This article was updated on July 21, 2018.
Hiring bilingual employees is a smart strategy for businesses planning their growth in an increasingly globalized world. Bilingual individuals can help you navigate the language and culture of target foreign markets.
For HR leaders, the questions are generally straightforward — what are the benefits of hiring bilingual employees and how does your organization integrate a desire to attract multilingual talent to their talent pool and sourcing strategy?
Here are four strategies HR leaders should have for hiring multilingual employees.
1. Be Prepared to Explain Why Bilingual Recruiting Should Be a Priority
Large enterprises are often active in many regional markets, and bilingual employees can facilitate communication across language and geographic boundaries. However, HR leaders may be asked to explain the rationale for bilingual recruiting for specific positions and overall within the organization. Highlight initiatives happening within the organization that require multiple language skills, and show how certain positions could benefit from these skills.
For example, an executive assistant who speaks Spanish and English can better support an executive whose territory covers North and South America. A communications executive who speaks French and English can support marketing efforts across multiple markets — and help eliminate or minimize the cost of added translation. A bilingual employee provides organizations with the opportunity to center key activities in-house to ensure consistency and quality delivery.
2. Expand Your Pipeline for Sourcing Multilingual Talent
Hiring staff that speak two or three languages can offer major benefits for your organization. However, building a robust pipeline of multilingual talent requires a strategic investment and a clear policy. One of the first steps is to introduce language requirements into your job postings and develop screening criteria for resumes. Businesses have found success hiring recruiters who speak key languages within their ecosystem to help further bolster the pipeline.
In addition, it's important to decide how language skills fit into certain jobs and be able to test candidates for that deeper articulation during the interview process. For example, just because a sales rep speaks Spanish doesn't mean they feel comfortable interpreting market behavior in a South American country. Be clear on what you're looking for and use that as a metric to evaluate performance and fit.
3. Implement Testing as Part of the Interview Process
When you're hiring someone who speaks a second language, there's usually specific terminology used in the job posting. A scan of different job ads might reveal phrases like, "fluency in Portuguese preferred," or "must be comfortable communicating in basic Portuguese" or even "Portuguese-speaking an asset."
However, each of these phrases can mean different things. A candidate who's comfortable with basic conversation may lack the experience and skill needed for business. Therefore, develop a precise understanding of the level and type of language proficiency needed — and then objectively test for that with language assessments. Interviewers who also speak the language can conduct a verbal interview to gain an additional perspective.
4. Set a Clear Vision for the Success of Bilingual Employees
Your bilingual employees' language skills are a valuable resource to your organization. You should focus on establishing a clear vision for helping them succeed, such as carefully crafted onboarding sessions or ongoing mentoring. Determine how business leaders will know this language skill set exists within the team, and develop clear approaches to partnering employees and projects. By creating a system dedicated to helping bilingual team members thrive, your organization can reap a generous ROI and your employees can have opportunities to use their skills.
Bilingual employees can be a tremendous benefit to organizations with plans that involve overseas growth. Have a clear vision for how bilingual employees bring value to your business, and then determine strategies for ensuring their success. With the right focus and execution, your organization can build a tremendous base of successful bilingual employees to help power global expansion.
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