Language proficiency tests in interviews

Posted by:
April 18, 2022
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You may have left school and uni behind years ago but that doesn’t mean that your skills don’t continue to be tested in the workplace. During and after the hiring process, companies have different ways to assess your knowledge and experience to make decisions about your professional future in the organisation. 

Languages are especially sought-after by companies. Being proficient in two or more languages means being able to do business and work with people from across the globe. A multilingual team saves money and opens up new market opportunities for companies — it’s no surprise that a second language can boost your paycheck by 10%, and it’s also natural that a business may want to confirm your skills before investing in them, even when you boast a language certificate. Being familiar with business language proficiency tests and software can make the difference between you and other candidates.

What are language proficiency tests?

To put it simply, language proficiency tests assess your ability to understand and communicate in a specific language. This could be the language you consider to be your mother tongue (for example, a company may carry out a business English language proficiency test) or foreign languages you’ve studied in the past. 

Language proficiency tests come in various formats. In school, they’re usually organised in skill-focused sections (typically writing, reading, listening, and speaking.) However, academic assessments can be time-consuming and fail to address specific business language needs companies are keen on testing. 

That’s why companies often test languages during the recruiting process, either remotely or during the interview, and can even use specific language assessment software. By understanding the business language needs of the position and being prepared for language assessment, you’ll maximise your chances of being hired.

English proficiency interview questions

Different companies have different ways of testing the language proficiency of prospective employees. An organisation’s specific approach will depend on its recruitment style and the language requirements of the position.

A very common approach is to simply ask candidates to switch to English (or another target language) during the interview. In this case, proficiency questions are fairly conversational in nature — the candidate continues discussing their professional journey and aspirations in English or the required language, or is asked simple questions about themselves and their hobbies. Usually, interview proficiency questions aren’t asked during technical or sensitive interview stages (such as discussions on salary and conditions) to minimise miscommunication.

This approach allows the recruiter to get a quick grasp of the candidate’s language and communication skills without dedicating time and resources to run proficiency tests or manage language testing software. However, it requires the HR team to be proficient in all languages used by the organisations and is usually limited in terms of specific business language assessment.

When language skills are considered essential and employees are required to show full proficiency in their working languages (this is the case, for example, of customer-facing positions) proficiency tests may be more suitable as they provide more holistic coverage — they can assess a candidate’s written language skills and be customised to test specific areas of business language.

Of course, when hiring language specialists such as translators, companies dedicate a great part of their recruiting process to language assessment and often ask candidates to complete sample tasks in their target language.

Language proficiency testing software for employment

Designing and running tests can easily take up a lot of time for recruiters. While some companies decide to hire language consultants, others prefer to customise language proficiency automated tests that remote candidates can even take online. 

Even though tests always sound intimidating, language proficiency testing software for employees often works with formulas that language learners are already used to. Candidates can expect to be tested on the main language skills (writing, reading, listening, and speaking) and be presented with language exercises they’ve already encountered in their language learning journey (from reading comprehension to short grammar exercises.) Of course, some exercises and questions may be refined to target a company’s specific language and business needs.

Don’t be scared to ask the recruiter about their language testing process and what to expect when being assessed. A tutor can also help you master testing software with a few private, highly targeted sessions, and make sure you arrive prepared at the interview. Book a free assessment today to be paired with language instructors with years of experience guiding professionals like you.


How do I prepare for language assessment when applying for jobs?

The first thing you can do is ask the company about its assessment process. This will only show them that you take the opportunity seriously and want to prepare to the best of your ability. 

Once you know the type of business language tests you can expect for the position, you can brush up your language skills and fluency by taking free tests online and practising typical interview questions with a speaker of your target language. A business language instructor can give you expert guidance and tips to succeed.

Do I need a language certificate for business?

Unlike academia, not having an official document proving your language proficiency doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to progress in the business world. Many companies don’t require one and are happy to assess your proficiency during the recruiting process. This means that No, having a language certificate isn’t always mandatory in the workplace.

However, many organisations may be looking for language diplomas and certifications in your CV even though they’re not openly asking for one in the job description. In this case, you may be missing out on job opportunities just because recruiters prefer someone who has written proof of their proficiency. If you’re already fluent in a foreign language and need a certification, get in touch today — we can help you choose and prepare for the right language certification.