Want to Be the Candidate Who Gets a Job When You Graduate? Study a Language.

officeAs the new academic year starts, a lot is being written about “millennials /Gen Y’s” access to the tight job market.

Yesterday Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting From College to Career, posted “How To Attract Millennial Employees.”

Today Careerealism.com listed six tips in “How Recent Grads Can Break Into Their Industry.”

I would add this to both lists:

Employers: hire grads who’ve studied a language.

Students: Study a language. And do everything that program allows you to do–study abroad, take service-learning courses, do internships, volunteer.

Then highlight those experiences in your job search materials.  It will make you stand out over other candidates who otherwise have the same qualifications.  

The skills employers want (communication, decision-making, problem-solving, organization, analysis) are ones you can develop while studying a language.

But it’s on you to show employers how and why that is true.  Don’t just list the language you have studied as a skill on your resume; instead, show how you used the language to accomplish something concrete (and quantifiable, if possible). For example:

Taught English 10 hours per week for 12 weeks to 22 Spanish-speaking children aged 5-8 in a private day school in Ecuador.

Interpreted for English-speaking medical professionals and 12 Spanish-speaking clients at initial interviews for medical study at University Hospital during spring 2013 semester.

In addition to the above-mentioned skills, employers and professional schools want candidates who have genuine experiences with diversity and multiculturalism from which they have learned important lessons that can be applied in the future.

Employers and professional schools care that you can understand a workplace culture, fit in as much as possible, and adapt where the fit isn’t perfect.  

Beyond that, “cultural competence” is important to professional schools and employers more broadly.  They want to know that you are capable of interacting with people, habits  & customs that are different than your own, learning from those experiences, and incorporating your new knowledge into your daily professional practices. Here are some specific examples that would illustrate these things in application materials:

Learned to use Mexico City’s public transportation system, including alternate routes to avoid traffic and outages, for work, social outings, and guiding visitors. 

This example shows that you embrace new experiences, are not afraid of changing environments, are adaptable, and have deployed leadership skills. In a cover letter or interview (where you have more space than on a resume), you would want to make those connections explicit–and tailor them to the traits that are described in application materials.

As part of a team of four, prepared the “political implications” section of a report and presentation on the impact of the worldwide economic crisis on recent grads–known as nimileuristas–in Spain.  

This shows that you have experience working in teams, take responsibility for specific aspects of a project, have prepared professional reports and presentations. Again, you would have to tailor it to a specific position, professional school essay, or other application material for a specific position.


Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they standout in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one coaching or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
 
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