Will accent and obesity sink a job search?

An employer can’t legally discriminate over weight or accent, but could it play a role in hiring decisions? (Associated Press)

Karla L. Miller

Question: My stepdaughter, a recent college graduate, is living with her dad and me while looking for a lab research position for which she’d be qualified with an average GPA and a degree from a state school. She has had several phone interviews and one in person, but nothing more.

Stepdaughter has a guttural Southern accent and poor diction. While I get that these are a result of the area in which her now-deceased mother raised her, in my opinion, they make her sound uneducated and lazy. For instance, she pronounces “pen” as “pin”; “can’t” as “cain’t”; and then there’s — horrors — “ain’t”; and that eloquent phrase, “I don’t got no.” It’s my assumption that this may be keeping her from moving further along in the interview process. My husband, her dad, doesn’t want to address it for fear of harming her self-esteem. Any articles or suggestions I have given her are met with disdain.

One last note: She is obese, and I am concerned that this also will work against her. Her dad, again, doesn’t want to risk hurting her feelings, and she is very verbal in telling people that she likes the way she looks (and good for her, I guess).

I realize an employer cannot legally discriminate over weight or accent, but I would value your expert opinion as to whether I have a valid point.

Answer: As a state-school graduate who retains a hint of a drawl, I confess I had to swallow my first five or six reactions to your letter. But you do raise valid concerns for job seekers.

Although even the educated and industrious among us can make mistakes, consistent bad grammar suggests a lack of attention to detail that doesn’t bode well for someone seeking a research position. And there’s no federal law against narrow-mindedly rejecting an applicant for weight or accent, unless those traits can be clearly connected to a prejudice against gender, race or other protected class.

So, yes, those are fair points. But if you’re hoping to use them to helpfully needle your husband’s daughter onto a career path and out of your house, I doubt she’ll take them as anything but concern trolling, however many expert opinions you gift-wrap them in.

Her dad might have a shot at encouraging her to seek “good for now” jobs or look into a job-hunting seminar. Meanwhile, I suggest you try looking at her another way: as a self-confident graduate, motherless too young, who is starting her adult life as a dependent in a home where she likely feels judged and unwanted. Even if she lacks polish, and even if her aspirations exceed her abilities, her confidence and work ethic, bolstered by someone who believes in her, can still carry her far.

Karla Miller writes a column answering questions about work dramas and traumas for the Washington Post.