How to deal with languages on LinkedIn

Ever wondered how languages work on LinkedIn and how to make them work better for you? Well read on…

My masters students have recently grilled me on how languages work in LinkedIn. From around 30 different countries with 18 different native languages, looking for international positions while completing their masters in Spain, they are extremely likely to have issues with this, and they are no exception. So here are some tips I’ve come up with to help them and to help you.

1) Make sure you create your account with the default language you want
Your default language on LinkedIn is decided for you when you first open a new account, this is chosen for you based on your geographic location (although apparently it can now be changed). I was in Spain so my default language is Spanish. Once you have opened your account there is no way to change the language default profile.

What this means is that anyone viewing your profile from a LinkedIn account set to a language other than your default and for which you haven’t created a second language profile, will see your profile in your default language. This can be really annoying. In my case, lets say a potential client from Germany views my profile, because I don’t have a German language profile, that potential client will see my profile in Spanish not in English which might be more helpful.

If you Google this, the web is full of frustrated calls from international professionals to fix the issue, but sadly it seems LinkedIn has other fish to fry and for the moment you can not change your default language.

So if you haven’t got a LinkedIn account yet, just take care when you are creating the account, it may appear that you are just choosing a language preference, which if you are bilingual will not seem that important, but later you will realize that you have committed to a default profile in that language for life. For most of us it’s too late for this tip so let’s look at other options.

2) Create other language profiles
If you speak more than one language to working proficiency or are looking for work, clients or contacts in a country where the native language is different to your own you should create LinkedIn profiles in those languages. Equally if you are not an English native speaker and you are trying to position yourself internationally, you will need a profile in English. Remember that most people read more intensely in their own language so a localized profile can give you an edge.

Luckily LinkedIn works pretty well here and all your contact will be together in the same account, but will see different profiles. You can get clear instructions on how to create these other profiles here.

3) If you already have an account and the default language problem, create different language profiles with content in your preferred default language
So let’s say like me you’re stuck with the default profile in your second language (Spanish), one that’s very useful but not the one you would have chosen. If you want that potential Chinese employer to see your profile in the default language you would have chosen (English), you need to create a Mandarin or Cantonese language profile and copy the text across from your English one. Obviously if the Chinese market is really important for you, you should consider including a Mandarin or Cantonese profile but if you just want to avoid them being sent to a profile in Spanish, this is the way to do it.

4) Make sure that most of your profile is public in the different languages
If you are connected with someone it’s really hard for them to see your profile in another language than the one LinkedIn offers it to them in. Basically the only way seems to be having them change the language they are using LinkedIn in, it’s a few clicks, but I’m pretty sure not many of us would bother to do it! By ensuring that all your language profiles are public, at least they should come up in a Google search and the person interested can click on the language they can read best.

5) Don’t create various accounts
Opening different LinkedIn accounts does not solve the language issue, despite what some advice on the web may say. Apart from being against LinkedIn’s rules, it will mean that your network impact is reduced by having your contacts split across two profiles. Keep your profile together and you’ll be able to leverage that big international network.

6) Take the time to translate properly and get it checked
Yes I know it’s a big enough pain creating your profile in one language, let alone having to go back and do the whole thing again in another that you might not be quite so fluent in, but you’re going to have to suck it up and do it. Remember that your profile doesn’t have to be exactly the same in both languages but ensure that there are no contradictions or differences in job titles and content. It is pretty easy for someone to look at all your language profiles so saying a job was one thing in French while calling it another in Turkish may not create the right impression!

7) Be language profile aware when up-dating
In my experience, most of the issues with disappearing bits of text in LinkedIn profiles (“well I did include a lot more detail on that position, I don’t know why it’s disappeared”) have to do with language profile issues. Remember that when you update your profile in one language it does not automatically update in another. If you click over to the other profile you will see the text of the default profile so, in theory if you have them the right way around, you can easily see what you have written and translate it.

8) Include the languages you actually speak in the language section on the profile
You’ll be pleased to know that this is a part of the profile that you only have to fill in once and which LinkedIn translates for you, saving you a few minutes of work. Just to clarify, I’m talking about the section on your profile where it displays, not the profiles in different languages we’ve been talking about until now. I’ve been asked quite a few times about what languages you should indicate that you speak in the language skills section.

My advice is to include those you speak to a level where they can actually be a value add to the potential employer or client. For example, being able to go into a boulangerie and order a baguette and some croissants in French, might not be that advantageous to the company, whereas being capable of reading repots or legal documents in the language (even if your conversational French is a bit dodgy) is useful. Just be careful not to exaggerate your language skills because you are likely to be tested on them.

So, in the cutthroat world of international business, we need to do what we can to get an edge and languages can help us here. An American multilingual friend of mine used to send out the following Nelson Mandela quote at the end of every e-mail, so copying her I’m going to include it at the bottom of my post. It’s well worth remembering especially when entangled in multilingual LinkedIn updates.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

About Katie Annice Carr

Creativity, Communication and Leadership facilitator, coach and consultant.

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