Many of us have probably dreamed of working for a spell in Madrid or Milan, Paris or or maybe even a little further afield in Hong Kong or Japan. Certainly as the countries break down the trade barriers, the globe is becoming one big job opportunity. And the political changes have created an urgent demand for Western skills and talents.
Looking for work abroad is no longer the daunting prospect it used to be. There are three main ways of landing yourself a job: getting a posting from a US firm to offices overseas; applying from the US direct to foreign firms; or just heading to the country of your choice and scouring the papers for jobs.
Most major companies such as computer firms, banks, department stores, construction companies and law firms have branches in Europe and even the Far East. Many jobs are professional but there are openings at all levels, from secretarial to managerial positions. In Europe, job centres now have details of vacancies in different countries and some national newspapers have details of overseas jobs. You can also apply to specialist recruitment agencies.
But what are the most in-demand languages? “French, German, Italian and Spanish,” says Sally Goodwin at sales position specialists, Graduate Recruitment, “in that order”. But Sally warns that graduates should not develop their language skills at the expense of other qualities. “Someone could have all the languages in the world, but it all comes down to personality,” she says.
Nick Hughes at Merrow agrees that western European languages are by far the most popular, and, he says: “There are opportunities in all sectors, everything from travel to banking, really right across the board.” But languages such as Dutch and Portuguese are becoming more popular, as are the Eastern European languages. And there is a shortage of translators with Japanese or Chinese.
International organisations are an excellent starting point when it comes to looking for work. The European Community has six separate institutions responsible for administering EC work, the largest being the Commission. Roles are categorised according to the level of education required. For example, in category A are officials with university education, while in Category D are those engaged in manual or service duties. Openings are advertised in the national press.
The United Nations, with 159 member countries, is another organisation with a steady need for staff at its New York headquarters or Secretariat, and overseas offices. The greatest need is for those with specialised knowledge for example in economics, statistics or information technology. Preference is given to those with French or English, the working languages of the Secretariat. But a knowledge of any of the other official languages – Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Arabic – is a plus. Stenographic and clerical staff are always needed, as are fast conference typists.
The Diplomatic Service offers a fascinating career but competition is ferocious with only a few selected each year. Most of the postings are overseas and staff are expected to change bases every two or three years. It’s a nomadic life which doesn’t suit everyone and there are drawbacks. The Foreign Office demands that staff must not only be prepared to work anywhere in the world, but must always represent their country, inside and outside of office hours.
The import/export field is another area where languages are increasingly in demand, especially at management level. As well as language skills, it is important to have some background knowledge of a country’s culture. You need to be aware of things such as transport regulations, exchange rates and market conditions.
Finance is another area where language skills can be a big asset. Large firms of chartered accountants, insurance companies, brokers and banks have international divisions and for those with the qualifications and experience, there are opportunities for overseas postings.