Are second languages becoming a recruitment priority?

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Setting yourself apart from the competition is the aim of the game in business, and it begins when you apply for a job.

You need to prove why you’ll be better than the other applicants at contributing to making the organisation better than its competitors.

First and foremost employers are likely to be looking for qualifications that match the role requirements, and then some sort of relevant work experience. But as the labour market becomes more crowded, having the highest level of qualifications isn’t enough. And at this stage if you’re neck and neck with another candidate, or even slightly behind in the qualification or experience stakes, then you’ll need to delve into your box of tricks to give yourself competitive advantage.

Second languages and international experience are moving higher up the recruitment priority list, particularly for companies with global reach.

But even if the job doesn’t require you to speak in another language – international experience, and even being well travelled, can demonstrate great transferable skills.

What transferable skills come from having second languages and international experience?

  • Relationship building and communication
  • An affinity to learn new things
  • Cultural understanding
  • Problem-solving
  • Confidence and self-sufficiency
  • Adaptability and flexibility

The appeal to global companies

For companies with offices, suppliers, and/or customers worldwide, the benefits of candidates speaking another language, or having the experience of, or desire to, work abroad become more obvious. Group, are a truly global company, not only in the services that they provide, but also in how they work. It’s not uncommon for members of the same team to be split over three or four international offices.

Stuart Bagnell, the Chief of Culture at Group, shared his and the organisation’s motivations to work with staff who have these skills.

“I believe that having international experience or a second language is of great benefit to global businesses – this is especially relevant for us within the travel industry. When looking for new talent, a cultural fit for a role is as important as finding the right skill set. With many companies becoming more flexible in remote working possibilities it can also open up a wider pool of talent from other countries that wasn’t previously available.

However, this approach can bring its own set of challenges. Working with and understanding many different cultures can be complex at times, so it’s crucial for businesses to have a core set of values that really represent what they stand for and that can bring everyone together.

Demonstrating empathy, which is positively linked to job performance, is especially important for leaders working in global businesses. Seeing that someone has travelled, lived or studied abroad means that they’ve had to navigate cultural boundaries and have taken the opportunity to understand people with a different perspective from their own.

I’m also a big fan of the ERASMUS student exchange programme. It’s a concept we’ve adopted for the workplace at Group to give people the opportunity to work with colleagues – giving our people the chance to learn, experience, and develop a different outlook on work and life.”

Languages and international experience will help businesses expand their global market presence and give them access to a larger pool of talent if they are prepared to work flexibly. Group use systems like Workplace by Facebook, Google Drive, Google Hangout to promote a culture of communication and teamwork, even when people are in different offices, or even countries.

How you can expand your international experience

If you’re focused on self-development and climbing the career ladder, then your CV should be continuously evolving.

  • Improve the level of your other languages with apps like Duolingo or find your very own teacher with
  • Be open to working in international offices, especially in less sought after countries like China or India.
  • Consider taking your studies abroad.
  • Find out about other cultures when you travel and have authentic experiences.
  • Get some overseas work experience, even if it’s just for a short period of time.
  • Speak with friends and colleagues who have lived or worked abroad to find out about their experiences and make new international contacts.

Choosing to work abroad for a long period can be a big decision, but there are plenty of ways to gain international experience without the huge commitment. And there’s little doubt that employers will be valuing these skills and experiences more and more as the business world continues to become increasingly globalised.

Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

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