Mandarin Chinese Language Opportunities Ref. 2413

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Cheltenham, London, Manchester
£30,831 - £37,315 (dependent on location)

Your knowledge of Mandarin could open up a fascinating career in intelligence. By joining MI5, SIS or GCHQ, you can play your part in protecting the UK and its interests.

We’re looking for Mandarin linguists for roles that will go well beyond translation and transcription. It takes knowledge of the culture, history, politics and ideology to fully understand the original idea. And if you can do that, you can enable MI5, SIS or GCHQ to make the right choices to help safeguard national security.
It’s fascinating and rewarding work that will test your judgement, your people skills and your linguistic ability every day.
You’ll be using your language skills to provide intelligence insights, working at the core of our operational teams and you’ll work with a range of government departments.
At MI5, you’ll carry out core language analysis work in support of investigations and develop your own career path focusing on the areas that most interest you, be it assessments, investigations or agent running. We have opportunities for promotion within the team, leading to more strategic understanding of the work we do and mentoring of junior colleagues.
At SIS, you’ll work as an integral part of an operational team, sifting Mandarin language material against customer requirements to identify reportable intelligence that will shape and influence the team’s operational decision-making. You’ll have the opportunity to become a subject specialist, train in interpreting or learn new languages. Later, you’ll have the opportunity to earn promotion as a linguist or branch into a different role in the organisation. Whatever your career path, you will be part of a community of dedicated and talented linguists, working together on projects that really make a difference.
At GCHQ, you’ll be the first line of assessment of the intelligence value of Mandarin language material which may include highly technical and specialist terminology. However, you don’t need to already be technically experienced as full training will be given. GCHQ has a large language community and there are opportunities to progress to senior language positions which have greater or broader responsibility.
While the role is challenging, our flexible working policy ensures a healthy work-life balance. Wherever possible, we accommodate reduced hours or job share options, balanced against business needs.


At the Intelligence Agencies, we’re proud of our inclusive and supportive working environment that’s designed to encourage open minds and attitudes. As organisations that value and nurture talent, we’re committed to helping you fulfil your potential. But you’re not expected to come to us with a wealth of knowledge, or skills, on day one. With comprehensive training and development opportunities, tailored to your personal needs and the requirements of your work, we’ll enable you to flourish in your role and perform to the very best of your abilities.

We’ll support you to enhance your linguistic skills further, for example, through ongoing language maintenance classes. You’ll also receive training on non-language aspects of the job, including more technical skills.

In return, you’ll receive a range of benefits (including a recognition payment to reward the advancement of language skills).


If you’re excited about working with us and think you have some of what we’re looking for but aren’t sure if you’re 100% there yet......rule yourself in and give it a go!

Your language skills could come from growing up in a multi-lingual family, or you may have studied Mandarin to a high level.

Your linguistic skills need to be complemented by good knowledge of China's cultural affairs, history, politics, ideology and economy. You also need to combine an analytical, enquiring mind with strong powers of judgement and good people skills.

To ensure you pass our language tests, you’ll need to be able to comfortably read newspaper articles and understand news broadcasts in Mandarin. You’ll be able to translate from Mandarin into clear, well drafted English.

Our Mandarin practice test will enable you to assess your suitability for a role at one of the agencies. The test does not reflect the full complexity of the challenges offered by our Mandarin specialist roles but is indicative of the type of skills successful candidates should be comfortable using on a routine basis.


There are openings for Mandarin specialists at all three of the UK’s intelligence agencies. GCHQ uses its expertise in technology and cyber to collect foreign intelligence that linguists translate and analyse to protect the UK from terrorism, hackers, espionage and organised crime. MI5 is responsible for the domestic security of the UK and the work of our linguists helps to identify and counter threats to the UK from terrorism, espionage and cyber. SIS gathers and reports foreign intelligence that helps protect the nation and its interests, and the expertise of our linguists is key to the success of our operations.


London: Up to £37,315

Cheltenham and Manchester: £30,831 (which includes a concessionary payment).  Upon successful completion of a probation period (usually 6 months) you’ll be eligible for an additional payment of £3,000 in recognition of your language skills.


Cheltenham or Manchester for GCHQ, or London for MI5 and SIS. We cannot guarantee which agency you’ll join. However, if you are successful, we’ll explore locations with you in the latter phases of the recruitment process.


To apply for this position, you must meet our nationality, residency and security requirements. You can find these on our website.

You’ll be required to complete an application form, providing contact details and equal opportunities monitoring information. You’ll also be asked to provide background about your education and employment history, as well as details of your Mandarin language skills and any other language(s) you have learnt and your motivation for using Mandarin in a role in intelligence. You’ll only have to fill out one application form: under the single-application process, each of the three agencies will receive a copy of your application for consideration.

Following this, the recruitment team will conduct a paper sift of applications. Successful candidates will then be invited to attend a language test in person, which will assess your Mandarin language ability across a range of tasks including listening, reading comprehension and translation.

Language testing will take place in person in central London, beginning in February 2022. Please note that we are unable to pay travel expenses.

If you’re successful at the Mandarin language tests, a decision will be made as to which agency will best suit your skill set and this agency will invite you to attend their final assessment centre. The assessment centre will include a face-to-face interview and other exercises. For GCHQ the assessment centre takes place in Gloucestershire. MI5 and SIS run their respective assessment centres in central London.  

Once the successful applicant has been determined, the candidate will be asked to attend a security interview with a Vetting Officer. You’ll also be required to complete a hearing test.

As a disability confident employer, we will ensure that a fair and proportionate number of disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for this position will be offered an interview. This is known as the Offer of Interview (OOI). To secure an interview for this role, candidates applying under this scheme must meet the following minimum criteria:
• Eligibility questions – You’ll be asked a series of questions relating to this vacancy. If you meet the eligibility criteria you will directed to the initial application form.  
• Application form – You’ll be required to pass an application form sift  
• Language Tests – You'll be required to reach the pass mark set for the relevant language tests.  
On successful completion of the tests, you will be invited to interview. 


To be eligible to apply, you must be a British Citizen. One of your parents must be a British Citizen or must have one of the nationalities or citizenships from one of the following: British Overseas territory, British subject, British National (Overseas), British protected person, citizenship of the Commonwealth, EEA nationality, or citizenship of the United States of America. If deceased, have had such citizenship or nationality before death. If you hold dual nationality, of which one component is British, you’ll nonetheless be considered. If successful, you’ll not normally be required to give up your non-British citizenship but, as a condition of your employment or secondment, MI5, SIS and GCHQ may impose restrictions on your postings, work travel and/or general use of that nationality. Candidates must normally have been resident in the UK for seven out of the last ten years. This is particularly important if you were born outside the UK. Each case will be carefully considered on its own facts. You can apply at the age of 17 years and 6 months, if successful you will not be offered a start date prior to your 18th birthday.

Discretion is vital. You should not discuss your application, other than with your partner or a close family member.

Please note, you should only launch your application from within the UK. If you are based overseas, you should wait until you visit the UK to launch an application. Applying from outside of the UK will impact on our ability to progress your application. Further information on our eligibility criteria can be found on the Applying section.

At GCHQ, SIS and MI5 diversity and inclusion are critical to our mission. To protect the UK, we need a truly diverse workforce that reflects the society we serve. This includes diversity in every sense of the word: those with different backgrounds, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, ways of thinking and those with disabilities or neurodiverse conditions. We therefore welcome and encourage applications from everyone, including those from groups that are under-represented in our workforce.

This Program / Vacancy is closed to applications.