EXPERIENCE and top-notch credentials do not always guarantee a well-paying position in a good firm. Knowledge of foreign languages is becoming such an important competitive advantage that candidates with superior language skills often outperform those with better professional qualifications but insufficient foreign language proficiency.
The reasons are obvious. Slovakia is just too small to expect its language to be widely spoken. Moreover, the degree to which the country is engaging in international business relationships is vigorously increasing.
Foreign investors in Slovakia are among its most important employers, and local companies are trying to maintain lively business contacts with its international counterparts.
"We have many examples when a candidate had excellent experience but we simply could not present him [before the client] because he did not speak English," Mariana Turanová, managing consultant with Target SK, told The Slovak Spectator.
According to her, firms require that candidates speak multiple foreign languages just in case, even if it is unlikely that the employee would ever need the language.
Ingrid Grebecová, director of placement with Trenkwalder Management Partners, added that foreign language proficiency is a basic requirement for almost every position offered through her firm, perhaps with the exception of manual labour in manufacturing plants.
"If the position has to do with administration, business, finance, IT or similar areas, the knowledge of foreign languages is as common as PC user skills," Grebecová said.
English is the most sought-after language, followed by German and, as a result of recent investments in the car industry, French. Some positions in call and customer centres also require that candidates know specific languages, such as Finnish, Hebrew, Croatian, Hungarian, Spanish, Portuguese and others.
"In most cases we do not expect that a candidate will speak fluently. But he must be able to address a foreign partner in writing or by telephone, to conduct business conversation in a foreign language and, for example, translate the text of a letter. Perhaps even recommend a good restaurant to a foreigner - why not?" Turanová from Target SK explained.
Fluency in English in combination with high proficiency in a second foreign language is often an entrance ticket to international company. HR companies usually test language proficiency themselves rather than relying on a candidate's self-evaluation. They do not always take into consideration various language certificates, either.
HR firms often promise their clients that any candidate they present will have a guaranteed level of language proficiency.
"Some candidates indicate on their CVs they are 'fluent' or 'active' in a language but they can hardly open their mouth [to speak the foreign language]. Some write 'intermediate' and they can communicate without problems. It is important not to overestimate but also not to underestimate the level of one's skill," Turanová said.
One candidate, says Turanová, presented his knowledge of English as "basic". The firm decided to test him anyway because of his extraordinary professional experience, and it turned out that he spoke English quite well. "He simply underestimated himself. It could easily have happened that we would not have invited him to test at all," she pointed out.
According to Grebecová of Trenkwalder, the foreign language skills of the middle aged generation, especially those who did not go beyond high school, is among the worst.
On the other hand, young people with a university education are the best in foreign languages. It is very common that Slovak university graduates speak two languages. Some of them even speak a third, less common language.
Turanová from Target SK emphasized: "There are many branches of international firms in Bratislava and Košice that came here because people in Slovakia are able to learn languages easily. They usually have lighter accents than people in neighbouring countries."
10. Oct 2005 at 0:00 | Marta Ďurianová