One of the most daunting aspects of entering the job market is effectively presenting your background and skills on your resume, cover letter and in job interviews. In addition to highlighting your proficiency in specific platforms and tools, you should also think about how other experiences, even ones you take for granted, can advance your career.
While 20% of Americans are bilingual and able to have conversations in more than one language, they may not have access to capabilities designed to leverage this skill. According to Diana Sanchez-Vega, a career coach who specializes in assisting multilingual candidates for job openings, companies can become better at reaching multilingual candidates by being clearer in their job descriptions and openly identifying fluency in languages other than English as a skill. .
Sanchez-Vega, who also works as a consultant for organizations, likens multilingualism to an IT skill that requires specific knowledge of a software and thus must be properly compensated. “Organizations can reach these people by really saying, ‘We value your language skills just as much as we do other skills,'” says Sanchez-Vega.
If you’re someone who speaks multiple languages, you can use that skill to land a remote job within international markets or communicate with non-English speaking populations. Here are some tips on how to leverage your multilingual skills in the job market or get a promotion at your current job:
Specify your skill level
Sanchez-Vega says you should include the languages you know at the top of your resume and specify which language(s) your native language speaks, as well as your different proficiency levels for the other languages.
For fields such as medicine or academia, you may need to pass specific exams to prove your language proficiency. Sanchez-Vega says she doesn’t emphasize on her clients having an exceptionally high level of reading comprehension, but prioritizes their ability to carry on a conversation and build rapport. However, she says that as a translator in more regulated areas of healthcare and education, you need a third-party proficiency assessment. For example, she says that a nurse who wants to work “dual roles” with English- and Spanish-speaking patients must pass an exam.
When drafting your resume, highlight the projects and instances where you’ve used your bilingual skills to help companies get a clearer picture of the benefits to employers. Alejandra Mielke, a career coach who specializes in Latinx applicants, says anyone who was able to conduct interviews in multiple languages should clearly state that, as it’s a skill that can be easily leveraged in a workplace.
Reframe your experience
While speaking and writing in two languages is a technical skill, it can also be formulated more broadly as it gives you insight into other cultures. “Having access to two communication systems goes beyond language; it encompasses the culture,” says Mielke. “Besides being able to speak, write and read two languages, you also have access to two cultures.”
In your job interview or cover letter, you can present your multilingualism as something that can be put to practical use, as well as a lived experience that has influenced your worldview and the way you interact with people. Mielke says bilingual or multilingual individuals should ensure that they indicate on their cover letter whether they have worked abroad, because those experiences can also indicate knowledge of multiple cultures.
Sanchez-Vega also says that people who immigrated to the US should use their resumes to share their story of integration into American society and list past international roles in chronological order. This can help you explain any professional gaps, while also painting a more complete picture of who you are as a job applicant.
dr. Sajani Barot, pharmacist and founder of The Skin Consult, a virtual skincare platform, says she has been able to apply her knowledge of Hindi and Gujarati throughout her career. When she started as a pharmacist, she was able to help patients who spoke those languages. And now, as an entrepreneur, she uses her skills to connect with workers in India’s growing IT outsourced sector.
With talent increasingly outsourced, it can be helpful to know how to jump between cultures and languages, especially in the tech sector. Andres Garcia, co-founder and CTO of the software company Florence Healthcare, is a native Spanish speaker who has learned English and Portuguese. His language journey has helped him to better connect with teams Florence Healthcare works with who may not be fluent in English.
“I feel like I’m a bilingual person…I have empathy for a remote team that isn’t English speaking,” he says. “They do their business with us in English and I’m aware of the effort it takes.”
Find opportunities and use your skills for compensation
To find multilingual opportunities, applicants need to continuously network across industries on LinkedIn, Mielke says. Once you’ve found a multilingual opportunity, make sure you’re properly compensated.
By researching how much your translation skills are worth and backing up your requests with data, you can make a compelling case for your target salary. After securing the position, make sure the company adheres to the job description and sets appropriate boundaries. For example, you are not suddenly a cultural ambassador, unless indicated in advance.
“Unless you were raised as a marketing expert in multicultural or diverse markets, your job is [as a culturally diverse employee] is not for explaining how members of your cultural group, for example, think or act’, says Mielke. “Your company should respect your job description and not assume that a person who belongs to a culturally diverse group will become the translator, interpreter, or an expert in that culture just because that person is a member of that group.”
As remote working becomes the new norm in many fields, companies need people who can connect with others. “Now that we’re working remotely, I think communication is even more important,” says Dr. Barot, “Because people who [are bilingual and] also understand [different cultures] can really make communication a lot easier.”
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