Lost in Translation: Level Setting Language Proficiency

There is no doubt that bilingual and multilingual candidates are in high demand in today’s competitive market for technical talent. Unfortunately, both companies and candidates can struggle when it comes to bilingual job opportunities because of unclear expectations around language proficiency.

If you’d like your company to have improved access to today’s top talent with second-language skills, here are three simple things you can do to create better bilingual connections with potential candidates.

Assess the role’s actual second-language requirements before creating the job posting

Not every bilingual position requires complete second-language proficiency. Truly understanding the level of second-language fluency required is key. To do this, start by breaking down the daily tasks that the successful candidate will be expected to perform. This will shed light on the actual level of proficiency that is required, and in some cases, this may significantly expand the talent pool. For example, a customer service representative for a French speaking call centre may only need enough conversational English to conduct occasional face-to-face status updates with an English manager. That requires a significantly lower level of proficiency than a position where the employee must produce detailed written reports in their second language.

If a similar position is already filled with a bilingual employee, ask for their input on the level of fluency that they feel is required to do the job well.

Once you have the list of daily tasks compiled, take the time to understand which of those functions will require the candidate to speak, comprehend, and write in their second language.

Clearly communicate the position’s specific language proficiency requirements

Through conversations with thousands of candidates over the years, we know that there are many job seekers with a solid command of a second language who won’t even consider bilingual positions because they assume there is a requirement to speak, understand, and write both languages as proficiently as a native speaker. If your position does not require complete second language proficiency, you’ll gain access to a much larger pool of talent if that is communicated effectively in the job posting.

First, be clear about the specific languages you’re referencing. In a bilingual country like Canada, it’s easy to assume that the term bilingual refers to English and French, but in today’s increasingly global marketplace that’s no longer a safe assumption.

Next, look to the daily task list developed before creating the job posting to get really specific about the requirements for the second language. The posting should immediately address questions such as:

  • Is second language proficiency an asset or a requirement?
  • Will the candidate need to speak and write the second language?

Broad descriptors like “Intermediate Level of Fluency” or “Fluently Bilingual” lack clarity and can create confusion amongst potential candidates that might scare them away. Instead, paint a clear picture of language expectations by specifying second language requirements by oral, written, and reading skill proficiency.

The proficiency definitions used in Global Affairs Canada’s Language Proficiency Scale are a helpful resource that can be used to further define position requirements. The scale offers detailed definitions for its five levels of language proficiency:

  • Zero: No Language Proficiency
  • One: Elementary Proficiency
  • Two: Limited Working Proficiency
  • Three: General Professional Proficiency
  • Four: Advanced Professional Proficiency
  • Five: Educated Native Proficiency

Rather than saying you’re looking for “Advanced Professional Proficiency,” provide examples of what that would look like to your company. The Scale’s definitions can help with communicating those expectations. For example:

“When speaking in their second language, the candidate will be able to communicate with a great deal of fluency, grammatical accuracy, and a complex vocabulary.  They will be able to both write and edit formal and informal correspondence, official reports and documents, and professional articles.”

During the interview, ensure you actually assess the second language skills that you have identified as important. If the role will involve the successful candidate rapidly switching between two languages in conversations, simulate that experience during an interview question. If the role will involve a significant amount of writing in the candidate’s second language, give them a short on-the-spot assignment to get a better sense of how accurately and efficiently they can capture their thoughts in writing.

Talk to a Recruiting Expert with Bilingual Staffing Experience

A brief call with one of Ian Martin’s hiring consultants can provide invaluable insight to help you find great bilingual candidates. With over six decades of experience in technical recruitment and project staffing, Ian Martin understands the unique nuances of finding and placing bilingual technical talent. We also have an extensive network of bilingual talent across North America ready to work on your projects. Connect with one of Ian Martin’s hiring consultants today to discuss your bilingual talent search strategy.