benefits of your uniqueness in an otherwise homogenous setting. An accent can give others around you a rich impression of your cultural experience. People from different cultures often have different ways of thinking about the same situation, and being able to think outside the box is important for the more lateral and team-based communications dominating organizations today.
It takes flexibility and adaptability to adjust to a new culture, and these are also traits that businesses seek out in their employees. Bilinguals often have the sensitivity and insight necessary for successful intercultural engagement, not to mention the language skills needed for a new market opportunity. Bilingualism, then, should be looked at as a highly sought after skill in business. Learn to embrace your accent as free advertising.
Do take note, however. While the range of acceptable pronunciation is broadening as English becomes a Lingua Franca, an accent can either work in your favor or be a disastrous roadblock to communication. Comprehensibility is the key. If an accent masks the message or requires great concentration on the part of the listener, that’s a certain sign of trouble. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself or have a trusted (fluent English speaking) colleague use when evaluating your accent:
- Are the words clear, and easy to understand?
- Do the words flow together?
- Is there proper intonation?
- Does it match your intended meaning?
A true acid test—can your colleagues understand one of your voicemails sent under “ordinary” circumstances? If you’re in the clear, embrace the moment. Bilingual ability and multicultural experience are must-have professional skills for today’s knowledge industry organizations. We would not recommend accent training unless you were conscious of it to the point of being distracted in your interactions.
If you’re not in the clear, we recommend you get there fast. You don’t want people second guessing your abilities or identifying communication challenges on this account. We like Paul of Paul Meier Dialect Services. He’s fast and effective and has the convenience of phone based coaching. Whatever you decide, be sure you do what’s needed to stay in the race.
And as always, there’s so much to cover on any given topic. If we left you out, or we didn’t address your area of particular need, SAY SOMETHING. We want to hear from you, so please post your comments and questions.
Until the next chapter…