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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.

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?

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.

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 Capital: is currently reviewing its requirements, but points out that it is particularly important for UK graduates applying for overseas opportunities in sales and investment banking to know the local language.
  • Barclays Wealth: competences sought include willingness to work abroad and language skills. Graduate recruits spend at least six months overseas as part of the scheme. Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, French and Spanish are particularly highly valued.
  • Commerzbank: languages are highly valued. German is not a prerequisite for posts outside of Germany, but is still an advantage. The online application form asks for details of language skills.
  • Credit Suisse: language skills, particularly in German, are considered beneficial.
  • Goldman Sachs: seeks languages graduates or native speakers for around 50% of its roles, but does not require language skills for others. See below for more details.
  • HSBC plc – Global Business: hints that candidates with a second (or even a third) language up their sleeves have a clear advantage.
  • Nomura: stresses that a second language (and an understanding of the associated culture) is an advantage, but not a pre-requisite. See below for more details.
  • UBS: states that excellent German and/or English language skills are an advantage, as as are other languages. Also, candidates should have international experience (either through study or experience).

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.’

Focus on: Nomura

We also asked Antonia Choi, head of IBD graduate recruitment EMEA at Nomura, about whether applicants for banking jobs need foreign language skills.

Do graduates need language skills to apply to Nomura? ‘We recruit from across the EMEA region so it is not a pre-requisite for UK grads to have second languages. However, of course languages are always an advantage.’

Which foreign languages does Nomura seek? ‘There are no specific languages, but the most important ones to us are those that will enable us to service our client base. For the EMEA region, this could include Spanish, Italian, French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Russian.’

What level of linguistic ability would make a difference to a candidate’s application? ‘In order for candidates’ foreign language skills to be taken into account, we require candidates to be native speakers or fluent in the language.’

Will candidates with language skills be tested on these? ‘We do not verify language skills officially, although it is not uncommon for interviewers to switch between languages if it is suggested that a candidate has this skill in their CV.’

Focus on: Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International

Gemma Adams, vice-president in recruitment at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities International plc, gave the view from her business, a specialist investment organisation that focuses specifically on European capital markets.

Does Mitsubishi have foreign language requirements for graduate roles? ‘We don’t have specific requirements for languages. Through my experience I find that firms that hire into investment banking specifically are typically those that require the more vigorous language requirements.

If candidates come to us and they can speak another language, that is great; because more often than not it can be utilised. But because we don’t have specific requirements, we don’t require it to be at ‘business’ level.

A lot of students think that it’s a real benefit to speak Japanese. Of course, speaking Japanese does help in your day-to-day job, but it’s not a requirement. We do offer Japanese lessons to all staff, and we do offer language lessons where relevant.

So, if somebody came to us with ‘intermediate’ Mandarin and wanted to take it up to ‘business’ level, then that’s certainly something that we could consider offering some support with, but we don’t have specific requirements. A lot of our operations are in English.’

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