Companies & Industries

Bilingual, and in Demand


Flip through a Spanish-language magazine, and you'll find some familiar

advertisers hawking their wares -- Verizon, DaimlerChrysler, and Target, to name a few. These marketers know what's at stake: Since 1990, Hispanic spending power in the U.S. has climbed 118%, to $452 billion, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. And recently released Census 2000 numbers show that Hispanics are now 35.3 million strong, roughly 12.5% of the total U.S. population.

Couple that growing domestic market with the expansion of many U.S. companies into Spanish-speaking countries, and it's easy to see why Corporate America is hiring people who know both English and Spanish. Manuel Boado is the founder and chief executive of Spanusa, a Mamaroneck (N.Y.) search firm that specializes in English/Spanish-speaking professionals. His firm has placed bilingual candidates in such companies as IBM, American Express, and Texaco. Recently, Boado spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jennifer Gill about career opportunities for bilingual professionals and Hispanics. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: Who's hiring bilingual professionals?

A: Financial institutions are No. 1 right now. We're working with a lot of private banks that have a presence in Latin America. There are also banks that are seeking the Hispanic market in the U.S. because there's money to be found. The insurance [industry] is also showing great interest. And every company that is in consumer products is interested in Hispanics. Why? Because the color of the money is the same.

Q: Are companies seeking bilingual professionals for certain departments?

A: Marketing and sales certainly is No. 1. Companies need Hispanics to deal with the Hispanic population or people who are bilingual for the same reason. In operations, companies need supervisors and managers who understand the workforce, which is in good part Hispanic. Although it would be better to teach English to everybody, that's not as easy as putting in a bilingual supervisor who clearly understands everyone from one day to the next.

Q: How can a person figure out if a company is hiring bilingual professionals?

A: First, there are many appropriate institutions, like www.latpro.com, which is a jobs site for Latin professionals. If you were to look at the LatPro site, you'll see a list of its present clients, including the majority of the Fortune 1000 companies.

Second, notice who is advertising on Hispanic television and in Hispanic magazines. You shouldn't blindly send resumes to companies -- go to those that have proven their interest [in the Hispanic market].

Q: What advice would you give to bilingual professionals overseas who are looking for work at U.S. companies?

A: It's very hard for people without a visa to get a job in the U.S. from abroad. First, they haven't proven themselves in the U.S. Second, the interviewing process is normally conducted here if it's going to be for a job in the U.S. And third, even if the company likes you, it has to go through the steps of obtaining an H-1B visa, which could take several months at best. Who has the patience to say, O.K., we'll start that program next year? The best way to get a job in the U.S. is coming to study.

Q: How can a bilingual candidate assess whether the company is right for him or her?

A: The first thing would be to look at the corporation, and say: Are there any Hispanics there? We have a client that sought our services because it was able to hire a lot of minorities, but then these people left very quickly, after a year or two. The reason was -- and this is very common -- that there was nobody at the top with names like Garcia.

When you go to the interview, I would ask: Are you interested in someone who speaks both languages? Or are you interested in a different perspective, a diverse point of view? Some companies will be looking for people who are bilingual, no matter where they come from. Roughly 20% of our candidates aren't Hispanic. In my office, there are two or three people who are Anglos who are bilingual. About 70% of our searches are for bilingual professionals, the rest are for Hispanics.

Other companies will want an Hispanic person who is familiar with the

Hispanic culture. A substantial number of Hispanics in the U.S. don't speak Spanish. [In the past] there was a negative connotation to being Hispanic. Speaking Spanish or speaking English with an accent was a no-no. I have heard from many candidates that their parents told them: "You must speak English perfectly, like everybody else." Now these people have found their own niche, their own identity. They're saying: I'm not going to withdraw from my culture. I will adopt both."

Q: How important is an MBA?

A: Very. I would say there is not a single job where they don't tell us, "MBA preferred." They won't require it every time, but in 60% to 70% of the cases, a company will.

Q: As an executive recruiter, how do you know when you're talking to a company that's serious about diversity?

A: Through statements like the one a director of diversity at a

pharmaceutical company made a few days ago. He's a bright African-American guy who had been with the company 18 years in public relations, when the president suddenly offered him the job of director of diversity. This man said, "No, no. I don't want to be someone to make you look good. I have a meaning in life." It took the president one month to convince him to take the job.

When we met this guy, he asked us, "Want to know why I called you?" He pulled out an annual report and showed us the pictures of the people. All of the senior managers were male and white. Some companies will ask us for proposals and then say, "We don't have any [searches] right now." Companies that are serious put their money where their mouth is.


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