Career options for language students

Knowing which jobs to apply for on graduation, or even before becoming a language student, can be a good thought exercise. Short of being a full-time linguist, what other options are there for people with a passion for languages?

On graduating with a degree in the rather vague-sounding 'French Studies', I found the kinds of jobs available to me were rather limited, if I wanted to maintain my language as a core skill. But now, a decade after graduation, I can see that I had many more options than I realised were available to me.

The most obvious is to fall into Customer Service in a multilingual call-centre. This can provide a great deal of real-world and professional language experience, albeit at a salary that won't get your pulse racing with excitement. You'll receive customer calls, talk them through their options, send samples, attempt to up- and cross-sell various products and check up on their general satisfaction from time to time.

From there career development looks tricky, apart from your developed interpersonal and customer service skills, you won't have a lot of 'achievements' or targets reached to help propel you up the so-called career ladder. It may have to be a side-ways shift from here, but at least you've proven you are competent with business language use at this point.

Another path to choose from the start, or to side-shift into from other language-specific roles, is journalism. You are a person who is a handy with words, and so why not join a publication, learn the ropes on-the-job and perhaps become an in-country correspondent or freelance writer?

By all accounts, this field is highly competitive. And not just in terms of quality, but in sheer numbers of journalists-to-be. Often with highly specialised degrees and training to boot. Your language will no doubt help you stand out, but perhaps an emphasis on your cultural knowledge or contacts may increase your odds of breaking into the industry.

Self-employment is always a possibility, at any stage of your career, as it can be done part-time to start with. You can translate (you'll need a laptop/PC and a translation tool, at least) and work as you travel or as you hold down a more stable job while you get started. It can take a year or two to have enough work to make the switch to full-time, so patience is required. You can interpret, but this requires more of a flexible schedule to be on-site at various times of the week. Either way bodies such as the Institute of Linguists can offer you continued professional development (CPD) courses to bolster your CV as you branch out.

Finally, a career in business in general is a perfect complement to your existing skillset. You've shown that you're able to adapt to 'foreign' situations, and that you can communicate your ideas well to others, so consider making the leap into the world of private business, which was always very vague to me when I graduated, but has been much exposed with TV shows like the Dragon's Den and The Apprentice since then. You will work alongside a (hopefully) growing company, helping to develop their sales abroad. This is much like the customer service rep above, but with a much wider role in getting their product or service through to the end client. You can work in marketing, using your local knowledge to improve campaign performance, in sales to represent the company with clients, or any number of key roles every company needs filling.

My main tip for anyone using their language skills to further their career is to look for opportunities in as many places as possible, as with enough experience under your belt things start to come good and lucky turns accumulate over time. Persistent hard work and proving yourself useful to others pays off in the end, so stick with it, and good luck!

If you would like to know more about any of the above, feel free to ask in the comments or send us an email via the contact form.

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