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5 transferable skills that you didn’t know multilingual candidates had

By Clare Kemsley, Managing Director of Hays Marketing, Retail and Sales, UK&I

As businesses expand their workforces to every corner of the globe, there has been a large increase in demand for multilingual candidates.

The main benefits of hiring a multilingual candidate are clear; not only will the candidate be able to communicate with your foreign-speaking markets, therefore allowing you to further expand your customer base, but they will also bring with them an increased level of cultural intelligence. From phrases which can easily get lost in translation, to etiquette and traditions, these candidates will typically be more attuned to cultural differences than many of their monolingual counterparts, even more so if they have lived and worked in these foreign countries.

Whilst the above advantages of hiring a multilingual candidate are undeniable, the extent to which they will benefit your business will depend upon the opportunity you are hiring for. Interestingly, however, there are some less obvious, but incredibly important attributes which multilingual candidates can bring to any opportunity; attributes which you may have previously overlooked:

1. Enthusiasm and determination

Learning another language takes drive. In fact, some estimate that it can take between 600 and 1100 hours to learn a language depending on difficulty. If a candidate has learned another language whilst also employed or studying another subject, this speaks volumes, not only about their work ethic, but also about their determination, both desirable traits for any employer.

2. Self-enhancement

Nobody can self-improve and grow as a professional unless they are willing to learn from their mistakes. As Benny Lewis, author of “Fluent in 3 months” points out “making mistakes is the only way to become fluent in a language”. From being corrected over misused phrases, to saying the wrong word in conversation, multilingual candidates are no strangers to continuous learning and development.

A multilingual person will therefore often have a good degree of humility. They don’t view errors as taboo or something to be afraid of, because from their experience of learning a new language, they know that errors are essential to self-improvement.

3. Strong mental agility and ability

Whilst you might advise against trying to juggle too many tasks at once, office life can be unavoidably hectic at times. And being able to switch between tasks without losing focus is a strong skill to have.

Interestingly, a study conducted by Judith Kroll, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, found that multilingual people are particularly skilled at multitasking effectively. Kroll describes that because multilingual people will often need to switch between languages, they develop their mental agility and the ability to quickly shift their focus. Kroll concludes that “We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking.”

4. Good judgement skills

There are often situations at work when we are presented with a challenge and a number of potential solutions. However, making a sound decision in these types of situations doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

recent article cited a study showing how multilingual people are very rational and resolute in their decision making, because when weighing up the solutions, they will sometimes think over the issue in second language and see whether their decision still makes sense.

In addition, the study found that “a foreign language provides a distancing mechanism that moves people from the immediate intuitive system to a more deliberate mode of thinking.” The study goes on to explain how a multilingual person will consider the options in their foreign language, which will have less emotional significance than their native tongue.

5. The ability to think divergently

We have talked before about the danger of “groupthink” to a business. A business cannot thrive if everybody thinks and approaches situations in the exact same way and having a team of divergent thinkers can act as a buffer against this, because divergent thinkers will adopt a more open and creative approach.

Multilingual jobseekers are widely thought to bring a divergent thought process to any business because their minds have become open to different cultures. Moreover, a research paper conducted by Professor Behzad Ghonsooly found that “Mastering a foreign language dramatically increases the four components of divergent thinking ability, i.e., fluency, elaboration, originality, and flexibility”. This is because multilingual people will frequently need to flex their divergent thinking skills, experimenting with different words and phrases to find the best way of expressing themselves.

Even if you aren’t hiring for a role which requires foreign language skills as a prerequisite, there are a host of attributes that a multilingual candidate can bring to the table. The nature of these skills can benefit just about any role in any industry; from being driven and a natural self-improver, to having strong multitasking, decision making, and creative skills. Employers like yourself are coming to realise that these skills can’t be imitated, taught on the job, or easily replaced, making the multilingual job seeker even more in demand than ever before.

About this author

Over her last ten years at Hays, Clare has developed a detailed understanding of creative and customer focussed industries and the talent they need to succeed. She is a believer that great behaviour drives the culture of the business and allows the customer experience to be one of the highest quality.

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