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How to use language skills to advance your marketing career

How to use language skills to advance your marketing career

By Steve Shacklock, MD of multilingual recruiter, Euro London Appointments

The rapidly accelerating global economy and the emergence of many new markets across the world, mean that business is becoming increasingly international.

With marketing organisations in the UK facing more and more competition in the crowded domestic market, many are looking overseas for new opportunities.

Cross-border campaigns are becoming increasingly popular, and so marketers need both advanced foreign language skills and an in-depth understanding of the business cultures of other countries both to run campaigns overseas and to break into new markets themselves.

Knowledge and experience of different business cultures are becoming very attractive attributes for candidates looking for new opportunities. UK companies are trying to reach into new cultures, and what works in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another.

The internet has also become a key part of any business, increasing the number of cultures that need to be understood and communicated with effectively.

Marketing looks set to become even more international in its scope in the next few years.

As well as a continued demand for the most common European languages like French, German and Spanish, there is also a growing demand for less commonly spoken languages such as Scandinavian and Italian. Mandarin, Cantonese and Russian are also emerging as important future business languages because of the rapid growth of China and Russia as economic superpowers.

Coping with this globalisation is no small task for a population that is notoriously reluctant to learn languages. Many British candidates have a basic knowledge of French from their school days and speak a few words of Spanish that they picked up on holiday, but these language skills must be developed in order to use them in a business environment. With English as the lingua franca, spoken by a large percentage of the world’s population, candidates in the UK rarely speak another language.

However despite their weaker command of foreign languages compared to overseas colleagues, British marketers are keen not to get left behind in this growing demand for language skills. In addition, we are beginning to see American marketing organisations choosing London as the location for their European headquarters, from where they access the continental client base – and traditionally they are shorter on language skills than we are!

Obviously it is important to speak another language to allow easy communication with other businesses across the world, but it does not end there. Even if you are not fluent, knowing the basics and making an effort is appreciated – some Asian countries view a lack of language skills as a sign of ignorance.

Language is a link to cultural identity and even if they are able, people may not want to speak English, especially whilst in their home country. Learning another language also brings with it a cultural understanding and sensitivity which is equally as vital when dealing with people overseas, in avoiding awkward situations and helping to build strong relationships.

Having this understanding of the language, culture and therefore client or customer base also gives you a huge advantage in meetings, negotiations and business development. It would be very easy for a meeting to get chaotic and confusing if those involved cannot communicate clearly.

It would be equally as easy to be excluded from the conversation if you don’t speak the language, which could have disastrous consequences! With at least some knowledge of the mother tongue, meetings can become more efficient, you will earn some respect from your counterparts and misunderstandings can be easily avoided.

For a candidate, being able to speak another language will definitely give them a competitive edge in the marketplace. For those who speak multiple languages, this edge will be even better.

Not only will the monetary rewards be attractive, but prospects for promotion and international opportunities will be strong. These candidates have the linguistic knowledge, but often also have experience of living and / or working abroad too, which is a valuable asset to have.

British candidates with linguistic ability as well as the required marketing skills and experience are not in plentiful supply in the UK, therefore the suitable candidates are usually foreign born or have multi lingual parents.

Foreign nationals living in the UK are in particular demand with marketing organisations as not only do they often speak perfect English, they have a strong understanding of the nuances of their native language and cultural sensitivity which enables them to interpret subtly different market factors.

That’s not to say that British graduates with language degrees aren’t keen to pursue careers in marketing, but in a highly competitive market, candidates with no experience will find it almost impossible to find suitable opportunities.

However language graduates represent a huge untapped pool of potential talent and the more forward thinking marketing organisations should be creating more training places to ensure that they can develop the home grown marketers of the future.

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