Career Options for Graduates with a Modern Languages Degree (Part Two)
Part Two: Post-Uni Gap Year / Move Abroad / Graduate Schemes
Last week I posted ‘Career Options for Graduates with a Modern Languages Degree (Part One)‘ and here is Part Two of my career guide for language graduates. The fourth year of university is an incredibly challenging time and many students stress over their career options. I did a lot of research at the time and thought I would put that knowledge to good use by passing it on through my blog.
Have a read of Part One about Masters Degrees and careers in Translation, International Institutions and Teaching, and then read Part Two below on some other options available, and to find out which route I personally opted for!
Post-uni Gap Year
After having such a brilliant 10 months abroad on my Gap Year before uni, I would have loved another one post-university! I would have spent a summer working as crew aboard a yacht, I’d have travelled properly around South America, I’d have perfected my Portuguese, blogged about it all and who knows what else. There’s so much travelling I still want to do! In reality, it would have been difficult to explain to employers afterwards (not to mention my parents!) why I had felt the need to travel yet again and to prove my dedication. Furthermore, after four years as a student, I was very keen to have a salary and some actual money. But if you didn’t have a gap year before university, then you definitely deserve one afterwards and consider it a treat for having studied for over 18 years non-stop!
Move abroad to work
Having utterly fallen for Italy during my Third Year Abroad in Modena, I was convinced that I’d move back there straight after I graduated. Not to Modena, but to Rome, Bologna, Milan or Verona – I was dead set. But you know what? After endless job searches online, I realised that it would be a backwards step career-wise. Not only is youth employment in Italy currently at a shocking 42%, but it’s a country where all graduates have Masters degrees, are much older than my 22-year-old self (they study for much longer), and where family contacts are of the utmost importance. For obvious reasons, my contacts are in the UK, not Italy. And finally, possibly the most important factor of all: the Italian employment market dictates that your entire future career is restricted to the subject you studied at university. Unlike the flexibility in the UK where you can study Geography and then go into Banking, for example, Italy (and Spain too) is much stricter. With a degree in Modern Languages, my career options in Italy/Spain are limited to: English teacher, translator, interpreter. If I were to apply for a job in Finance or Business in Italy/Spain, my CV would be thrown in the bin without a second glance.
As much I loved Italy, my UK degree had prepared me for the UK employment market which readily accepts and nurtures languages graduates, and it left me in a much weaker position in other countries. (I can’t speak for France, Germany, USA, etc. as I don’t have personal experience of the job market there). In order to move abroad after graduating and avoid the trappings of the stereotypical jobs for graduates, you’d be wise to join a British company with offices in that country, as their working culture is more likely to give you a shot.
Graduate Schemes at Multinational Corporations
So finally at the end of this long process of research of the various options available, I arrived at this exclusively Anglo-Saxon concept of a Graduate Scheme at a large corporation. Many of my European friends have never heard of this and assume it’s some kind of qualification. It’s not. A UK Graduate Scheme is a full-time permanent job, like any other, which targets recent-graduates of any subject and normally includes a programme of training and mentoring to accelerate these graduates into management positions. Graduate Schemes are normally only offered by large (often multinational) companies that have enough resources to train up graduates and they can be found in almost any industry that takes your fancy.
To be honest, I had never really considered doing a graduate scheme, perhaps due to the influence of those around me who believe that studying languages only leads down a very specific path. In any case, I wasn’t one of the hundreds of thousands of finalists who frantically apply for every single graduate scheme they can find in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list. But in the end, 2 years after graduating, I find myself nearing the end of a Graduate Scheme in the High-Tech industry, specifically in Telecoms. Who could have predicted that, eh? So what happened? Back in my fourth year of university, while frantically (but unsuccessfully) searching online for jobs in Italy, I was headhunted by a recruiter who wanted to put me forward for a Graduate Scheme at a Telecoms company. Never one to turn down any opportunity, I sent over my CV, had a phone interview, a face-to-face interview in London and finally attended an assessment centre in a lovely manor house hotel near Windsor. I week later I was offered a place on the Graduate Scheme and was sent a very attractive looking full-time permanent contract, which is one thing that even Italians have trouble obtaining in Italy. This was great news – I had a job offer and contract on the table before even taking my final exams!
So here came the debate: do I accept the secure job and stay in the UK, or do I risk it and head to Italy anyway, with no guarantee of finding a decent job? Well, of course I chose to join the Graduate Scheme in Telecoms. The interesting part of all this is that I currently work for an multinational Telecoms company, which happens to be a Spanish company, and they headhunted me specifically for my Spanish-language skills. The lack of Spanish speakers in the company’s UK office meant they required people who could communicate with Spain & Latin America, and people that could be posted to Spanish-speaking countries, such as Spain, where I’m currently living and working in Madrid! Who cares if I didn’t study Business Management at university? The UK headhunter was after my valuable language skills and my previous experience of working abroad, and she knew that I’d pick up everything else I needed to know on-the-job. (To find out the name of the company I now work for, take a look at my LinkedIn page).
Now, would I have accepted a job on an entirely UK-based Graduate Scheme? Who knows, but to be honest probably not. I wanted working abroad to be a fundamental element of any career I embarked on, and I still want that. I also want an employer who values the language skills I have worked so hard to obtain. So I’d strongly recommend to language graduates that they don’t rule out working for a large multinational company in a sector they’d never considered before. Find a company headquartered in a foreign country whose language you can speak, and whose culture you know, and apply to their UK-based Graduate Scheme. Don’t apply to work for that company in the foreign country, as they’ll treat you as “only” a language graduate and throw your CV in the bin. My Spanish colleagues here in Madrid have marvelled at the fact that I’m working in this company and industry, despite having “only” studied languages, and they’ve openly told me that I wouldn’t have obtained this job, had I applied here in Spain…
So these are more or less all the options I researched during my Modern Languages degree. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the career options a languages graduate might have and there are hundreds of other language-related opportunities out there! I’ve been struck by the differing attitudes towards languages degrees and thought it was an important topic to address for many undergraduates currently worrying about the big, bad world or work, beyond the comfort and familiarity of university life. A lot of people/employers do consider a languages degree to be a very rare and employable asset to have, a valuable USP. Whereas other people/employers may put you into a box or stereotype you for it. My hope is that now I’ve got my first two years of business experience under my belt, my future bosses and employers will judge me on my experience rather than my studies, and recognise my languages as the fabulous assets they are.
At the end of the day you should follow whichever career path your heart is leaning towards, it’s just important to be aware of these different points of view and of all the options open to you – don’t feel restricted to anything. The world is your oyster!
Ciao Vi! Do you think foreigners can apply to a Graduate Scheme?
Unfortunatelly you know the Italian situation…
Ciao! Yes they definitely can and lots do, in fact half the other people on my graduate scheme are foreign!
Reblogged this on Worldly Minded and commented:
Here is Part Two of my careers guide for Graduates with a Modern Languages Degree, and this post discusses the options for taking a post-university Gap Year, moving abroad to find work and starting a Graduate Scheme at a Multinational Corporation. It also concludes all the research I did into my own career and explains how I arrived at the career path I’m now on. If you haven’t yet read Part One, then take a look here: http://worldlyminded.com/2014/04/10/career-options-for-graduates-with-a-modern-languages-degree-part-one/
I graduated in 2012 with a languages degree and felt almost the same as you – there were so many options available and I felt certain I’d go off and do something exotic abroad. In fact, I had a deferred place on a Masters in The Netherlands and a bit of cash saved to travel the Balkans. So what did I do? I stayed in Manchester.
And I’m so glad I did. I got a job with an international PR agency and was able to build up skills and experience in a challenging industry while continuing to use my languages (they even paid for me to start a new one). Now, 19 months later, I’m about to move to Germany to work for one of my dream companies combining my PR skills and my passion for travel.
I would DEFINITELY recommend researching local businesses as well as just huge international corporations – I got a hell of a lot from working at a 26-person agency and because of it, I didn’t have to take a step back in my career when looking to move abroad.
This is such a brilliant example! And that’s amazing they paid you to learn another language, I think that is every linguist’s dream! Congratulations to you and good luck with everything in Germany. Just found your blog and will definitely be taking some of your advice…
Thanks very much – starting the new job on Monday. Getting a bit nervous now! My last place was brilliant, very small and supportive, and always happy to pay for training or language development!
Thanks for this 2 part series. I am currently on my ERASMUS year abroad in Milano and before I came on my year abroad I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I study politics, Italian and Spanish so I was destined for the FCO and a career as a diplomat. However, I am doing work experience with an Italian NGO (in fact I should be working right now…) and I have discovered that politics or anything remotely related to it is NOT what I want to do. So I will be graduating next summer with a degree in European Union Studies and I am still not really sure what I want to do. I want to use my languages and I want to live abroad (preferably Italy). I have recently setup my own startup company, but I am not sure if it will be as successful as I want it to be! I have been looking at grad schemes with other big startups and tech companies like Dropbox, Google, AirBNB etc and it has surprised (and excited) me how many want someone that speak at least 1 other (European) language! So this is what I am currently aiming for, but who knows?!
Lucky you to be in the middle of Erasmus… What NGO are you working for and what do you think of Milan? Your whole story sounds fascinating, what’s the start-up? They say that the best entrepreneurs are those who’ve tried and failed a couple of times (thus learning from their mistakes) so I wouldn’t worry if this one isn’t an instant success. I’d definitely advise that a grad scheme is a good way to launch yourself into a career, hopefully skipping some of the years of gruelling work, to get to the more interesting work sooner. Good luck with your applications next year but for now enjoy Milan and living in Italy!
I can’t believe that my ERASMUS year abroad is nearly over 😦 I am working for Terre des Hommes Italia, at their Milan HQ. It’s really good work experience and really helping me to get to grips with the language. However I have decided that I don’t want to pursue this career route, so I guess the work experience has done its job properly! The startup is http://www.bleno.com – a type of Eventbrite for the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) (a religious group) community. It has started making money and was launched 3 weeks ago. It’s been fun and I have certainly learned a lot! How do you rate your grad scheme? It looks pretty good. I do Spanish and Italian too…I am aware that Spanish is much more sought after out of the two but I am keen to get a job that allows me to use my Italian. I saw you said that you are using your Italian in Spain. Is that right?! How does that work? Do you enjoy it?
Hi, I loved your post! Do you know if UK-based graduate schemes are only open to UK graduates or also to Europeans? Does it matter when you got your degree? Like you I have a Degree in Modern Languages, am Italian, currently living & working in London, but always looking for new opportunities 🙂
Yes they are open to Europeans as well. And no it doesn’t matter if you studied outside of the UK. Good luck!
Very good pieces Virginia, I’d have sure benefitted from your insight when I was a MML undergraduate (Spanish and French) back in the pre internet age. It’s interesting to note that the perceptions have not changed especially the Spanish approach to “study languages be a teacher or translator”. I resisted going into teaching and struggled initially, but eventually found my way into the travel industry… good luck! Stephen
Yes, I’m afraid those perceptions still persist! That’s really interesting as the travel industry is definitely one that appeals to me too, what do you do? And has it allowed you to use your languages?
Hi Virginia, I found your blog very interesting as I came across it whilst spending tireless hours at trying to find graduate scheme jobs in Spain (to not much success as by the sound of it you know all too well). Brilliant to see you managed to get to use your languages in the end though! I am currently living in Spain near Alicante. I graduated from an English university last year and moved out to Spain to where I used to live for 5 years to get an ok job (but mainly just to have a year out before getting into the ‘real’ world). Now I am approaching the end of this journey and I would love nothing more than to stay and work here. I taught Spanish primary school children English in my Erasmus year in Galicia for 8 months, it was great fun but to be honest I never wanted to go into teaching, it was just an experience. Now being back in my house in southen Spain just makes me realise how much I have to stay in Spain! So my question is would you recommend looking into the Telefónica graduate programme? And also are there many locations as ideally I would love to stay near my current location without having to go to Madrid or Barcelona. (I am only hour or so’s drive from Valencia). Sorry for the long essay, just nice to see someone who has had similar experiences to me and know a bit more about it all!
Hope all is going well for you!? Thanks in advance!
Hi Luke, I’m so sorry for not replying sooner! I would definitely recommend you apply to Telefonica, and their CCDO graduate scheme in particular. However all the main graduate jobs are in Madrid (some in Barcelona too) as that’s where the decisions are made, where the interesting roles are and to be honest where the career prospects are. Their UK graduate scheme is no longer running (for M&A reasons, nothing to do with the scheme itself) but by the sounds of it you would rather stay in Spain. But you could always contact the Valencia office and see what departments and roles they have there… Good luck!
Such a nice post. I’m an undergraduate in German Studies ( I am German) and Philosophy- so I’m studying Linguistics and Cultural Studies in general and I’m feeling a bit trapped because I’ve focused on German as a foreign language in my second year…and now I’m on Erasmus in Portugal. So I’m speaking English and Portuguese and just try to figure out how to get maybe into PR or so… and work abroad (London would be great, but also pretty unrealistic) as I don’t want to work in Germany…but I think, as you already mentioned in Germany there’s also pretty much the mindset of just going into teaching the language, which I already tried but I think that wouldn’t be fulfilling for me (at least not doing it my whole life). I think PR or also tourism ( travelling is my passion too) could be very interesting but I fear though that in Germany people aren’t really open towards students that just come from the “Linguistics”…
PR & Tourism are both pretty popular routes for linguists, as they both give you access to culture. I also think that those professions are quite open in terms of degrees required, so I wouldn’t think that Linguistics would hold you back, at least in the UK it certainly wouldn’t. You could definitely work in London, if you like the city that it, there are lots of jobs and opportunities in PR & Tourism here.
Quite a late comment but this is a great article that really resonated with me. I’m currently in Austria 4 years after graduating from the UK with German and Spanish and I’ve basically been teaching and going nowhere in that time. I’m now realising that teaching isn’t going to be for me long term but without a masters degree here, I get treated like ‘the native speaker’ who can only teach English. I can’t get into a career where there are good promotion possibilities (I don’t have the relevant masters degree) and can’t get onto a masters programme without going back and redoing a whole bachelors first (I recently looked at economics but my lack of economics courses at bachelor level means I’d have to study for years just to be let onto the degree!) It’s incredibly frustrating as it seems like the only options to stay here are to carry on doing something linguistic such as translation or to start all over again, both of which I don’t have the motivation to do. I’m really stuck at a dead end it feels like!
Have you tried applying for Economics Masters courses or speaking to the Admissions team about how strict their requirements are? I honestly think they’re more flexible than their websites state, especially if I look at the diverse backgrounds of the students on the Masters course that I’ve just started… If they really are very strict in Austria, then look into studying somewhere more flexible such as the UK again. I know southern Europe (Spain/Italy for example) is very strict, but here in the Netherlands, Denmark or the UK definitely seem more open-minded about the Bachelors subject. I wouldn’t re-do a whole Bachelors course, but there definitely will be a course that will accept you! In my MA application for European Studies / International Relations, I emphasised the other modules I did in my Bachelors, ie. Spanish / Italian History, Society, and a Summer School in International Relations at LSE that I did. Perhaps there’s a part-time course you could do over the next year, that would help your application for Sept 2017?
Another option would be to move back to the UK / a more liberal country, get a job in a career you want, and then transfer back to Austria once you’ve gained some relevant experience or a relevant company on your CV. I’m sure you do have options – don’t give up! Good luck with everything!