Ethnic minority applicants face discrimination at job interviews over experience and languages

Employers are discriminating against jobseekers from ethnic minority backgrounds at the interview stage, according to a report.

A number of interview practices were found to disadvantage ethnic minority candidates, including assessing work experience and language skills.

The Talk on Trial study, based on 60 interviews for basic roles, carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions and Kings College, London (KCL), showed that foreign work experience was frequently ignored.

Celia Roberts, senior research fellow at the Department of Education & Professional Studies and the Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication at KCL, said: “Our research found that, surprisingly, current practice to make job interviews more fair, unwittingly disadvantaged foreign-born ethnic minorities.”

The report did not indicate any overt discrimination by interviewers, Roberts said, but showed that work experience from other countries was not rated as highly as UK experience.

And candidates were often expected to have unnecessarily high communication skills, according to Roberts.

“You are what you talk in the job interview,” she said, “but job interview English is different from the day-to-day communications you need, for example, for a manual job in a factory or doing delivery work.”

“Candidates, many of them highly qualified in the countries where they grew up, have the work skills for the job, but not the job interview English.”

Some interviewers who encountered language difficulties were found to “give up” after a stage, especially if the interviewee was from a first generation ethnic minority.

The report recommended that employers reassess competency frameworks at the interview stage, work more flexibly to provide support for ethnic minorities and provide better training for interviewers.

“Our main recommendation arising from this study would be that organisations need to consider alternative methods to interviewing, which test job skills more directly, such as work experience, especially for entry-level jobs,” Roberts said.

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