Talent Acquisition

Good, the Bad and the Ugly English Language Skills in Interviews

Recruitment is a costly and time-consuming business, and identifying and interviewing the wrong candidates is one of the major issues. Research into 1,000 businesses shows that two-thirds reject between 50-75% of job applicants after the first face-to-face interview.

On average, interviews last between 30 minutes to one hour, if you multiply that by the number of candidates rejected and again by the hourly rate of the individual conducting the interview, you can see how this can really start costing your business.

With so much at stake, it’s important to be able to effectively identify suitable candidates from their CVs and during first stage interviews. When you are reviewing candidates’ CVs, it can be difficult to determine the English language ability of the individual if there is no clear indication of a qualification. Research by Cambridge English Language Assessment (Cambridge English), which analyses the language learning and assessment needs of economic migrants to the UK, highlights that many hirers distrust CVs and cover letters submitted by foreign migrants.

As such, the majority of recruiters use their own methods of assessment, with only a quarter of employers looking for evidence of success in external English language assessments to measure these skills. The remaining three-quarters potentially miss out on vital evidence of suitability by not asking for proof of qualification.

To save time and money, and minimise the risk of a bad hire, employers should make themselves familiar with the quality of different qualifications so that they can then ask candidates for proof in the form of a certificate.

When considering candidates at first round interview stage, a substantial proportion of hirers rely on interviews in English to evaluate a candidate’s English language skill level. Cambridge English research highlights that employers globally value all four language skills – reading, writing, speaking and listening – therefore, although interviews are currently the most popular route for finding candidates, the majority of hirers surveyed don’t feel they show the full competencies of each candidate.

The research points to a clear correlation between size of organisation and which of the four language skills is most essential. For larger organisations, reading is likely to be the most important skill. Conversely, for smaller organisations, speaking is more important. Reading is the most important skill for approximately half of all the employers in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine. Industries that have cited reading skills as being more beneficial include electronics, high-tech, computer services, aerospace and defence.

Nonetheless, employers are looking for advanced levels of English language from employees in all sectors. The research shows that, in countries where English is an official or de facto official language, 97 percent of employers say that English is vital to their organisation, with the majority requiring native or advanced level skills. Alarmingly, as many as one in five senior managers lack the necessary English skills to meet job expectations.

Clearly the most effective way to assess a candidate’s English language skills, is to rely on the assessment of an official qualifying body, and to look for recognised English language qualifications as a standard to determine whether a candidate’s skills are at a level required for a specific vacancy. There is a huge pool of extremely well qualified people, with good language skills, which employers are crying out for, if only they could be sure that they are getting someone with the right level of English language understanding and ability.

About the author: Blandine Bastié is the Regional Manager for the UK and Ireland at Cambridge English, and is responsible for the region’s overall strategy across all sectors including Higher Education. Before joining Cambridge English in 2014, Blandine worked for providers of technology and information services in both commercial academic publishing and the not-for-profit sector. Blandine holds an MA in English Language and Literature, and an MSc in Business Management. 

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