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Speaking a foreign language can stregthen graduate banking job application

Speaking another language can help you get a graduate investment banking job

Foreign language skills might not be the most obvious requirement for a banking or investment job, yet a surprising number of employers include these among their core competences.
It is not uncommon for interviewers to switch between languages if it is suggested that a candidate has this skill in their CV.

Given the competition to get a graduate banking job, it’s vital to choose employers whose requirements you have a realistic chance of meeting, then work your hardest to do so.

While activities such as arranging internships, improving finance and business knowledge and practising psychometric tests are the most obvious steps, spare a thought for your language skills.

The majority of the key players state that foreign languages are highly desirable, with some naming specific languages that are particularly relevant to their businesses. This is because banks are international organisations; even if your role is based in London you could find yourself communicating with colleagues and clients in different locations worldwide.

If you’re fluent in a second or even third language, find out which recruiters will most value it. If you’re not, consider whether you have the time and opportunities to build an existing language up to this level – or make sure you target roles and employers where this won’t be an issue.

What level of language skills do I need for a banking or investment job?

Online application forms for investment banking analyst and associate roles often have a section asking you to select all the languages you have some ability in (including your first or native language) and state your level of spoken and written proficiency for each one. Even if the role doesn't explicitly require a second language, any languages you do speak could help you stand out from other applicants.

Recruiters who specifically seek foreign language skills tend to want candidates who are either native speakers or fluent in that language. ‘Fluent’ implies a standard beyond A level, at which graduates are able to do business in that language.

If you’re unsure whether to describe yourself as fluent, ask yourself whether you’d be happy for your job interview to be conducted in that language. This will sometimes happen if you claim that level of language skill.

Recruiters who don’t have a specific business need for language skills may welcome candidates with less extensive linguistic abilities, with some offering classes to employees who wish to improve.

Fluency in English is usually essential regardless of which region you apply to and whether any other languages are required.

Banking and investment employers seeking language skills

The following banks are among those that make at least some mention of seeking foreign language skills.

  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch: specific languages are required for some roles, especially in Europe, and are generally considered to be an advantage.
  • Barclays: it's not always necessary to speak the local language of the office you are applying to, but native fluency in the local language is essential for certain roles and locations (for example, Dutch in Amsterdam, Hebrew in Tel Aviv, Italian in Milan and Swedish/Norwegian/Danish/Finnish in Stockholm). Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, French and Spanish have been said to be particularly highly valued generally.
  • Commerzbank: fluent German is required for roles in Germany, but is not a prerequisite elsewhere, although it is still an advantage.
  • Credit Suisse: language skills, particularly in German, are considered beneficial. The online application asks you to list only languages in which you are fluent in a business environment, and advises that you may be interviewed in any of these languages.
  • Goldman Sachs: seeks languages graduates or native speakers for some of its roles. For example, to work in the Frankfurt, Paris or Zurich offices you must be able to conduct business in the local language. See below for more details.
  • HSBC: roles in some locations require you to be fluent in a local language (French in France and Japanese in Japan, for example).
  • Nomura: has previously stressed that a second language (and an understanding of the associated culture) is an advantage, but not a pre-requisite.
  • UBS: has previously stated that excellent German and/or English language skills are an advantage, as are other languages.

See TARGETjobs’ employer hubs for full details of banking and investment graduate recruiters’ requirements.

Focus on: Goldman Sachs

TARGETjobs spoke to Sarah Harper, head of EMEA graduate recruiting at Goldman Sachs, about why languages are important to her organisation and what specifically she seeks.

Why does Goldman Sachs seek linguists? ‘We’re a large, global organisation, and London is our hub office for EMEA. Employees based in London often work directly with clients from other parts of the EMEA region, and would require the relevant language skills in order to communicate effectively.’

Do all graduates need language skills? ‘A high number of applicants to Goldman Sachs will be fluent in another language to English. In some divisions, typically client-facing ones such as investment banking, securities and private wealth management, the majority of graduate hires require language skills.’

What level of language skills are required? ‘For those positions that require language skills, we look for either native or fluent speakers. More often than not, candidates for positions requiring language skills will be interviewed in the language in question by a native speaker of that language.’

Which foreign languages does Goldman Sachs seek? ‘At the moment the main languages sought are French, Russian, German, Italian and Spanish. Obviously these requirements will change depending upon how our business develops in growth markets, such as Turkey and Russia. For example, for the last couple of years we have been recruiting a small number of Turkish speakers.’

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