Cosentino’s book has a brief but thoughtful section on international students which centers around communication skills. I’m an American citizen but grew up in a South American country. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 17 and still have an accent, though mild, after 10 years. My English grammar and vocab is well above average otherwise (by average, I mean most people who grew up speaking English).

Consentino’s advice is to try to get the same job with the same firms but in your native country since you’ll have a competitive advantage (an American college degree has prestige abroad, etc). This advice makes more sense for international students than for me (this is my country, after all). However, I see his point and would consider working in the Latin American office of a Top 5 firm for, say, two years and then transfer to the U.S. or simply leave it at that and then move onto something else. From your experience interviewing candidates and working as a consultant in the U.S., would you echo Consentino’s advice? More precisely, would you put in front of a client a perfectly competent consultant who has a mild accent?

By the way, the first thing I did after becoming a citizen recently wasn’t getting a passport or registering to vote. I instead got enrolled in a one-on-one intensive accent training program with a speech therapist (work in progress). I guess I take this accent issue very seriously! (My next investment is in the LOMS!)

I thank you profusely in advance for your thoughts and guidance on this. Feel free to share this question via your daily emails since, I think, I’m not the only one troubled by this concern.

My Reply:

The main value of applying in one’s native country is that the resume reader is more familiar with the local education system, grading systems and other forms of academic recognition. I don’t know what your native country is, but let’s say for argument’s sake, it is Argentina.

Let’s say you went to the #1 most prestigious high school in Argentina and won an award for being the top 10 graduates in the entire country… an award everyone in Argentina is familiar with… and you sent your resume to me, an American, I would most likely reject it because I don’t have the background to consider it.

Now if you were the child of a McKinsey client, then I might take the enormous effort to send your resume to a colleague in Argentina to ask them to evaluate your resume for me, but it’s an incredible hassle to do so.

Now if your academic and career accomplishments in the United States are strong enough to stand on their own, then it’s irrelevant what you did before you were 17. So for argument’s sake, it you have a Harvard degree and interned for say Coca-Cola as a summer financial analyst, by all means, work in the U.S.

Consulting firms in the U.S. are very multinational.  I have no problems putting a consultant with an accent in front of a client. The only concern I have is would a client ever have to ask the consultant to repeat what he or she was saying. So is the accent mild, as in someone would ask, “Oh, where are you from?”… or is the accent so strong that someone says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you said, could you repeat that?”

The former is acceptable, the latter forces the interviewer to think twice — and often lean towards rejecting someone.

Also in general, I tend to think one should live your life the way you want to and not overly complicate things. If you want to move back to your native country, that’s one thing. But if your only reason for possibly going back to your native country is to work the system, so to speak, I’d be slightly inclined to spend that same energy in just making things work the best you can in the country you prefer to call home.