Bilingualism: a hot skill for job seekers

Posted on Thursday, January 14, 2021

Recherche d'emploi - article

Did you know that being bilingual can lead to more job offers and a better salary? According to Marie Mitsou, Career Corner Counsellor at the University of Ottawa, a bilingual employee can earn 5% to 20% more than a unilingual employee. Clearly, bilingualism is a valuable asset that pays off in many different ways!

Given globalization and the mobility of today’s workforce, employers are drawing from an increasingly diverse and multicultural population, both locally and abroad. As a potential employee, gaining and activating a multicultural edge has become a condition for success in our interconnected world. In this environment, employers are seeking versatile employees with multiple qualifications who can navigate across different cultures and who have the ability to solve problems and multitask – qualities that are directly linked to knowing a second language.

The ability to speak a second language can make your resume stand out from the crowd and can boost you to the top of the interview list. Marie Mitsou gave some sound advice to students who are preparing to enter the world of work, along with tips on how they can bring their bilingualism to the fore.

1. What advice would you give students who want to leverage their bilingualism?

A good way to make your bilingualism work for you is to look for organizations who value or require it, such as all levels of government, educational institutions, international organizations, tourism, healthcare, municipal services, etc. These organizations generally gravitate toward candidates with multilingual abilities. This requirement often disqualifies unilingual candidates and as such, narrows down the competition for these key jobs. Cities that promote a bilingual environment may also offer more opportunities. Consider expanding your job search to include these markets.

Students who have achieved certified bilingual proficiency should market themselves as bilingual, not merely as second language learners. It is important to highlight your bilingualism, and associated communication skills, consistently and confidently at all touchpoints: resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letters, job application platforms, and interviews. Keep in mind that communication skills are one of the most valued and transferable skills across all sectors. Use that to your advantage. Furthermore, be sure to underscore any experiential learning activities carried out in your second language: such experiences are a very compelling way to demonstrate your ability to work in both languages in non-academic environments. Don’t forget to highlight them every chance you get! Finally, make your documents available in both languages and ensure that the quality of the language is impeccable.

2. What resources are available to students?

The first point of contact with a potential employer is through application documents, such as resumes, cover letters, and personal profiles. One of the most important elements to consider in creating these documents is to ensure that both content and format are as accurate and specific as possible. Be succinct and purposeful, and focus on experiences and responsibilities that reflect your competencies and that demonstrate specific and relevant skills. Don’t focus exclusively on the tasks; also emphasize key accomplishments and performance outcomes, supported by metrics. The uOttawa Career Corner has several resources including an online chat available Mondays to Fridays to help with that. Students can also make an appointment, during which we can review these documents together and look at development opportunities.

To help you answer difficult questions, develop interview strategies, improve your communication skills, and reduce stress before an actual job interview, we recommend that you practice your interview skills through mock interviews – in both official languages. The Career Corner can provide support in this area by reviewing the questions typically asked (general, behavioural and situational) and role-playing to simulate an interview. Additional online resources are also available to help you develop these skills.

3. What steps can students take and when should they get started?

It is never too early to start looking for interesting job opportunities through LinkedIn, a social media platform, job search sites, company websites, etc. Browse through these websites and get acquainted with the types of job positions, potential employers, locations, etc. Make a list of five to ten ideal jobs and 10-to-20 ideal employers. Create career alerts, search for employees on LinkedIn and try to find contacts that you may have in common. Once you do, reach out to them, consider informational interviews, etc. You should never underestimate the power of networking and spreading the word that you are looking for work opportunities. In fact, one in 200 resumes will get you a job offer, while one in 12 “career conversations” will lead to one. So, don’t devote 100% of your time to applying for jobs; invest time in networking since it is likely to yield better results.

To maintain an active network, keep in touch with friends, family, former employers, colleagues, professors, alumni, association members – anyone who might help generate information and job leads. Attend as many networking events as you can – either virtually or in person.

Ensure that your LinkedIn profile is compelling and adds value to your CV rather than duplicating it. Personalize the “About You” section with unique, inspired content, add a great photo, grow your connections, get endorsements on your skills, link to external content, publish posts about your activities and accomplishments, etc. Finally, before creating or updating your profile, seek out ideas or inspiration from other graduates or people working in organizations that interest you.

Also, according to a CareerBuilder study, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates. Take the time to audit your social media accounts and ensure that your online persona reflects positively on you.

The Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute (OLBI) offers an array of courses and programs in French and English language learning. Bilingualism is at your fingertips!

Learn more about OLBI courses and programs.

The uOttawa Career Corner is here to help you. All services and now offered virtually. The team is available to help you and answer your questions by email, chat or video call. Discuss your plans with a career counsellor and take advantage of the many services available to you. Visit the uOttawa Career Corner.
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