When Job Hunting, Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard

Group Of Business People Sitting In A Line
100445191 Photo: Cathy Yeulet

Some people are really good at getting their foot in the doors of prospective employers, even when there aren’t any jobs available: They’ll aggressively seek out informational interviews, lunch, or coffee with the people who make hiring decisions, and so on. As someone who has always lacked this level of initiative when job hunting, I’ve often wondered whether there are some limits to this approach. Doesn’t it sometimes come off as overbearing? But a new study (PDF) in Psychological Science at least partially supports the enthusiastic up-and-at-them approach to job seeking: It turns out that, all things being equal, prospective employers will likely see you as more capable and intelligent simply by hearing the sound of your voice.

For the study, Juliana Schroeder and Nicholas Epley of Chicago’s Booth School of Business videoed a bunch of MBA students giving elevator pitches for their ideal jobs. Sometimes, the students gave pitches they’d designed to be presented in-person, and sometimes they read aloud pitches they’d adapted from a written form. The researchers then pulled a bunch of people at a science museum in Chicago, as well as a separate group of professional recruiters, and asked them all to evaluate the hypothetical applicants. At one point, actors were also brought in to read the pitches, to make sure the effects weren’t because of some quirk related to students reading their own pitches.

Consistently, the would-be hirers rated the hypothetical candidates as smarter, more capable, and more hire-worthy when they heard their voices, even though the pitches themselves were identical in the different experimental conditions. Seeing candidates via video didn’t seem to make a difference as compared to hearing them, though. 

Part of the reason this matters is that the participants in the experiment didn’t think being heard as opposed to being read would affect their chances. This wrongness could have real-world ramifications, the authors explain:

None expected that their voice would convey significantly greater intellect. Practically, these expectations matter because they may affect how job candidates approach employers. If candidates are unaware of how the communication medium affects the impression they convey, then they will be just as likely to write to employers as to speak with them. Theoretically, these expectations matter because they suggest that the underlying mechanisms responsible for conveying a person’s mental capacities are surprising rather than obvious.

This wasn’t a perfectly real-world situation, of course. As the authors point out, it would be hard to come up with an ethical experiment in which you experimentally manipulated what real-life hiring managers saw or heard of real-life candidates. And going back to the informational-interview aspect, it’s not clear this finding can be directly applied to those situations, simply because the experiment wasn’t set up to test that.

Still, there’s little reason to think the social-psychological dynamics at work here wouldn’t apply in other similar situations. Despite the fact that the students in this study didn’t think their voices would help them, it actually isn’t that shocking to suggest that, all things being equal, it’s better to meet a prospective employer in person or over the phone than to remain just another email in their inbox. This study helps provide some context as to why this distinction matters — and why those overeager job-seekers might be on the right track.

When Job Hunting, Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard