Recruiting for English Skills in Call Center Staffing

Many contact centers are in a constant state of turnover and hiring. Either as a result of growth and success or poor recruiting for call centers and other outsourced positions and jobs. High turnover or high growth can put a significant strain on the organization.

The demand for offshore employees and call centers has significantly outpaced the supply of talent, and regardless of the political atmosphere, supply will remain limited. Most North American companies think of China when offshoring and think of the Philippines, India, Guatemala, and the Caribbean when thinking call centers. However, the global demand for English is opening up opportunities all over the world. 

China is investing billions in English training for Vietnam. Why? Vietnam and similar countries are less expensive to operate in. They are outsourcing services just like North American companies. 


Brand impact with call center language recruiting and staffing

One of the most forgotten risks of companies using offshoring and foreign call centers is they are taking a huge gamble with their brand. Brands are built by the interactions of your customers with your company. Many of those interactions happen with technical support, training, product defects—all are areas of branding that are frequently outsourced to call centers and support centers worldwide.

Consumers today are more informed and more demanding than ever. They use the internet to select brands and solve basic product issues. Most calls and interactions with your call center will be for more complex and challenging issues. Your agents need higher-level communication, language and adaptability now more than ever.

What you might not be thinking about is whether or not your brand is already at risk with recruiting. How is your recruiting process or your recruiting partner’s process? Offshore and call center talent encounter your brand, as well. They can quickly send ripples of negativity with other potential staff. 


Your brand is not only your product but your entire reputation. A poor recruiting process can lead to a negative brand experience with someone you didn’t even intend to experience the brand.

An example from ContactProfessional suggests, “Hire the best candidate, not the cheapest. Think best value. Many call center executives will subjugate great candidates because they’re not local, are represented by a search firm, or cost $10,000 more. This is a huge mistake. Businesses and their brands can often rise or fall depending upon the quality of their senior call center management-both in sales and operations.”

Optimizing the call center recruiting process

Often, call centers are outsourced and offshore. That usually means most candidates will have to go through a language screening. Language skills are not something that can be compromised—they are essential. 

Many recruiters leave language skills testing until the end of the process; not because they aren’t essential, but because testing is a very tedious process. Most recruiters have a self-designed, unvalidated process for testing English skill. Because recruiters are paid for talent, they often don’t adhere to their own best practices and let their standard of language levels slip. If the candidate checks-out on all the other necessary skills, recruiters believe language skills can be taught quickly and they could not be further from the truth.

In one instance, CoDev, an international outsourcing agency, mentioned they tried to implement a standard of English level only to have their recruiters consider everyone they sent in the door with that level. Because every recruiter was able to arbitrarily rank the English skills level, they all marked 9 to meet their KPIs. These levels weren’t accurate and caused issues later on.

Because call center applicants typically apply to multiple locations, they tend to get multiple opportunities quickly. Call center recruiters have to be quick, engaging, and prepared to vet potential talent.


In a study by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), they reported that “today’s call centers appear to be doing a lot of things right with regard to recruiting and hiring qualified field agents; however many have yet to implement and embrace some of the more advanced and progressive methods that can help launch the center’s frontline to the next echelon of customer support.

While many centers use a healthy variety of recruiting methods to attract candidates (though they are not doing a great job of accurately measuring recruiting success), few are doing all they can to effectively prescreen applicants and assess them thoroughly in the later hiring stages. Yes, most have the basics down, but could greatly enhance their hiring programs by taking advantage of more strategic recruiting approaches and robust tools/software designed to help assess candidates’ ability – and desire – to succeed in the dynamic call center environment.”

Emmersion provides one of the most impressive software tools available now for proper language testing—our fully automated and adaptive language speaking assessment. While the majority of call center recruiters are still using phone interviews that lack validity and are high on variability, the top centers are leveraging this new technology to quickly and accurately screen candidates.

One of these advanced agencies is Focus Services with over 3,000 agents globally. COO BenJoe Markland said, “Candidate processing time has decreased by over 50% using Emmersion language tests.” He continued by saying that they have recruiting agents that want to work with them because of their reputation of professionalism and excellent recruiting processes are exploding.

The rise of virtual call centers

In a paper foreshadowing our current global pandemic and beyond, Alverez & Marsal said the following:

“In most organizations, contact centers are typically viewed as high-cost operations, mainly due to high attrition coupled with costly hiring and training. Attempts to minimize costs by moving much of the work offshore have, in turn, brought about a myriad of new challenges. Managing the quality of offshore interactions and the overall outsourcing relationship can be extremely challenging. And moving call center operations to other countries adds language and cultural barriers, and sometimes, makes businesses the targets of political backlash. All of these factors can have a significant impact on profit margins, customer satisfaction, and ultimately, customer retention.

To reduce the complexity that accompanies offshoring, many companies have opted to expand with new operating models that utilize telework, or virtual agents, who can take calls while working from home. The virtual model addresses many of today’s call center needs and is often an effective solution that delivers a better customer experience than offshore models at a lower cost.”


As many businesses and organizations grapple with the pandemic, they are considering the long-term impact of virtual and work-from-home scenarios. Can work productivity stay at optimum levels while using less real estate? Just recently, announced a tiered plan that will allow its 30,000 employees options for returning to the office or staying home, or a hybrid of both. 

These virtual and hybrid-virtual environments are likely to become the new norm. Call centers will be well advised to consider automated options for operational costs and benefits. With the move to virtual work environments, it will only increase the need for top-performing software and tools—cloud-based language assessment technology being at the forefront.

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