Does Vocal Fry Ruin Job Prospects?

Image by Genevieve/Flickr

Image by Genevieve/Flickr

Research shows young American women may be losing jobs because of how they speak. Can a popular language pattern really jeopardize your career? Learn what candidates should take from the new study to their next interview to set themselves up for success.

A hot new study sparked debate among psychologists, employers, and voice specialists, published in May by the scientific journal, PLOS ONE. “Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market”  identifies “low-pitched” and “creaky-sounding” speech as increasingly popular among young American females, and comes to the disturbing conclusion that women who use the bottom of their vocal registers have reduced chances of getting a job. Vocal fry amounts to an affectation that interviewers find off-putting.

The following sections explore the importance of minding your articulation in interviews, why vocal fry makes a bad first impression, and how to avoid falling into negative vocal patterns, especially when nerves get the best of you.

How Vocal Fry Damages Job Prospects

Vocal fry is a technique singers know well. It’s small wonder “fry fever” first caught on among entertainers. For example, Zoey Deschanel [pictured, above] is one celebrity who famously speaks with vocal fry. Nowadays, some women speak in this way to sound perky or cool, while others believe this manner of speech lends necessary gravitas as they elbow their way into a businessman’s world.

The reality is speaking in vocal fry conveys a very different message to the listener. Especially if your potential employer is aware of the vocal fry “epidemic,” you run the risk of being written off by association with negative stereotypes. So what exactly does speaking with vocal fry communicate about you? Here are several reasons to kick the habit during a job interview.


Downright Irritating!

It is true that speaking in a lower register might inspire respect on a subconscious level. Deep voices are usually perceived as sounding more authoritative. However, unnatural pronunciation born of the need to belong to a certain strata of society can be quite irritating. Vocal fry may be popular among university students but outside the college context it identifies you as a member of an affected generation. Same goes for speaking in an unnaturally high-pitched voice.

Attention Trap

Performance during an interview depends on many factors and there is a lot you can do to create a positive overall impression. Speaking like a squeaky door, as some describe vocal fry, can be such a powerful attention trap that your potential boss might not be listening to you at all. When all they hear is how you sound and not what you say, you speech patterns may distract from your professional skills and qualifications.

Mocking Superiority

Some people might think you are looking down on them when you’re speaking in an unnatural way, be it vocal fry, uptalk, valleyspeak, or sexy baby voice. One never wants to start an interview by demonstrating disdain or disrespect.

Unexpected Pitfalls

Articulation specialists and vocal coaches insist the constant fluttering of the vocal cords that produces the effect of vocal fry has potential to damage your vocal cords. Others believe that speaking in a low register cannot be harmful as it is natural in some languages. Independent of questions about permanent damage, straining your voice to unnatural pitches has been known to make you lose your voice. Picture this happening during an interview. A glass of water won’t be of much help.

How to Fix Vocal Fry

Job interview anxiety affects people in different ways. Some tend to speak in an unnaturally high-pitched voice; others speak faster than usual (indeed, faster than they can think). Others find themselves of two minds about what to say. Especially when candidates embellish the truth, they leave long gaps in their speech that create a tense atmosphere and annoy listeners.

If you’ve developed one of these habits or picked up vocal fry unaware of its potentially harmful effect on your prospects, don’t despair. There are a few simple rules to keep in mind to boost your vocal confidence and overall performance during a job interview.

Be Yourself!

The more natural you sound during an interview, the more trustworthy you are. Try to sit calmly, and refrain from fidgeting in your chair.

Stay Focused

Make sure your mind doesn’t drift away from the conversation and from your manner of speech. This is not to say that you should be policing your speech – just monitor whether you’re falling into bad habits; make sure that you are not pretending or sounding strange.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice talking to yourself in front of the mirror. Look yourself straight in the eye and speak to your imaginary interviewer.

Easy Does It

Don’t speak too fast. Make sure to pause often enough to give yourself the chance to think about what you are going to say next. Allow enough time to breathe deeply and smile.

Be Confident

Be confident about what you are saying: this guarantees that you will say it in a natural way. Don’t use complicated words and phrases unless you are absolutely certain of your pronunciation. Steer clear of uncommon professional jargon, vernacular words, initials, abbreviations, and so on.

Making the most of a job interview happens in stages; it’s not some one-off act that happens in the conference room, but a process that begins with preparation. You may be falling into popular speech patterns because you’re nervous or posing but pretending to be someone you are not by speaking in a voice other than your own puts a bad foot forward. Practice promotes self-awareness, but in all the rehearsal don’t forget to be natural and present in the moment. Own the impression you’re making, and balance polish with authenticity.

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