The intelligence we gather needs to be translated, analysed and converted into useful data to support our operations and inform the UK government. Our language specialists play a vital role in our operational teams, using their linguistic and cultural expertise to process and make sense of this information.
Working with written and spoken sources, you’ll use your linguistic expertise every day to help protect the UK. You could be advising on the cultural issues that influence people from a particular region, or translating complex technical documents and identifying the important sections.
Initially based in London and dealing with subjects related to global events, you’ll regularly work with our intelligence service partners. As you develop your operational knowledge, you may also have opportunities to work overseas, or to move into different SIS teams in the longer term.
It’s challenging work that requires excellent linguists and team workers who adapt easily to changing demands. With strong emotional intelligence and integrity, you’ll need either a formal language qualification, or experience of studying in your specialist language’s country of origin. In return, you can expect extensive training and support, together with a salary of more than £30k and a language allowance.
When I graduated from university with a degree in Arabic I still didn’t have a fixed idea of the kind of job I wanted. I applied for a lot of different things and did a couple of internships. The linguist job on the SIS website caught my eye more than any of the other jobs I’d considered. I enjoyed studying Arabic at university and this offered the opportunity to focus on my language skills and develop them further.
For most of us, starting work at SIS is a step into the unknown and there’s a lot to learn about the way the Service works. I spent a few months on the linguist entrant training programme, which helped me hone my translation and research skills, and introduced me to the sort of work my colleagues did. This helped me to improve my Arabic and find my feet in the office.
As I settled in I found there were plenty of opportunities to expand the scope of my job. I started training as an interpreter, which offered me a new skill set and meant I could get involved in lots of different projects across the Service. I’ve also helped with role playing in training exercises, which has been a lot of fun.
Like most Arabic linguists at SIS, my permanent base is London. But the opportunities for travel range from short interpreting assignments abroad to full postings. Although most linguists are part of multi-disciplinary teams, I opted to stay in the central linguist team, but I spend a lot of time working with non-Arabic speaking officers on operational work.
SIS has also encouraged me to take on new responsibilities and training, not only in language skills but also in intelligence-related and corporate fields. This flexibility is one of the key advantages of the role, and it’s reflected in the variety of people you find working as linguists at SIS. Some are recent graduates in their language, while others come from bilingual families or have learnt their language later in life or through living in other countries. Some love the challenge of a difficult interpreting assignment, while others prefer to focus on written Arabic or specialise in a particular dialect. As a linguist I can draw on and contribute to such diverse experience, and I really value the chance to work collaboratively with others who share my enthusiasm and passion for language and culture.
After two years as an Arabic linguist, I feel the direction my career will take is in my own hands. I have a lot of scope for diversifying and developing; at present, I want to focus on pure language work, and SIS is a great place to do that. And if, in future, I want to be posted abroad or move to other types of work, the opportunities are definitely there.
After studying Mandarin at university I went to China to teach English for a year hoping to improve my active language skills. While I enjoyed my time away, I wanted to do something more challenging that had real impact when I returned to the UK. I was drawn to working in the public sector, but I also wanted to continue to use my Mandarin, so when I saw that SIS was looking for Mandarin linguists, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
I’ve now been in SIS for four years and my job’s evolved constantly throughout that time. When I first arrived I concentrated mainly on translation, working alongside other linguists covering a huge range of languages. It was a very supportive environment and I had the chance to get to know my key subject areas in real detail. It also helped to improve my drafting skills and I was able to use other language skills I’d gained during my degree.
I then moved to a project-based team to work more on analytical projects where my language skills offer a real advantage. I’ve also started working on specialist subject areas – which aren’t all related to China. I’ve been involved in our work to understand China better, especially helping officers who don’t speak Chinese. All along I’ve had opportunities to use my language skills and cultural knowledge in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible in any other job.
I recently began mentoring a new team member, which has been a great opportunity to use my experiences in the job so far to help another linguist develop in their role. It’s also given me a chance to acquire and demonstrate management skills that will stand me in good stead for applying for promotion or moving into other areas of the Service.
I haven’t yet decided what I’d like to do next, whether to stay in the linguist stream or to move into a more operational role. Whatever I choose to do I’m confident that my work will continue to have an impact and I will be able to contribute to some of the most important work that goes on in this country. After all, that’s why I joined SIS in the first place.
I discovered my love of languages during my school years. I realised that a knowledge of languages is not only useful in its own right, but also opens up new horizons and perspectives which aren’t easily accessible to the monoglot.
After I studied languages at A-level and university I worked in the private sector for a while in jobs which were not specifically language-focused, but I missed the constant learning curve that language work brought me. So when I came across an advert for SIS linguists, I realised that this could be a way to carry on working directly with languages while facing new and exciting challenges on a daily basis. I applied, and after extensive testing and vetting procedures I was accepted into the Service.
Like all linguists here, I started out in the central language team, working with specialists in a broad range of languages. It was fascinating to work with people who shared my love of learning languages but who had a profound cultural understanding of areas of the world I knew nothing about. I later moved into a geographically-based operational team where I was one of a sub-team of linguists identifying useable intelligence in foreign language material and reporting it to the highest levels of government. Senior figures in government told me how reporting from my team had directly influenced their decision-making – naturally, it was an incredibly satisfying and rewarding thing to hear.
After a stint as the sole linguist in a team using my second foreign language, I became a reporting officer. I was liaising directly with government departments and producing intelligence reporting from a variety of human sources. Colleagues from the same linguist intake as me took several different jobs across the intelligence community. Some became intelligence officers in SIS, some joined the other agencies as targeting experts, and others retrained in new languages.
Most of us have now used the experience we gained in those jobs to secure more senior roles in the linguist stream. For example, I’m now a translation service manager, overseeing language policy and strategy work and promoting professional standards among our linguists. One of the things I value most about this is that I’m still doing active language work, and my translations and interpreting assignments are still contributing to the success of the Service’s operational work.
Languages and Eligibility
You should have a formal language qualification, together with experience of spending some time in a country that speaks the target language. Your qualification does not have to be a degree, if it’s been studied in a relevant country outside the UK. Any formal education in the relevant country would be a bonus, as this provides ‘cultural fluency and fluidity’.
These are on top of the standard eligibility criteria which can be found here.
As a flexible hour linguist, you will use your language skill to provide audio transcription and translation to support investigations across all three security and intelligence agencies.
To apply to SIS, you’ll need to be a British citizen and to have lived in the UK for the majority of the ten years before applying. However, there are a few exceptions to the residency rule. You may still be able to apply if you’ve studied abroad, served overseas with HM forces or lived overseas with your parents. One of your parents must also be (or have been) a British Citizen too, or have substantial ties to the UK. If you hold dual nationality, you can still apply, but you may be required to give up your non-British citizenship before joining.
We have a strict no drugs policy for both our staff and contractors. However, we realise some of our candidates will have used drugs in the past, and this may not be a bar to a successful application. What’s important is that you’re open and honest with us about your drug/substance use. If your application proceeds, you’ll also be asked to provide a sample which will be tested for drugs. Misuse or abuse of prescribed medication or any other substance is also incompatible with holding security clearance which can be withdrawn if this policy is not followed.
When you join SIS, you’ll be given clearance relevant to your role. Some of our positions mean you’ll have access to a wide range of sensitive information. It’s paramount, for the safety of our organisation, our people and our country, that this information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Because of this, you’ll have to pass our security clearance to the appropriate level. It’s a long process, up to three months in most cases. And it takes a very fair, in-depth and pretty intrusive look at your life, including your finances. So it’s important to be aware of this commitment before you apply, and be completely open and honest when you answer our security questions. If any details are concealed, your application can’t be taken forward.