How to Hire the Best Bilingual Workers


Communication is at the heart of the customer and employee experience. That’s why language skills are one of the keys to your business’ success.

Recently, as part of HR Exchange Network’s Fourth Annual Talent Exchange Live online event, in the session “Communication Matters: How Certifying Language Ability Is Foundational to Growing Global Talent,” Brigham Tomco, CEO and Cofounder of Emmersion, which automates the language evaluation process, explained the importance of determining an applicant’s precise language skill level when hiring. 

“None of the other skills matter if they can’t communicate in that language,” says Tomco.

WATCH: Communication Matters: How Certifying Language Ability Is Foundational to Growing Global Talent

In fact, 70% of participants said language certification was the most important factor when hiring bilingual call center employees. Personality tests, education background, and typing speed earned 10% of the vote each. The results demonstrate just how vital communication is to a functioning organization. It’s a top priority. 

The Times Require Better Communication

“As technology has changed and globalization has increased in our workforce and customer base, language ability and the ability to communicate across cultures and across language lines has become even more important,” says Tomco. 

He points out the role language is playing as work and workplaces evolve. Remote work, digital transformation, and global workforces require constant communication. Teams have to understand each other and customers to achieve success. 

“We try to find the right employees to provide a great customer experience,” says Tomco. 

Indeed, employees who have a poor language ability can lead to the following problems: 

  • Inability to win customers
  • Decreased customer retention
  • Low customer satisfaction 
  • High employee turnover
  • Poor internal communication

To ensure hiring the best bilingual or multilingual employees, companies can certify skills by using a trained language rater. Others continue to conduct interviews and screening processes with Human Resources. Another option is an internal, written assessment. Finally, companies can turn to third-party automated assessments.

Human Raters Versus Automated Assessments 

During the event session, Tomco demonstrated how inefficient human raters can be by having participants listen to an applicant who was speaking English as a second language. Then, everyone provided a rating, and the scores ranged wildly. He later revealed the scores the applicants received from an AI-based language assessment. What was shocking is that many would have hired someone who simply did not have enough grasp of the language to satisfy the requirements of the job. 

Human-rated assessments can last 30 to 60 minutes and require more than one interviewer. The results can take two or more days or weeks to determine. While humans should be able to tell if someone is easily understood, the results are often inconsistent. Of course, there is inherant error and bias. You can only assess one person at a time. 

On the other hand, you can conduct an automated assessment in as little as 15 minutes. The results are available immediately. There is no bias, and it rates on the same consistent scale each time. You can test hundreds or even thousands of people at one time. Automated means are 25% of the cost of other methods, says Tomco.

Maximizing the Potential of AI Assessments 

Artificial intelligence (AI) assessments are predictive, data-driven, and allow HR leaders to make job offers within 24 hours. This is particularly important during a historic labor shortage, which is causing fierce competition for talent. Time is of the essence, and it can be the different between winning over an employee or losing him or her to a competitor. 

Still, talk of AI stirs up various emotions in people, and it can be risky. After all, one of the benefits of using an automated assessment is removing bias. But Tomco points out that AI is not inherently fair. 

“When talking about AI, your software is only as unbiased as you train it to be,” he says. 

As a result, he suggests you also have people from other regions doing the training and use a wide range of data to ensure fairness. He stresses that AI should support human processes. While there is no question that automated language testing has benefits that cannot be compared to processes conducted by humans. 

But many HR leaders have trouble getting C-suite executives to buy into the investment. At least the up front costs can be prohibitive for some. Tomco says you simply have to show them the ROI by completing a time and cost analysis and showing them the cost of turnover when you end up hiring those who are not qualified. Demonstrate, he says, how poor language skills translate to a poor customer experience. 

“The cost of low customer satisfaction has massive ramifications on top-line revenue,” says Tomco. 

Still, changing the mindset of company decision makers remains a big challenge. Organizations across the board have to recognize the value of their talent and understand what that means to the company’s ultimate success.   

“I think one of the most difficult things is changing the perception that HR or talent is a cross center versus a revenue generator,” says Tomco. “I definitely view our people as the revenue generator piece of the business.” 

To hire the best bilingual or multilingual employees, you should consider investing in automated assessments. They are more efficient, practical, and just than human raters. In addition, the automated process can speed up the hiring process. Hiring good employees who can communicate in the language of their colleagues and customers can help the company reach its goals. 

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