New Meta-Analysis Shows That Having a Dialect or Accent May Disadvantage Applicants in Recruitment Processes

Researchers recommend the use of structured interviews to reduce potential biases

People who speak a regional dialect or who have an accent may be at a disadvantage in personnel selection processes. This is the result of a new meta-analysis carried out by researchers at Freie Universität Berlin, the Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences, and Ulm University. The team of researchers discovered that applicants who spoke nonstandard language (e.g., ethnic and migration-based language varieties or regional dialects) were perceived as less competent in job interviews and were thus less likely to receive a job offer. The study, titled "Do Ethnic, Migration-Based, and Regional Language Varieties Put Applicants at a Disadvantage? A Meta-analysis of Biases in Personnel Selection" was published in the prestigious scientific journal Applied Psychology and is available at:­apps.12528 .

The researchers analyzed data from 3,615 participants across twenty-two individual studies, meaning that their results represent a comprehensive view of current international research on this subject. All primary studies used for the meta-analysis were based on either Standard US/British English or German as the standard language. The study compared how job interviews of applicants who spoke standard language with those who spoke nonstandard language were perceived and evaluated, even when the candidates’ replies to questions were identical in terms of content.

Results of the Study

The team of researchers, led by Niklas Schulte from Freie Universität Berlin (Division for Psychological Assessment, Differential and Personality Psychology), made two key findings:
  • Applicants who speak nonstandard language are considered less competent than standard language-speaking applicants with the same qualifications. Their perceived "hirability" was also rated lower than otherwise identical standard language-speaking candidates.
  • Furthermore, there was no evidence that professional human resources managers were less likely to be influenced by these biases in their hiring decisions than nonprofessionals. Similarly, the disadvantages experienced by nonstandard language speakers were not reduced when the interviews were conducted by other nonstandard language speakers.


Based on the results of their meta-analysis, researchers Niklas Schulte (Freie Universität Berlin), Johannes M. Basch (the Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences), Hannah-Sophie Hay (Ulm University), and Klaus Melchers (Ulm University), recommend using structured interviews with predefined questions that focus on the job itself. "Evaluations should be made with regard to the candidate’s qualifications and suitability for the position - as demonstrated by the content of their answers, not their accent or the language they use. This could help us to reduce the negative effects of bias or misplaced judgments and ensure a fairer selection process," says Schulte.

The Latin words veritas, justitia, and libertas, which frame the seal of Freie Universität Berlin, stand for the values that have defined the academic ethos of Freie Universität since its founding in December 1948.