Your Spoken Voice Is More Powerful for Getting Hired Than the Written Word

Photo: Bernd Vogel/Getty Images

Thanks to bone conduction and weird features of the skull, you may hate the strange, alien sound of your own voice. But to everyone else, it’s an intractable part of who you are. And if you’re trying to land a job, you literally need to make it heard.

That’s the takeaway from a paper from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently written up by Chris Pash at Business Insider. Researchers Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder found that when hiring managers and recruiters heard potential candidates (who were Booth M.B.A. students) explain why they should be hired, they rated them as smarter and more capable than if they had only read the pitch. Watching video and listening to a recording had similar effects, owing to, the researchers reason, the fact that both are vessels for voices. Subsequent experiments using paid voice actors and visitors to a Chicago science museum as participants confirmed the finding.

“The words that come out of a person’s mouth convey the presence of a thoughtful mind more clearly than the words typed by a person’s hands—even when those words are identical,” write Epley and Schroeder, who’s now at the University of California’s Haas School of Business. “A person’s voice communicates not only the content of his or her thinking, but also the humanlike capacity for thinking,” they write.

To me, this looks like another example of Media Richness Theory (MRT) at work. Sprung from organizational psychology, MRT contends that various forms of media — from the printed word to text messages to phone calls to video-conferencing and beyond — are more or less “rich” in the range of signals they convey. As anyone who’s gotten into a fight with their partner over a misinterpreted iMessage has learned, text is relatively “poor”: You don’t get the shifts in tone, pauses, and other musical qualities of voice when it’s flattened into the written word.

Indeed, as Harvard linguist Stephen Pinker once told me in an interview, this is probably the reason that emoji have become so popular, and probably necessary, in text-based conversation. “As with many of our punctuation symbols, like a question mark or an exclamation point, they are there to convey some communicative force that would not be obvious just from the arrangement of words on the page,” he said. Since you’re probably not going to include 🔥 in your cover letter, it’s a good call to get a recruiter on the phone.

Your Spoken Voice Is More Powerful Than the Written Word