If you’ve recently graduated with an MBA and are now looking for an exciting new job then you are not alone. While the competition for good jobs has always been fierce it seems to be getting even more intense. This means that recent MBA graduates need to add to their skillsets in order to make themselves a more desirable employee with a competitive edge that will help them stand out from the crowd.
Many experts and employers agree that one of the most highly marketable and valuable skills is bilingualism or — better yet — multilingualism. In an increasingly global economy, the executive who has the ability to communicate across cultures will be highly sought after by companies looking to expand their corporate boundaries.
As an MBA graduate who speaks two or more languages you will not only be a more attractive applicant or candidate for employment, you will also enjoy a range of valuable personal benefits in addition to those that are more career orientated. The fact that you have mastered another language sends a real important message to a potential employer: it says that you are motivated to learn, open-minded, smart, more culturally aware and a flexible person who can converse with clients in their native language.
Becoming multi-lingual is easier said than done however. The demands of an MBA are onerous enough without adding in the difficulties of learning one or more languages simultaneously and with over 3000 actively spoken languages in the world, and an economy that is becoming increasingly transient, it is difficult to know which languages are the best to specialize in.
So, what are some of the benefits that are invaluable for both the individual and the employer?
First off, bilingual or multilingual individuals find decision making easier as learning a language makes someone more aware of nuances and even hidden meanings. They are also perceived to have stronger skills and abilities by prospective employers than their mono lingual counterparts.
Zubia Hawcroft, Director of corporate recruiter MSC Headhunting sums it up. “Anytime someone has additional languages it is considered an asset. There is an instant respect for someone who is bi or multi lingual because they are thought to have an understanding of other cultures, thinking and a different way of operating.”
Learning a language is a point of entry into another culture. In an increasingly global market, cultural awareness and sensitivity are invaluable.
In the article “Importance of Bilingual Speakers in the Workplace”, Valerie Fox points out that companies who have bilingual or multilingual employees are able to “reach a wider customer and client base” because employees with language skills bridge the language and the cultural gap.
Mickey Matthews, International Chairman of recruiting firm Stanton Chase, describes the all-round abilities that a modern MBA must have. “The job market has gotten even more competitive for MBA’s and they must show they are not only a good team member but that they possess multi-cultural sensitivities”
According to an interesting study carried out at Pennsylvania State University, those who speak more than one or multiple languages are better at multitasking. This is because in order to learn a language one must move from one system and structure to another.
A study conducted at a Spanish university, Pompeu Fabra, demonstrated that bilingual or multilingual individuals are more focused, observant and perceptive generally because all of these skills are needed to acquire a second or additional language.
A further useful byproduct of learning a language is that a bilingual or multilingual person has more confidence thanks to learning and mastering a language and the boost to self-confidence that goes with achieving something.
Interestingly, language acquisition exercises and improves several important brain functions and ‘muscles’ including memory and concentration both of which are very valuable in the work place and life in general.
Finally, bilingual or multilingual individuals are more creative than their monolingual counterparts. This is thought to stem from the need to think of the correct or an alternative word and the necessity to use more divergent skills as one makes the change from one language and language system and structure to another.
Most people are even more interested in how they can reap the rewards…so the obvious question on pretty much everyone’s mind is what are the direct benefits to the learner in becoming multi lingual?
While many of the benefits we already listed apply to both the company AND the individual, there are others that only benefit YOU.
Because bilingual or multilingual individuals possess all of these valuable skills, abilities and qualities they have far better job prospects and certainly have that all-important competitive edge. According to studies cited by Rosetta Stone bilingual and multilingual employees earn on average 10% higher salaries than those earned by monolingual employees.
Studies have even shown that those who learn additional languages are far less likely to fall victim to brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer.
Surprisingly, learning a new language improves native- or mother-tongue language skills as you become more aware of language, words, grammar, nuance, etc.
Once you have learned a second language it becomes increasingly easy to learn additional languages because you now have what is known as metalinguistic awareness. In other words, you possess the necessary techniques and skills for language acquisition.
Discovering a new language and culture is enriching and opens you up to new ideas, points of view, art forms, interests, religions, ways of life, political systems etc. This in turn makes you more open-mined, tolerant and empathetic.
While it may seem counterintuitive, learning another language and about the associated culture will, according to the article “12 Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language”, increase your knowledge and understanding of yourself. Self-awareness has great advantages.
Travelling will be a great deal easier and more fun if you speak other languages; no more guessing what the items on a menu are or getting confused at railway stations! You can talk to locals and have a much richer experience of a country.
There’s no doubt being multilingual has its advantages but getting to the point of fluency in a language that’s not your own is easier said than done. Often while working through your MBA you have little idea what industry you will become involved in or where in the world you will finish up, and recruiters look for specialist skills when it comes to recruiting those with a second language. “A lot of MBA grads go into Sales, Marketing or Business development. Headhunters are given really specific briefs for roles such as VP of Northern Europe (which might require English and German) and for large organizations there are roles by territories (a North African posting might require fluency in French)” states Zubia. It seems clear that your location will dictate the language skills required.
For some nationalities learning, or already knowing, a second language comes easily. Many European graduates learn one or two additional languages during their schooling and this is a distinct advantage over English speaking nations such as the United States, England or Australia where exposure to a second language is not as common. A US graduate may find themselves up against Dutch graduates who are already fluent in English and German, or a Swiss MBA who grew up speaking French, German and Italian. This can put some graduates on the back foot from the beginning.
There are a number of business schools that offer bilingual MBA programs that foster multilingualism. For example, the IE Business School in Madrid, Spain offers part- and full-time MBAs and EMBAs that are offered in Spanish, English or a bilingual program run in both languages. Also, Italy’s Milan-based SDA Bocconi School of Management offers a bilingual Global EMBA in partnership with other business schools located in the US, China, Denmark and India.
Multilingualism and Multiculturalism
Those students who can speak more than one language benefit from globally orientated study programs more than their monolingual fellow participants. IMD in Switzerland selects 90 students from North and South America, Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The program and exposure to different cultures and world views ensures that their students master business fundamentals and gain self-awareness thanks to this global and multinational focus and flavor.
From One Expat to Another…
As someone who has spent the last 15 years living in foreign countries, I can personally vouch that learning the local language has enriched my experience. It has helped me connect with people on multiple levels, become a better problem solver, more confident and eased the stress of everyday activities (and maybe just as importantly, it’s actually FUN).
So, if you haven’t jumped on board, maybe it’s time to start learning a second language.
And if you are more of a practical person, remember that there can be no doubt that if you add a second, even a third or fourth, language to your skill portfolio you will be much more desirable to employers after finishing your MBA. You will also be a more well- rounded, better performing and even happier and healthier person!
Gretchen is an author, blogger and entrepreneur with a penchant for baking. She is passionate about communication, continued learning and connecting people. You can follow her on Twitter: @shawgret