How do you hold a job interview in a candidate's second language

By Beyondo, 28. Oct 2022

If you are looking for a talented new member of your team, you may be interviewing candidates whose first language isn't English. How can you enable these candidates to shine in the interview? They don't have it easy.  Here the company English Unlocked is sharing free tips to review your recruitment process and avoid missing out on candidates who could be an asset to your company.

Two kinds of mistake


When considering applicants whose first language isn’t English there are two ways you can get it wrong:

  • Recruit people whose English is not up to the job

  • Miss out on talent because your language checks are inflexible, too stringent, or focus on the wrong thing.

You don't want to employ someone you might regret, but if you are unnecessarily stringent you can turn away candidates with great qualities who could be an asset to your company.

 Who to interview?

One option is to insist that all candidates hold a well-recognised qualification, such as Cambridge Proficiency or IELTS 6. Academic certificates like these do indicate strong language skills, but what about people skills, talent and specialist knowledge? These qualities are not revealed by language tests. Furthermore, the lexicon required to pass academic exams may not be an exact fit for your workplace.

Are your standards perhaps too high?

 It is harder for a candidate to sell themselves if English is not their first language, even if they speak it well enough to do the job. Could this lead you to overlook their skills?


As a non-native English speaker, I saw how mediocre people were hired in a company only because they had a great level of English instead of trying to find the perfect fit for the role independently of the nationality. Pedro Lozano, former CEO, Spain.


Academic qualifications are more commonly found among people who are well-connected, well-travelled, and formally educated. What about the candidates who aren't?

 Their tips will enable you to look beyond language certificates when making hiring choices. They will help you to avoid unpleasant surprises as well as widen your field of potential employees.

What if the CV contains grammar mistakes?

 It probably means they wrote it without the help of an English friend. If a candidate lacks such connections, is it right to deny them an interview? If you hire a non-native English speaker, they're going to make the occasional grammar mistake. If their mistakes don't impede meaning do they matter

Are you listening out for the right things?

Shelley Purchon founded English Unlocked after a long career teaching English, and part of this involved assessing the English levels of people from around the world. A rookie error when doing this is to notice nothing more than their fluency and their accent. You can download her free guides via their web site, free downloads to find out what you should be paying attention to so that you can pick out the most suitable candidates for an interview.