Translating global experience into institutional models of competency: linguistic inequalities in the job interview

by Celia Roberts (King’s College London)

»read the full article

The job interview is a key gatekeeping site where the tension between institutional standards and diversity is most evident. Despite equal opportunity policies, the linguistic demands of the interview are more likely to exclude migrants from work in the higher tier labour market. The selection interview creates a linguistic penalty against certain migrant groups and this is well illustrated in the problem of foreign work experience (FWE), its recognition or not, the limitations of its use and the additional communicative demands it creates. Using examples taken from a data base of 61 video- recorded UK interviews for low-paid jobs, this paper shows the discursive regimes that position migrant applicants as less capable within the competence-based interview. FWE can be dismissed by interviewers or, where it is accepted, requires additional linguistic and interactional work to manage the extra contextual and equivalences burden. The unfamiliarity or assumed irrelevance of FWE is brought into the interview, and its power to distance and ‘other’ candidates of migrant background is brought about interactionally as candidates’ linguistic resources in defending it are made vulnerable under the interviewers’ gaze. By contrast, British born candidates, whatever their social identity, can use their local work experience to tell stories that fit with the competency framework. The language of job interviews contributes to the production of inequality and also masks the contradiction between apparent fairness and unequal outcomes.

Keywords: job interview, competency, foreign work experience, linguistic penalty, discursive regimes

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:
Roberts, C. (2012). Translating global experience into institutional models of competency: linguistic inequalities in the job interview. Diversities, 14(2), 49-71. Retrieved [todaysdate] from
16-01_CoverDiversities • Volume 14, No. 2, 2012
Language and Superdiversities II
Guest Editors: Karel Arnaut, Jan Blommaert, Ben Rampton and Massimiliano Spotti
ISSN-Print 2199-8108
ISSN-Internet 2199-8116