The latest on travel, languages and culture by EF Education First

EF Talks: James Mandl – How important is fluency to getting the job?

The suggestion that speaking multiple languages fluently is good for your career has been around for a while, but, in practice, what impact does it really have? I sat down with EF recruitment and development director, James Mandl to discuss his thoughts on the subject.

Q: To start off, James, do you think you could give us a short intro to what you do at EF and your history with the company?

A: As an EF recruitment and development director, I am responsible for recruiting staff in our European schools and offices. I also work with training and development of our staff. I started with EF in Quito, Ecuador where I was an academic director and then school director for our Spanish and English schools. I then became school director in Miami before moving to Switzerland where I was an operations manager for our non-English schools. After that, I was based in Zurich as a business integration manager and collaborated with our technology teams in Bangalore.

Q: What languages do you speak fluently?

A: I speak English, Spanish, and French.

Q: How has speaking multiple languages impacted your career?

A: Nearly every job I have ever done has required me to rely on my language skills. Without Spanish, I would not have been able to take my first job with EF in Quito. Since then, my language skills have been a key tool in enabling me to be successful in my roles and to grow and develop my career.

Q: EF has over 46 thousand employees worldwide. In your experience, how important is it for candidates to speak multiple languages?

A: On EF campuses, in our offices, everywhere you go, people are speaking multiple languages. It’s part of the EF culture, but the same can be said for many other international companies. It’s an expected requirement for all employees to be multilingual at EF, and if you want to grow, you need to be open to being transferred overseas. Where we place you will be determined in large part by the languages you speak.

Q: How many languages is enough?

A: In today’s world, two languages might not be enough. The good news is that the more languages you learn the easier it gets. In my professional opinion, I would say that 3 languages is the minimum – your mother tongue, plus two more.

Q: When considering a candidate, what are the key things you look for on a CV?

A: For entry positions, we value internships, voluntary work, and personal achievements. For more senior roles, we will be looking at professional achievements and transferable skills. Language skills and international experience, including employment, travel, or studies abroad, are, of course, essential for all candidates.

Here are some more CV tips from James.

Q: What does it say to you when you see that a candidate has lived abroad?

A: The longer they have been abroad the better from my perspective. It shows adaptability and flexibility. When I can see that a person has lived abroad, I can usually infer that they are a risk-taker and motivated by personal development. More importantly, they are likely to be open-minded and have the communication skills to work in a multicultural work environment.

Q: For people thinking about learning a language to boost their career, where should they go?

A: From a recruiter’s perspective, it’s technically not super important where you learned English. Sydney, London, New York, Cape Town, they are all great. Nevertheless, if you’re from Paris and you learned English in Perth, that will tell me that you are adventurous. Also, if I see that you lived in Costa Rica to learn Spanish or moved to Shanghai to learn Chinese, I will know that you have a more global mindset.

Q: Is having international experience critical to working for an international company like EF?

A: I would say yes. It’s not easy moving to another country and at EF we want to provide the best support possible to our customers. How can our sales staff provide an effective consultation if they have never lived abroad? How would our teachers and school staff be able to educate or care for our students without having been in their shoes first? Our staff share their own experiences overseas and draw on that knowledge to help ensure EF students enjoy their language courses abroad.

Q: How would you recommend people gain international experience?

A: My recommendation would be to start with the language. From there, you can look for international internships. If possible, see if there are international transfer opportunities inside your current company. Networking is also key. Build your network at home. Who knows? You might get to know somebody who lives and works abroad that can help you find a position.

Q: How can you gain the language fluency to work in an office?

A: You have to be realistic. You may not get it from one two-week language course; nevertheless, after several shorter courses or a long-term language program abroad, it’s certainly possible to enter a work environment. Learning a language is a continual process. This means maintaining your exposure to the language through books, films, and apps even when you return home. To reach the level where you can comfortably work in an international company takes time, dedication, and patience, but the reward is definitely worth it.

Q: When is it the right time to learn a language?

A: The easy answer is right now. My father is 85 years old and learning his 6th language, Spanish. Here at EF, we have a couple of friends in their 40s that spend three weeks each year combining their summer holidays with improving their English. From my perspective, every time you travel is an opportunity to learn about a new culture and improve your language skills. As employees and as humans, we can always evolve, develop, and improve our opportunities. Learning a language is a great way to do that.

Add a second language to your resumeLearn more

Share this article

Latest articles from Career