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“Bilingual Preferred”

Posted by Elena del Valle on July 10, 2006

By Astrid Rial, president, Arial International

Astrid Rial

Astrid Rial, president Arial International

Photo: Arial International

Companies who are hiring bilingual talent to service US Hispanic customers are seeking employees who are able to effectively communicate in “Business Spanish” so that they can deliver products and services to Spanish-speaking customers. However, confirming that job candidates are fluent in verbal and/or written English and Spanish is a challenge if the recruiter is not fully bilingual.

Many Spanish speakers in the US speak colloquial Spanish. They are able to converse across the dinner table, but they lack the vocabulary or knowledge of grammar, syntax or verb conjugation rules to conduct a business conversation in Spanish. Unless the interviewer is fully fluent in both languages, recruiters find it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between casual and business Spanish-speakers. For companies who offer differential pay for bilingual language skills, the recruiter has the additional responsibility of ensuring the candidate’s verbal communication and/or writing skills are professional and appropriate for a business environment.

Let’s evaluate the following requirements commonly used in bilingual (Spanish/English) recruitment ads:

1. Bilingual abilities are a plus     
2. Bilingual preferred
3. Bilingual preferred; at a minimum, the ability to understand and to make one’s self understood to all Spanish speaking individuals
4. Excellent verbal and written communications skills required in English and Spanish
5. Bilingual and able to read, write and speak Spanish proficiently
6. Must speak and write Spanish fluently

In this sample, there are six different descriptions of sought-after job applicant skill sets, but each one requires a different level of Spanish communication expertise. In the first two examples where bilingual skills are “a plus” or “preferred”, a recruiter may decide to “take the candidate’s word” that he can speak Spanish. However in the last four examples, the company is seeking specific bilingual abilities. In these situations, an independent language proficiency assessment is highly recommended as in-house appraisals can be subjective.

Best Practice “Tips”

How do recruiters assess a candidate’s communication and comprehension skills? Many companies require candidates to complete a language proficiency assessment: an objective, scientifically designed evaluation of the candidate’s verbal and/or writing communication skills. Effective assessments are fact-based, consistent, unbiased and use a proven methodology to evaluate all candidates with the same criteria.

Assessment services that require no advance appointment are the most flexible for recruiters since no planning is required and any eligible candidate may be assessed at the time of the interview. We have found that some companies prefer to assess candidates for bilingual positions at the first stage in the interview process so that they only spend their internal resources on qualified candidates. Other companies assess Spanish proficiency in the final steps of the interview process, after the candidate has fulfilled other hiring requirements. Assessment services can provide staffing for job fairs and weekend and evening appointments as well as during regular office hours.

We have found that companies are able to recruit the most qualified candidates when the job description is specific and lists the position’s qualifying requirements. Advising potential candidates in advance that their language communication skills will be tested can help weed out unqualified candidates from applying for the job. This is a time-saver for recruiters as only those candidates who are confident in their bilingual communication skills will apply for a job if they know in advance they will be tested.

Benefits and Cost-Savings

Once assessed, companies can assign employees to the business process they are most qualified to fill thereby improving employee retention, reducing turnover and, ultimately, delivering the highest level of service to their customers. Other benefits and cost-savings companies experience by conducting language proficiency assessments include:

• increase the probability of hiring the right candidate;
• reduce training time for new recruits;
• provide objective data to justify bilingual pay differentials;
• reduce costs of discharging an employee due to inadequate skills; and
• deliver consistent, excellent, high quality service to your customers.
 
Many companies conduct personality tests, clerical and computation skills assessments and drug and alcohol checks to screen job applicants. These employers know the benefits of pre-employment testing. Now companies who service multi-lingual customers have an additional resource available: language proficiency assessments to objectively test communication and comprehension skills of bilingual job candidates.

Astrid Arial is president of Arial International. Arial International, in business since 1992, is a multicultural, multilingual firm that assists companies in targeting and retaining U.S. Hispanic customers. This article was first published in the Arial International Summer 2006 newsletter.