There are a lot of benefits to speaking a second language.
You can escape the tourist bubble when you travel to other countries where you’re familiar with the language. Your ability to communicate with other cultures improves. There’s even evidence that speaking more than one language improves your memory, decision-making and problem-solving skills.
For customer service representatives, add “better pay and career advancement opportunities” to the list.
Bilingual customer service reps are in demand. And more than 20% of Americans speak a language other than English at home, a percentage that’s been increasing for decades.
If you’re bilingual and interested in a customer service career — or if you’re already in the field but haven’t put your language skills to use — how can you take advantage of this trend?
We spoke with Aerotek’s Rachael Rogers, a senior contractor care manager, to find out.
Your language skills give you three advantages in the job market.
1. Higher pay
You can expect higher pay, especially when being multilingual is a noted job requirement.
“We’re seeing, on average, a 15–20% higher wage offered for positions where bilingual ability is required,” says Rogers. “And as more companies see the value of having a multilingual team, employers are offering higher pay even when it’s not required.”
2. Advancement opportunities
As companies build bilingual teams to meet the growing needs of specific populations, bilingual employees will have a natural career progression to become team leaders.
3. Free training
Employers are increasingly willing to train multilingual candidates with no experience or current reps who need to learn the ropes of a new industry that requires specific know-how.
“Because we know the job market, we can match a candidate who may not have the exact experience with companies that are willing to provide training,” says Rogers. “We’ve actually consulted with some of our clients to create training programs.”
It all starts with your language skills. Spanish speakers are most in-demand, with Cantonese and Mandarin on the rise. Whatever language you speak, you’re likely to find positions where your skills are needed across a wide range of industries.
Rogers identifies healthcare, finance, consumer products and retail, hospitality and telecommunications as the primary sectors that need multilingual customer service teams. You may just need verbal proficiency or just verbal and writing skills, depending on the role.
Be prepared to showcase your verbal skills during your job interview — one of the interviewers will be fluent in your second language. You may also be tested for your familiarity with terms specific to certain industries, such as healthcare or finance. Call center positions generally don’t ask for writing proficiency, but some jobs may require it.
Whether you speak one language or 10, the skills you’ll need to succeed as a customer service rep are the same.
In Rogers’ experience, employers want candidates who are:
Because it’s challenging to prove these soft skills on a resume, be prepared to show them during your interview.
“If it’s a phone interview, it starts immediately with how you pick up the phone,” says Rogers. “How effectively you communicate with the recruiter — especially about why you’re right for the role — is important, especially if you don’t have experience.”
If you’re new to customer service, Rogers recommends reasonably priced online courses and certifications that can increase your marketability. Local training programs sponsored by the Department of Labor can also help you fill in any gaps in your experience. Build out your LinkedIn profile and connect with bilingual groups online.
If you’re already in the field, ask your supervisor if there are opportunities to use your language skills. If the answer is no, you may want to look elsewhere.
“Being bilingual makes you more marketable,” says Rogers. “It gives you a competitive edge, especially if a company is forward-thinking. They may not have a bilingual department yet, but they know they need one.”
Rogers points to the connections bilingual reps bring to her workplace as an example of why companies are moving in this direction.
“I can hear my contractor care representative speaking in Spanish to some of our contractors,” says Rogers. “Having that language in common builds rapport and makes callers feel more comfortable and confident.”
If you’re confident in your language skills, it may be time to translate that into your next career move.