Nearshore Americas

10 Tips for Hiring Bilingual Contact Center Agents

In a Nearshore environment, there is a significant need for bilingual contact center agents. The strongest demand is for those individuals who are fluent in the region’s dominant three languages – English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Assessing the ability of bilingual agents in these and other languages is critical to the success of providers and their clients. 

To determine whether an agent is right for the job, here are some tips to keep in mind. 

1. Screen for Industry-Specific Language Ability

Many individuals in Latin American have a high level of English-language fluency, yet this ability may not extend to industry-specific requirements. Even in their native tongues, agents are sometimes not familiar with the terms used in verticals such as healthcare, financial services, and retail. It is important to assess whether or not an agent is fluent – and comfortable – with terminology that is unique to a given industry. 

2. Make Sure Your Agents Speak the Client’s Language

Agent abilities must align with a client’s goals and objectives – and that means speaking the client’s language. Individual companies often rely on terminology that not only reflects their industry, but that is also specific to its products and services. This is particularly true for those companies that are innovating and going to market with unique technologies or processes. 

It is important to assess whether or not an agent is fluent – and comfortable – with terminology that is unique to a given industry

It would be unreasonable to assume that all agents would be familiar with client-specific diction; however, automated assessments can be designed that zero in on a prospective agent’s aptitude in multiple languages, with questions tailored to elicit the data needed to provide the relevant scores. This then lowers the risk associated with the need for agents to get up to speed with new terminology.

3. Use Modules Effectively

Some clients require bilingual agents with differing proficiencies. For example, a client may want to assess one skill for all candidates, but then assess a secondary skill for a select few. Automated assessment modules that adapt to previous responses can help. For example, Emmersion’s system, which leverages AI and machine learning, can make on-the-spot determinations to include or exclude assessment questions based on the scores of a participant’s previous answers. 

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4. Remember That the Customer Comes First

Bilingual agents should be hired with an understanding of the particulars of customer engagement – no matter the language. Different demographics will utilize a variety of idiomatic expressions.  Knowing how the customer experience is expressed, and how this might differ between languages, allows a provider to organize assessments that reflect the real-life situations that agents will be exposed to. 

5. Use Timing to Your Advantage

As a rule, the earlier in the hiring process that a candidate is screened for language ability, the more overall time can be saved. Automated tests for multiple languages can be deployed early. These tests are accurate, and can reduce the recruiting time for bilingual agents. They can also allow for providers to fine-tune their timing within the recruiting processes.

6. Choose an Adaptive Language Assessment

With an adaptive assessment, often referred to as Computerized Adaptive Test or CAT, each question in the assessment is determined based on the test-taker’s performance on the previous question. This process requires significantly more calibration and fine tuning than a traditional multiple-choice adaptive assessment.

Hiring the right bilingual contact center agent requires an approach that is both cultural and technological

In order to determine the next question, it decides not only whether an answer is right or wrong, but also how right or how wrong. The result is a targeted and efficient process that is ideal for assessing prospective bilingual agents.

7. Hire for Aptitude

Every provider wants to hire perfectly bilingual employees that fit exactly with its clients’ needs. However, this is not always possible, which means that the provider will also have to assess whether or not prospective hires are a good investment, and if they would be candidates for future training. In the example of Emmersion, the granularity of the company’s TrueNorth scale (100-point scale for grading) provides test-takers with the ability to fine-tune where they need to improve. 

8. Benchmark Current Employees

A provider should test current, well-performing employees, and use these results as benchmarks from which to determine the desired results from new hires. Trusted employees can also be used as references, with bonuses for when a reference translates into the successful hire of a bilingual employee.

9. Reach Out to the Community for Leads

Local media can be an important partner when hiring bilingual agents. This engagement not only expands a provider’s reach into the community, it also advertises the brand. Providers can also partner with municipalities and schools, most of whom are usually keen to work with industry, often holding job fairs. 

10. Respect the Mother Tongue

Out of respect for a prospective agent’s mother tongue, and also to increase the hiring pool and to ensure that job-related information is widely shared, a provider would be wise to post job descriptions in all the required languages. When doing this, it is important to be clear with regard to the desired fluency levels.


In a Nearshore environment, hiring the right bilingual contact center agent requires an approach that is both cultural and technological. Culturally, it makes sense to reach out to the local community, to leverage the knowledge base of current employees, and to post information in the relevant languages. 

From a technological perspective, the incorporation of industry and client requirements into an automated, adaptive assessment process can save time and money, while also delivering accurate results. This process can be deployed for multiple languages, and should be utilized early in the hiring process to ensure the best bilingual hires – and the success of providers and their clients. 

Tim Wilson

Tim has been a contributing analyst to Nearshore Americas since 2012. He is a former Research Analyst with IDC in Toronto and has over 20 years’ experience as a technology and business journalist, including extensive reporting from Latin America. A graduate of McGill University in Montreal, he has received numerous accolades for his writing, including a CBC Literary and a National Magazine award. He divides his time between Canada and Mexico. When not chasing down stories, he is busy writing the Detective Sánchez series of crime novels.

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