This site uses cookies. If you continue you consent to this but you may change your cookie settings at any time.

The 5 hidden attributes of multilingual candidates

dictionary

More and more businesses are expanding their workforces and client bases to all corners of the globe, a trend facilitated by rapid advances in communication technology, the reduced cost of outsourcing certain services abroad, and increasing levels of skilled migration. Therefore it is no surprise that the demand for multilingual candidates has increased, and in some countries, doubled, over the past five years.

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. Ambition and drive

Learning another language takes determination. 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-improvement

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. Multitasking 

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. Decision making

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

I recently read an article which 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. Divergent thinking

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 in order 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.

Job blog articles