The American economic system relies heavily on people of different nations and cultures interconnected by telephone, satellites and computers, so more corporations are looking to add multilingual employees to their ranks.
"Without a doubt, being bilingual increases employability," Kenig says. "My own personal experience attests to that. Out of the 10 jobs or consulting assignments I've had over the last 20 years, nine could be traced directly to the fact that I spoke English and Spanish."
The top industries for bilingual candidates include financial services, health care, social services, sales and marketing and public service, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For example, to sell goods and services to a multicultural market, businesses must hire people who understand the language and culture of their clients and vendors. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, are increasingly looking for bilingual employees to better serve patients, who must be able to understand medical orders and prescription dosages.
Broadening landscapeThe Latino community in the United States is projected to add about 1.7 million people every year. This trend has created a tremendous demand for bilingual job seekers fluent in Spanish and English.
But while the need for Spanish-speaking employees continues to rise, job seekers who speak Japanese, Chinese and Mandarin also are becoming hot commodities among employers, particularly on the West Coast. Globalization and the economic and political rise of Asian nations will continue to create great demand for employees who can help U.S. companies create successful business ventures with firms in China, India and Japan.
"Russian is hot, and Mandarin and Cantonese are getting hot, with Asia becoming an increasingly powerful force in the global market," says Sally Haver, senior vice president of The Ayers Group, a New York City-based international business consulting and staffing firm.
Select talentWhile highlighting your language skills on a resume is essential, don't exaggerate when describing your proficiency. Inflating your ability to speak a language could come back to haunt you during the job interview.
"It is important to reference more than the routine academic courses taken or degrees earned, as most potential employers want to determine how adept a candidate might be in a specific situation," suggests Paula Shannon, chief sales manager and senior vice president of Lionbridge Technologies Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based company that provides language translation, localization and internationalization services in 26 countries.
For example, if your resume or cover letter states, 'I reviewed customer complaints in Chinese and conducted telephone interviews with Chinese speakers to evaluate trouble spots' — it might be an effective way of showing your multilingual mettle.
"Highlight formal training, but demonstrate in concrete terms what activities or functions you have completed and performed in a given language," Shannon adds.
If you are truly bilingual — meaning you can speak two or more languages with equal or near equal fluency and are perhaps able to read and write more than one language very well — tell employers upfront that you have this ability.
Even if the prospective employer doesn't have an immediate need for a bilingual worker, they are likely to see your fluency as an added benefit, says David Knutson, chairman and associate professor of the Modern Language Department at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"It shows that you have a lot of analytical skills," Knutson says. "People who learn languages tend to be very gifted communicators, and it also speaks highly of their English abilities. Linguistics also teaches people to be aware of cultural differences and offers an interesting perspective when analyzing other national languages."
Difficult to masterTraining yourself to speak a foreign language doesn't come easy and typically requires a lot of patience, hard work and determination to truly master it.
Elizabeth Lunney, co-founder of ABC Language Exchange, a foreign language school in New York City with more than 600 students, says becoming proficient in two or more languages will show a prospective employer that "you're someone who will follow through on things."
"It takes real perseverance," Lunney says of the language-learning process. "You have to commit long term and you have to do your studying."
The school recently added new seminars designed to teach English-speaking students ways to modify the way they speak while talking with non-native speakers. The process allows the students to "appeal to their culture more" and more effectively communicate, even if they only speak English.
"It really helps you understand the pitfalls (of speaking English) for a non-native speaker," she says. "It definitely gives you an edge."