Find out how learning another language can boost your employability.
Employers look beyond purely academic qualifications for their perfect candidates. So-called ‘soft skills’ gained from living and working abroad, volunteer experience and additional languages can put you at the front of the queue when it comes to employability.
Faced with multiple applicants waving their degree certificates in Surf Studies or Parapsychology (yes, they really exist), prospective employers are more likely to look past your exam results and focus more on the languages you speak, the countries you’ve lived in and the volunteering activities you’ve taken part in. Solid volunteering and language experience will open up doors for you in terms of future employment opportunities.
I was fortunate enough to live in four different countries before I was 21, as well as being fluent in Dutch and having an extensive travel and volunteering section on my CV. Here are my five reasons why languages, travelling and volunteering will boost your chances in the workplace.
Employability and competitiveness
You want to showcase yourself to future employers as the most appealing and suitable candidate for the job. Knowing a second language or volunteering shows that you are resilient, adaptable and hard working. It creates an air of confidence that will impress in any future interviews. But you do not have had to have an international upbringing to achieve this – studying a modern foreign language at GCSE or A-level, taking an evening class or joining a language society at university will already be the first foot in the door. Alongside this, choosing to take part in youth volunteering programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme or National Citizenship Programme shows that you are prepared to dedicate your free time to help others, pointing to maturity and confidence. Taking a long term overseas placement before university instead of a typical ‘gap yah’ is also a great idea as it shows that you are prepared to dedicate yourself to something worthwhile at a young age.
Immersing yourself in volunteering and extracurricular activities builds up an entire database of contacts, which can help when it comes to references, work experience and hearing about new work opportunities. Networking effectively is another valuable soft skill. Being able to speak to someone in his or her own language breaks down barriers and serves as a natural ice breaker and allows everyone to feel more comfortable in the situation.
Dialogue and relationship building is crucial in any business situations – first impressions matter. When working at a popular tourist attraction during my last years at school I was able to help Dutch tourists when they struggled to make themselves understood (though many Dutch tourists speak better English than the natives!). I would reply in Dutch, putting them at ease and creating that mutual bond between strangers.
There is no one else like you in the world, and in the current job market, competition is intense. It is crucial to find ways to make yourself stand out from other applicants. If you are all going for the same job and your collective skills are similar, knowing a foreign language or having travel and volunteering experience can be the unique aspect that gets you that first interview.
Knowing a second language can open the door to many international opportunities for you. You will be more likely to be chosen to study abroad for a year with university, take part in competitive overseas voluntary placements or have a chance to work abroad. Starting early with languages, travelling and volunteering creates a lifetime of links and opportunities; you’ll be able to work and live wherever your heart desires and you will have that ability and confidence to enjoy new countries, cultures and work or education placements.
Not only will having a second language create exciting employment and education opportunities for you, but there are so many more benefits. Research suggest that bilingual people are more creative and better at solving complex problems, and that switching between languages can improve multitasking abilities. The NHS have found that ‘learning a second language can have a positive effect on the brain, slowing down mental ageing and helping mitigate dementia.
Evidence suggests that devoting your time to learning a second language, taking extracurricular volunteering activities outside of school and work, or applying for international volunteering placements is a sound investment – so what are you waiting for? If you dream of a career that will have you travelling to lots of different countries, interacting with new people from across the world and creating a CV that will be the key to the life you’ve always wanted.