How to use an English test for employment to hire top talent

how to use an English test in hiring top talent
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The English language is the most widely spoken language globally, with over 1.2 billion speakers, out of whom over 700 million are non-native speakers.

In fact, just 4% of conversations in English are entirely between native speakers, while the rest include at least one non-native speaker.[1] 

Poor language skills might slow down communication between team members and affect the productivity of the whole team; misunderstandings with clients might cost you their business and harm your reputation. 

So if a position requires speaking the language–especially with clients and partners, but also with coworkers and managers–you must make sure your employee has sufficient fluency to carry out day-to-day tasks. 

One of the best ways to assess English fluency is to use an English language pre-employment test in the early stages of recruitment, as a part of the candidates’ skills assessment process. This way, you can check whether candidates have the necessary skills and language fluency to succeed in the role for which you’re hiring. 

Why is English so crucial in the workplace?

Nowadays, English is used as the main working language by many businesses, even among those that are headquartered in non-English-speaking countries. This allows companies to:

  • Successfully communicate with partners and clients abroad

  • Expand their operations and compete globally 

  • Tap into the global talent pool and recruit remotely

For these reasons, many companies are looking to hire candidates who are proficient in English but often struggle to assess applicants’ language skills accurately. An easy way to assess English proficiency is to use an English test adapted to the needs and requirements of the role. 

The benefits of using an English proficiency test for employment

Using an English test as a part of your recruitment process will help you evaluate the language skills of your candidates and easily filter out applicants who don’t have the right proficiency level. 

Of course, not all roles require the same language skills: for some, basic skills might be sufficient, while for others, you might need a candidate who has native or near-native proficiency. 

If all business communication and interactions are handled in English at your company, whether in a written form (such as memos, contracts, emails, or chat messages) or verbally (presentations, meetings, negotiations), you’ll need to make sure your new hires have at least a B2 or C1 level of proficiency with our English proficiency test

Employees with a B2 proficiency level (or higher) will be able to efficiently convey their ideas to peers, bosses, and stakeholders. If your employees are proficient in English, they will represent your brand and company better outside of the office, as well. 

Even for roles where employees only need basic English, testing their language skills is a good idea: this way, you’re making sure they can follow instructions and resolve problems efficiently. 

In which instances should you test for English fluency?

English fluency is crucial for nearly all roles at international companies, and also in a lot of other instances, which is why it’s so important to test for language proficiency during the recruitment process. 

When hiring international candidates 

When hiring international candidates (either locally or remotely), you should always check whether they have the language skills to do their job well and communicate with colleagues and clients efficiently. To do this, you can assess their English proficiency with an English (Proficient/C1) test, in combination with other skills assessments.

If they pass the test, you’ll not have to worry about whether they’re using the correct terms and sentence structure in their communication with clients, or whether they’re making mistakes when presenting in front of an audience: they’ll have the right skills to participate in demanding professional conversations in English.

When hiring for roles where employees work with English-speaking clients

Whenever employees communicate with your clients and partners, they are representing your brand, and if they speak in English with them, their English skills have a direct impact on how your brand is perceived. 

When assessing language skills, you shouldn’t rely on applicants’ academic English language competency, or simply look at diplomas. Instead, assess their business English language skills. After all, you’re not hiring someone to write research papers; instead, you’re hiring someone to work directly with your English-speaking clients and partners. 

To effectively carry out their duties and responsibilities, they must be able to switch between using conversational and formal English, and use both appropriately, based on the situation. The ideal applicant will be able to:

  • Write well-structured, coherent emails, reports, and presentations

  • Understand others and ask clarifying questions as needed

  • Present and discuss their ideas

  • Give clear instructions, guide others towards specific outcomes, and clarify details

When hiring customer support reps

Customer support roles require a high level of language proficiency, so if you’re hiring English-speaking customer support agents, you need a reliable way to assess their language skills. 

Customer support agents who work with English-speaking clients will also need to understand different accents, as well, and adapt to customers’ own language skills: oftentimes, customers might not be native English speakers themselves. 

Therefore, it’s crucial for your applicants to be able to understand the problem, explain the solution clearly, and provide customers with the guidance they need to achieve the outcome they’re after (or give alternative solutions). 

For global companies that have customers all over the world, this is crucial: your employees should be able to efficiently communicate in English with Dutch, German, British, or Indian clients alike, and always strive to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction. 

For specialized customer support positions in big international companies, your company might have opted to communicate with customers in their own language. If that’s the case, you might need to test for other languages as well, such as Norwegian, French, or Mandarin

Even if that’s the case, if your internal language is English, you still need to assess candidates’ English proficiency, in addition to any other languages, as they’ll be using it to:

  • Talk to peers and managers 

  • Write emails

  • Read instructions and memos

What should an English language skills assessment include? 

Once you have determined that you need to assess applicants’ language skills with an English language test, it’s time to put it into action. 

To correctly assess their English language skills, you must evaluate candidates’ proficiency in four different areas: 

four different areas to assess their English language skills
  • Writing. To determine whether candidates can write well-structured and grammatically correct emails, presentations, reports, memos, and general correspondence in the workplace, you must assess their writing skills.

  • Speaking. To see whether candidates can efficiently converse with peers, managers and customers in English, you need to assess their speaking skills. 

  • Reading. Assessing candidates’ reading skills will help you determine whether they can read and understand information in English, be it in the form of emails, procedures, chat messages, reports, articles, or else. 

  • Listening. Listening skills are crucial if employees will need to participate in meetings or talk to clients. Assess whether candidates can grasp nuances and figure out details by testing their listening skills. 

Online English language tests can be used to assess candidates’ reading, listening and writing skills. To assess speaking skills, you can use custom video questions where you prompt applicants to record a short video, and also do a brief phone interview with selected candidates who have passed the initial test. 

When should you administer an English proficiency pre-employment test?

Pre-employment English language tests are a very effective approach to filtering out candidates who don’t have the right language skills for the role; for this reason, we advise you to use them as one of the first stages of the recruitment process.

Tests will help you determine: 

  • Who are your best and worst candidates in terms of language proficiency

  • Which applicants are unqualified for the position

For the best results, you can use English proficiency tests in combination with other skills assessments, such as: 

With skills assessments, you can quickly filter out candidates who don’t match your requirements and spend time interviewing only your best applicants. (To ensure a positive candidate experience, remember to keep disqualified candidates informed of your decision.)

What are the different levels of English proficiency in the workplace?

To test for English proficiency during recruitment, you must first determine the level of proficiency needed for the role, and then administer the appropriate test. 

The CEFR standard, which stands for Common European Framework of Reference, is a commonly used framework for assessing fluency. It distinguishes between six levels of proficiency, from A1 (beginner) to C2 (native-level proficiency). It’s commonly accepted as a global benchmark for language proficiency.

Let’s now look at the different levels of English proficiency. 

A1: Beginner

The A1 level is the first and most basic level of language proficiency. At this level, applicants would only be able to do the most simple tasks in English, such as introduce themselves or ask basic questions. 

A person with an A1 level of English language can: 

  • Understand and use some everyday expressions and very basic phrases

  • Introduce themselves and others

  • Ask and answer a couple of basic questions

  • Interact with others on a basic level if the other person talks slowly and clearly

They won’t be able to understand instructions beyond the most basic ones. An A1 level might be appropriate for some blue-collar jobs where the person won’t need to speak the language. 

A2: Elementary

The A2 level of the CEFR framework allows the speaker a little more freedom and flexibility. 

Someone with A2 level proficiency can:

  • Talk about simple, routine tasks 

  • Exchange basic information

  • Understand and follow basic instructions

  • Discuss simple topics, such as family, shopping, food, etc. 

At A2, candidates won’t be able to express themselves freely, as they’ll have limited vocabulary and grammar, and will likely make mistakes. For low-complexity blue-collar jobs where employees don’t need to communicate with clients, this level might be sufficient.

To assess whether someone has at least an A2 level of proficiency in English, you can administer TestGorilla’s English (Elementary/A2) test.

B1: Lower intermediate

At a B1 level, applicants should be able to:

  • Recognize key points in a conversation about work, leisure, and family life, and discuss them, albeit at a limited level

  • Deal with basic workplace situations efficiently

  • Produce simple texts on familiar topics

  • Use email templates and modify them as needed

  • Describe events and experiences

Our English (Intermediate/B1) test assesses applicants’ basic grammar and vocabulary, sentence composition, reading and listening comprehension, and writing skills.

B2: Upper intermediate

At a B2 level, applicants possess upper-intermediate competency and can: 

  • Understand the major themes and topics of a complex technical text or discussion in their field of expertise

  • Interact with native speakers fluently

  • Produce clear articles on various subjects, themes, and concepts

  • Explain ideas and express opinions freely

They might still make some mistakes, but overall their language skills will be enough to deal with most situations in the workplace.  Our English B2 test evaluates a candidate’s knowledge of the English language at the B2 level of the CEFR framework.

C1: Operational proficiency

At a C1 level, candidates possess functional language competence that allows them to deal with any situation at the workplace. At this level, they can: 

  • Express their ideas clearly, discuss details and nuances

  • Understand, interpret and reformulate complex ideas and concepts

  • Understand different accents easily

  • Produce clear and detailed articles on complex subjects 

For most jobs, even complex ones, a C1 level is sufficient, and that’s the level recruiters are usually after. If you want to test whether your candidates have a C1 level of proficiency in English, you can use our English (Proficient/C1) test.

C2: Proficiency

The C2 level is equivalent to that of a native speaker. Candidates at this level can:

  • Understand virtually anything with ease, regardless of its complexity level

  • Summarize information from many different sources 

  • Express themselves spontaneously, fluently, and accurately, even in complex situations

English speakers who have a C2 level proficiency might still have a foreign accent, but have correct pronunciation and can express themselves clearly and reformulate their ideas with ease. 

Optimize your hiring process with an English proficiency test for job candidates

If your company is using English as a working language, or if employees need to communicate with clients, partners, coworkers, or managers in English, it’s vital to assess English proficiency when hiring non-native speakers. 

With the right online English skills assessment, you can quickly and accurately evaluate candidates’ language skills and determine whether they meet your language skills requirements for the role. 

This way, you get to filter out unqualified applicants early on in the recruitment process and concentrate on the best candidates from your talent pool. Additionally, you can combine English language tests with other pre-employment skills assessments to streamline your whole hiring process and ensure you’re hiring the best talent. 

Get started with TestGorilla for free today and start making better hiring decisions, faster and bias-free.


  1. Lemon Grad, English Language Statistics:

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