There is a general consensus amongst search firms (and even some internal recruitment teams) that a face to face interview removes the need for a formal English testing assessment. Recently, we challenged a senior director from a large recruitment business to challenge their views on whether a face to face interview will always be better than an English test at testing the English competence of a candidate. Having originally dismissed the need for an English testing service on the basis that all candidates are met and assessed in a face to face interview the Director agreed to test our face or Fiction question.
Firstly, we all agreed that a face to face interview allows the interviewer to assess many qualities of the candidate including technical skills, general presentation & charisma – the benefits of this are not in question and our challenge was not aimed at disproving the need for a face to face interview. A face to face interview is a fundamental part of the recruitment process and should always be conducted where possible however, it is not safe to assume that the face to face interview can assess a candidate’s communication or language skills as well as an English assessment test.
We challenged the director to put some of her non-native speaking recruiters within her business through our language test. We stated that it would be impossible for her recruiters to assess the top levels of English communication if they were unable to achieve this level of English themselves (or at least be close to this level) in which she agreed. How could a person be able to distinguish a person’s ability to describe and articulate a problem or solution if they can’t understand the abstract topics, subject matter or even the language used in the conversation? Quite simply, they can’t.
We tested 8 non-native speaking staff members from the Singaporean based recruitment agency in which none of them achieved close to the top CEFR level (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). More worryingly for the director, two of the recruiters only achieved a B1 level which is below the average for the region. There are six levels in total (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), see here for a complete explanation –Examagram Scores. B1 is the lower intermediate level, meaning the recruiters could understand the familiar matters regularly encountered in the working environment. They would be able to deal with most situations and they would be able to describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and then briefly give reasons and explanations for this. However, it also means that they will struggle to engage in more conversations about abstract topics and it would be expected that this person would be functional in their role but will require flexibility in their English Communication from other colleagues and clients.
The reality for the Director is that she now accepted what her clients already knew, that her recruiters could not accurately and consistently assess the English language skills of the candidates they are putting forward. The irony of the situation is it seems to be more commonly the ‘executive’ search firms that explain that they do not need an English testing Service because of the level of their candidates and because they do a face to face interview. This view is bolstered not only due to an interview being conducted but also that higher level candidates speak the best English. It would be interesting to know if a Japanese scientist can speak better English than a call centre agent from the Philippines!
Even in a hypothetical situation where all recruiters achieve the top level CEFL level this would still not qualify them to accurately assess a candidates English abilities. How could they describe the communication skills of that candidate? Would they describe the candidate as “good”, “excellent”, “outstanding” or even “bad”?
What do these words really mean? They are subjective in the sense that one person’s “good” is different to another person’s “good”. The “good” communication that the recruiter believes is “good” may be well under the client’s opinion of what is a “good” level of English.
The fictitious believe that a recruiter’s ability to describe to a client the language capabilities of a candidate better than a quantifiable, comparable and descriptive English test could only be described as a recruitment myth. Not only does an English Testing Service such as Examagram give a quantifiable score that is linked to a standard that has been outlined by the Council of Europe (along with a description) but it also offers the understanding on how good that result is when comparing to the country they are based in as well as the score and capability of people across the world. The credibility gained by a recruiter by producing a test certificate showing all of this will far outweigh any subjective description that a recruitment consultant could deliver.
Lastly, it is worth remembering that a Face to Face interview will never be able to test the reading skills or written competence of a candidate. At no point during the face to face interview process does the candidate have to read or write. It is feasible the candidate could be almost illiterate and the interviewer would never know.
In view of this it is clear that a face to face interview can not be a substitute for this part of the recruitment process – this is simply a myth that people are increasingly ready to accept. Both interviewing and English testing are complementary processes that should often both be completed throughout the recruitment cycle. Many recruiters are using Examagram as a initial test to assist in their decisions as to who to interview face to face. This is particularly evident in mass or volume recruitment (shared Service Centers, RPO and BPO) and we will cover this in future posts.
Since our meeting, the recruitment director is now a regular user of Examagram. English testing has been ingrained not only into their recruitment cycle but also into their overall value proposition. At no cost to the recruiter and with clear cost benefits to the employer, Examagram represents the ultimate value-add.