The Growing Demand for a Multilingual Workforce

With the growing demand for multilingual in today’s increasingly globalizing world, listing “fluency” in several languages on one’s resume has become a significant advantage for job seekers. What does it actually mean when someone says that they are fluent, though? How can companies be sure that the people they are hiring actually have the requisite language skills to fulfill their job functions successfully?

Being able to speak multiple languages, and, more importantly, being able to function in multiple languages in a professional setting, is a highly specialized skill set. As such, it is surprising and disappointing that many companies do not exercise due diligence to ascertain whether the language skills proclaimed on a candidate’s resume actually match up to his or her real world abilities.

When one considers other specialized professional skill sets, such as IT programming, copywriting, accounting, etc., it seems absolutely ludicrous that an HR professional would take a candidate’s self-assessment on face value when evaluating who would be best for a position. Yet all too often, when it comes to hiring multilingual employees, that is exactly what happens. The results of such a misstep can range from the headache of eventually having to terminate the employee and find a suitable replacement to huge gaffes that end up costing an organization millions of dollars and doing incalculable harm to their reputation.

Inaccurate representations of language ability are not necessarily a sign of a potential employee’s dishonesty. Rather, the candidate may genuinely believe that he or she is “fluent” in a language. Oftentimes, companies have no effective internal means of evaluating the candidate’s claim. Further, there may not even be a clear understanding of what level of language proficiency a candidate must possess in order to carry out their job responsibilities in a satisfactory manner.

It takes a considerable amount of pressure off of both job seekers and the companies they are applying to if language skills are treated like any other skill set and subject to evaluation based on a standardized set of proficiency guidelines. Like any other skill set, language skills need to be tested to provide assurance that the candidate does, in fact, possess the ability to function professionally.

This piece examines the risks associated with not testing multilingual candidates, including examples of high-profile fiascos that resulted from companies failing to hire qualified multilingual employees. It also provides a brief overview of some of the existing proficiency guidelines, including those developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR).  First published on one of the top HR blogs on the Internet, Blogging4Jobs, the article contains a persuasive argument backed by hard evidence that standardized proficiency testing for multilingual candidates is a must in today’s competitive, globalized job market.