What is being bilingual worth?

What is being bilingual worth?

I often get asked if DaiJob.com can help non-bilingual people find a job in a multinational. While it is true that we have a number of positions for monolinguals - typically Japanese speakers with a little English reading skill, or highly skilled English-only speakers - there is no doubt that being bilingual completely opens up your vista of job opportunities.

As you can imagine, the biggest headache for most multinationals is the bridging of the local office with the head office. Naturally, the head office wants to monitor and in some cases control local activities because it owns the company. And also, the people that really matter at the head office are unlikely to speak Japanese. So when they ask specific technical or business questions, or when they are trying to understand why things don't work the same in Japan, they need to be able to talk not just to a manager but often to the people actually doing the work. So bilingual capability is not just a skill restricted to the management domain.

Most large multinationals understand the importance of bilingual capability throughout the organization and offer free English (or in some cases Japanese) classes to bring their people up to speed. But the fact is that while these courses are available, most companies would simply prefer to have someone who can hit the ground running from Day One. And they go to great trouble and expense to get such people.

I see over and over again the advantage of being bilingual. If there are two candidates, the person with the language and communication skills wins the position 80% of the time. This may not be fair, but when you're being interviewed by someone for only an hour or two, of course they are going to respond best to the person who makes the best initial impact in their native language.

Being bilingual not only gets you the job, it also has a major role to play in your compensation. I would say as a rule of thumb that bilingual capability adds about 30% onto your monthly salary and sometimes as much as 100% (for certain highly technical positions). Because many companies can't get the skilled bilinguals they are looking for, they often have to hire two people, one to provide monolingual skills and a bilingual partner. So it's not hard to see the rationale of paying more to have everything in one person.

So if you're in the job market, and you're trying to decide whether to take some time off and study language intensively or find a job, my advice is simple: do the language course first! You won't regret the time invested.