Whether you’re looking to hire multilingual workers in the financial, energy or professional services sector, or you have language skills and are ready for your next role, you may want to speak to Natasha at Delisle-Barrow Recruitment.

An expert in placing multilingual candidates – and a speaker of Italian, German and French herself – Natasha talks to journalist Rachel Burge about her clients and experiences to date.

What percentage of your work is recruiting for multilingual roles?
I would say 80% of the roles I place are for candidates with language skills. Most of my clients have either an international or European outlook. As a result, they tend to need people with language skills who can facilitate the building of relationships externally across different borders, or at least have the cultural awareness with their own colleagues, their client base, or external contacts.

What kind of companies do you work with?
I specialise in three main industries: finance & investment (which includes private equity firms, hedge funds, and wealth management), the energy & natural resources sector (renewable energy and mining companies for instance), and professional services, which is predominantly consultancies.

The majority of these are small to medium-sized firms, employing anywhere from 20 to 250 people. Some of my energy clients are bigger, as they’ve grown though mergers and acquisitions. It could be that a large mining company has a head office in Central America, but has a representative office in the UK of 10 or 15 people.

What languages are in most demand?
The core languages required by my clients are French and German, followed by Italian and Spanish. I’ve noticed that more of my clients are asking for language skills as a nice to have, even if they’re not a hard requirement. Sometimes this is because their own offices are quite multicultural, so they would prefer someone who can work in a blended environment.

German is particularly important in the finance and investment sector. German-speaking candidates can be difficult to attract, as the language isn’t as popular in English universities as say French and Spanish. For that reason, companies are quite reliant on hiring native German speakers.

In the energy sector, Oil & Gas companies tend to require French speakers more than Italian or German. Of course, other industries outside the ones I deal with may favour a particular language – Italian is used a lot in fashion, for example.

A client’s growth plan and the markets they wish to break into will determine which language-speakers I need to source. For instance, if a client is looking to increase their presence in Central Europe, I may need to look for someone who has a knowledge of Russian – so it goes beyond French and German.

What languages do you speak?
Italian, French, and German. I’m fluent in Italian – but I’m a little rusty in French and German!

Why would a firm be advised to hire a recruitment expert with language skills?
Usually when you’ve learnt a language yourself, you’ve had to embed yourself within the culture of that country. You understand the dynamics of how business is done and how people relate to each other in a business and social context.

Years ago, I did some work with Japanese clients. I don’t speak Japanese, but I had to learn Japanese etiquette before I went into business meetings with them. If you need to hire people who are fluent in French, German or Italian, it helps to use a recruitment professional who can converse with them and who is sensitive to cultural differences.

How long have you been placing people in multilingual roles?
I’ve been placing people in multilingual roles for as long as I’ve been in recruitment -17 years now. I started off in Executive Search, and the projects I worked on spanned across mainland Europe, so I was predominantly hiring French, German and Italian speakers.

What’s been the trickiest placement you’ve made?
I placed a Russian and Hebrew speaker for a telecommunications company some years ago. For that assignment, which pre-dated LinkedIn, I had to join various groups and do lots of networking to find the right person.

I’ve also filled tri-lingual placements – for a retail client that wanted French, Spanish and English to the same exacting standard. Of course, if you’re recruiting for companies in Belgium, candidates have to speak French, Dutch and English.

Are you noticing any trends in the languages that companies require?
Twenty years ago, when the EU was growing, you saw certain languages coming more to the fore, and then in the mid-2000s Russian and Central European languages became prominent and were highly requested. But that’s not the case so much these days.

Given that most of my clients’ companies want to have a global or European presence, there will always be an appetite for hiring candidates at all levels who are multilingual. I spoke with a client last week who is planning to enter two new European markets and is currently looking for people who have “local knowledge” as well as fluency in languages in order to support their business development activities.

What challenges do you feel employers will face?
There has been a heavy reliance on native language speakers to fill multilingual positions. I see fewer British-born multilinguals then I did when I first started in recruitment 17 years ago. Given that we are leaving the EU, should we see less people from the continent coming over to the UK, then the next 10 years may prove challenging.

Language Training courses such as the CLB or school level education will need heavier investment in order to fill the gap left by our European counterparts. Many state schools have made French compulsory (and this can be combined with German and/or Spanish) however, we still have a lot of catching up to do. Businesses will need to start revising and adapting their hiring plans for roles which require a language skill.

What languages do think will become more important in the future?
The ‘global village’ is only getting smaller, and whatever industry you’re in, language skills are important. People who can speak and write a second language and have also spent time working in a business context in that country will always be sought after – as of course, will those who can speak three or more languages.