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Thumb's down on the "upspeak"


As a career consultant my job is to help clients do whatever they can to present themselves more effectively in this job market.

It’s pretty competitive out there, and I want my clients to be memorable in their job interviews, in a good way.

So we talk about the importance of establishing a rapport with the interviewer. Have good eye contact, ask smart questions, smile, and be engaged in the conversation.

I’ve recently noticed, however, a weird development in some members of the younger generation that may make them memorable as a job candidate  – but not in a good way.

Upspeaking can be the difference between getting a job and being turned down.

Upspeak or uptalk got its start back in the ‘80s when it was known as talking like a Valley Girl.

These days upspeak is also known by the way more sophisticated (and laughable) term, high rise terminal because “towards the end of the statement (the terminal), the intonation starts high and rises.”

We’re now in the midst of a resurgence of upspeakers, mainly people aged 16 to 30s. And it’s not just women. Men can be upspeakers.

Upspeak is when your voice goes up at the end of a sentence, turning statements into questions – when you’re not asking a question at all. Here’s an example:

“Tell me about yourself," asks the interviewer from a major urban hospital.

“Well, my degree is in biochemistry, but I’ve always wanted to be a doctor? I’ve had summer internships in hospital labs and am very interested in the job opening at your hospital?”

What is that all about, you may be asking yourself?

Now, notice what happens when you read those same sentences without the question marks.

This candidate’s response is pretty good. Clear. Articulate. Strong. As a hiring manager I probably want to learn more about this person.

But add the upspeak and this same candidate comes across as immature, tentative, and inexperienced. Not the qualities one looks for in a job candidate. 

So why do people do this?

I think it’s a habit, likely picked up in high school or college from friends with a similar habit. But it’s a habit that needs to be broken.

When I ask upspeakers why they do it, the typical response is: They don’t realize they’re doing it and they think it helps them sound interested, enthusiastic – and might actually be an asset in their job interviews.

Let me respond as quickly and as firmly as possible: No.

Upspeak will not help you. It is not an endearing trait and in fact distracts from what you’re saying. As the interviewer is looking at you in disbelief, wondering why you’re talking this way, she’s also asking herself: Is this the person I want on my staff?

The response I’d give at the end of the interview is: “Thanks for coming? I’m not sure your background is appropriate for this position?”

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Gale Dunlap

Gale Dunlap is President of Standout Strategies, a company that helps senior managers and professionals market themselves more effectively to get promoted or change careers. Her career focus has been in marketing strategy and executive education for companies such as Amoco, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Kauffman Foundation, and many startups and nonprofits. For more detail visit www.standout-strategies.com, call 303-250-8039 and connect with Gale on LinkedIn

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