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How to showcase your bilingual skills to get a job (or a promotion)

Being fluent in another language can help you stand out—as long as you leverage your experience in the right way.

How to showcase your bilingual skills to get a job (or a promotion)
[Photo: filadendron/Getty Images]

One of the most daunting aspects of jumping into the job market is presenting your background and skills effectively on your résumé, cover letter, and in interviews. In addition to highlighting your proficiency in specific platforms and tools, you also need to think about how other experiences—even ones you may take for granted—can advance your career.  

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Though 20% of Americans are bilingual and able to hold conversations in more than one language, they may not have access to opportunities that are designed to make use of this skill. According to Diana Sanchez-Vega, a career coach who specializes in assisting multilingual job candidates land positions, companies can get better at reaching multilingual candidates by being clearer in their job descriptions and overtly designating fluency in languages other than English as a skill. 

Sanchez-Vega, who also works as a consultant for organizations, compares multilingualism to an IT skill that requires specific knowledge of a software, meaning that it should be compensated properly. “The way for organizations to reach out to these folks is by really saying, ‘we value your language skills as much as we value other skills,'” says Sanchez-Vega. 

If you’re someone who speaks multiple languages, you can leverage that skill to get a remote job working within international markets or interacting with non-English speaking populations. Here are some tips on how to leverage your multilingual skills in the job market, or to get a promotion at your current job: 

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Specify Your Level of Proficiency 

Sanchez-Vega says that you should include the languages you know at the top of your résumé and specify which language(s) you speak natively, as well as your varying levels of proficiency for the other languages. 

For fields such as medicine or academia, you may need to take specific exams to prove your language ability. Sanchez-Vega says that for her clients, she doesn’t focus on them having an exceptionally advanced level of reading comprehension, but rather prioritizes their ability to hold a conversation and establish rapport. However, she says that to be a translator in more regulated fields of healthcare and education, you would need a third-party proficiency assessment. For example, she says that a nurse who wants to work a “dual role” with English and Spanish speaking patients would need to take an exam.

When you are compiling your résumé, you should emphasize the projects and instances in which you used your bilingual skills to give companies a clearer picture of how it can benefit employers. Alejandra Mielke, a career coach who specializes in Latinx applicants, says that someone who was able to conduct interviews in multiple languages should clearly state that, because it’s a skill that could easily be leveraged in a workplace. 

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Reframe Your Experience

While knowing how to speak and write in two languages is a technical skill, it can also be reframed more broadly, since it provides you with an understanding of other cultures. “Having access to two systems of communication goes beyond the language; it includes the culture,” says Mielke. “In addition to 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 practically used, but also as a lived experience that has influenced your worldview and the ways in which you interact with people. Mielke says that bilingual or multilingual individuals should make sure to indicate if they worked abroad on their cover letter because those experiences can also indicate a knowledge of multiple cultures. 

Sanchez-Vega also says that people who emigrated to the U.S. should use their résumé to share their story of integrating into American society and list previous international roles in chronological order. This could help you explain any professional gaps, while also painting a fuller picture of who you are as a job candidate. 

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Dr. Sajani Barot, a pharmacist and founder of The Skin Consult, a virtual skincare platform, says that she’s been able to apply her knowledge of Hindi and Gujarati throughout her career. When starting out as a pharmacist, she was able to assist patients who spoke those languages. And now, as an entrepreneur, she leverages her skills to connect with workers in India’s growing sector of outsourced IT. 

As talent becomes increasingly outsourced, knowing how to jump between cultures and languages can come in handy—especially in the tech sector. Andres Garcia, cofounder and CTO of healthcare software company Florence Healthcare, is a native Spanish speaker who learned English and Portuguese. His language trajectory has helped him better connect with teams that Florence Healthcare works with that may not fluently speak English. 

“I feel that being a bilingual person … I have the empathy for a remote team that is not native to English,” he says. “They conduct their business with us in English and I’m aware of the effort it requires.”

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Find Opportunities and Leverage Your Skills For Compensation 

To find multilingual opportunities, applicants should continuously network across industries on LinkedIn, says Mielke. Once you find a multilingual opportunity, you should make sure that you’re properly compensated. 

Through researching how much your translating skills are worth and backing your requests with data, you can make a compelling case for your target salary. After securing the position, you should make sure that the company sticks to the job description and sets proper boundaries. For instance, you aren’t suddenly a cultural ambassador, unless that was previously specified.

“Unless you have been brought up as a marketing expert in multicultural or diverse markets, your job [as a culturally diverse employee] is not to explain how members of your cultural group think or act, for example,” Mielke says. “Your company should respect your job description and not assume an individual who belongs to a culturally diverse group is going to be the translator, the interpreter, or an expert in that culture just because this individual is a member of that group.”

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As remote work becomes the new normal for many fields, companies need people who can connect with others. “Now that we’re working remotely, I find that communication is even more essential,” Dr. Barot says, “Having people who [are bilingual and] also understand [different cultures] can really make communication a lot easier.”

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