Being bilingual is usually taken to mean that someone speaks two languages fluently, which, broadly speaking, means being able to keep up a conversation in either language without problems.
For some jobs, fluency in a second language is a requirement or a significant advantage, and many recruiters value this quality in applicants even when it doesn’t have an obvious connection to the role they’re looking to fill.
If you’re multilingual, you’re fluent in several languages, which potentially gives you an even greater advantage in your graduate job hunt.
Keen to use your extra hours at home as a result of Covid-19 restrictions to learn a language, allowing you to reap the career benefits of being bilingual? Our article on learning a language in lockdown and beyond gives tips and resources.
Most wanted! Languages in demand from employers
According to a 2018 report from the CBI, a lobbying organisation that represents many British businesses, the languages most often sought by employers are:
- Chinese (Mandarin)
The CBI/Pearson Education and Skills report, published jointly with education company Pearson, commented that the growing demand for Spanish reflected its use both in Europe and Latin America.
Careers where being bilingual gives you an edge
Not sure what you want to do? You might speak a language that is highly valued in a specific industry. Consider career options where there’s high demand for graduates who speak and understand more than one language. Research employers to find out if some of them tend to advertise positions where your language is particularly sought after.
In some roles you’ll be required to speak and write in your second language just as well as in English, for example if you were to work as a foreign language analyst for MI5, the Security Service.
Make sure you register with TARGETjobs and complete your profile, including details of your language skills, and make sure you include your language skills on your CV.
Some of the career sectors where bilingualism is in high demand are:
Tourism and hospitality. Have you considered a career with an international hotel group? There are some graduate training schemes available from employers in this area and language skills are in demand.
Find out more about key graduate employers in hospitality, leisure and tourism.
Government and the public sector. MI5, the Security Service, recruits employees who speak a range of languages into its foreign language analyst roles. Your language skills could also be useful in any role that involves working with members of the public who are speakers of other languages, including jobs in local government and with social services.
Find out how to get a graduate job in social work.
Education. Bilinguals are well placed to work as private tutors or train to work in language teaching.
International development. Fluent language skills can give you an edge when applying for roles in international development, whether you want to work for the government or for a charity or NGO (non-governmental organisation).
The police force. Language skills can be an advantage in police work, for example if you are based in an area where there are large numbers of speakers of other languages. There are opportunities to work as a translator or interpreter for the police or for other employers, such as hospitals. The ability to speak another language fluently could also be an advantage in a career with the ambulance service.
Finance. Many banking and investment employers seek to recruit graduates who are fluent in other languages. This is a requirement for some roles, while for other jobs it can give you an edge over other applicants.
Skills associated with bilingualism
People who speak more than one language are often said to find it easier to develop the following soft skills:
- Communication: speaking more than one language is likely to make you aware of how you express yourself and what is needed to get a message through. This helps you communicate more proficiently in all languages you speak.
- Multitasking: successfully going back and forth between two languages makes it likely that you’re able to balance multiple tasks at work as well.
- Problem solving: thinking and speaking in multiple languages help you think about how to interpret and approach problems and possible solutions from different perspectives.
- Creativity and originality: if you’re aware of how much language systems can vary and how many ways there are to express the same thing, chances are you’re well equipped to think outside the box in other aspects of life too.
- Cultural understanding and awareness: knowing a second language might mean that you have access to a different culture and can recognise and adapt to the fact that things are done differently in different places.
Our advice on key skills that will help you get a graduate job looks at how to describe your skills in your applications and interviews.
If you’re not sure what you want to do, thinking about your strengths could help you decide what career path would suit you. For example, if you know yourself to be culturally aware and sensitive, you might do well in a career that gives you the opportunity to interact with a variety of people from different cultures.
Job application tips for bilinguals
If you already know what sector, and perhaps even what employer, you’re interested in, your second language can be your way in.
Many employers will look more than once at your CV if there is a second language on there, especially if they are part of a multinational organisation – or would like to make connections abroad in the future. Bilinguals can interact with clients, customers and suppliers from other countries more effortlessly, flag up any cultural misunderstandings and might even make it easier to establish contacts in new countries if the business expands. Bilinguals stand a good chance of getting to work in regional offices abroad if they work for an international organisation.
If you apply for a job through an online application form, you might be asked to list the languages you speak and categorise yourself as a beginner, intermediate, advanced or native speaker. As long as you would be able to take part in a business conversation, you can put yourself in one of the higher categories.
Using your language skills at uni
If you’re still at university, you can find activities related to your second language that will make you more employable.
- You could serve on the committee of a relevant club or society to gain management and organisational skills.
- You could volunteer at the international centre to help international students who speak your language settle in.
- If classes are held in your language, you could ask to help with language tuition.
- You might also be able to study abroad for one or two semesters and work part-time in your host country. If you have worked in a different cultural context, you can more easily reflect on how a business functions abroad and compare it to the UK. This can help you develop your commercial awareness.
- Some part-time jobs are easier to get if you’re bilingual. You could work at a restaurant serving food from the country or countries where your language is spoken. Alternatively, some customer service jobs (both part- and full-time) need speakers of widely spoken languages, for instance work at call centres answering questions about an organisation’s products or services.
- You might also be able to find temporary translation work. Some organisations with offices abroad want things like training material for staff translated from English to their native language. While these kinds of jobs are rare, it’s worth looking out for online or on notice boards where modern language courses are taught at your university.