Translating global experience into institutional models of competency: linguistic inequalities in the job interview
by Celia Roberts
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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.
Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:
Roberts, C., Translating global experience into institutional models of competency: linguistic inequalities in the job interview. Diversities. 2012, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 49-71, UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595
About the author
Celia Roberts is Professor of Applied Linguistics at King’s College London. Her research is concerned with language and ethnicity. She uses two qualitative methodologies, interactional Sociolinguistics and ethnography to look at disadvantages faced by linguistic and ethnic minorities in interaction with institutions. Her publications cover patient-health professional communication, language and cultural practices in the workplace, English to speakers of other languages (ESOL ) and institutional selection processes and their potential for indirect discrimination.