Mandarin Language Specialist Ref. 3144

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Cheltenham, London, Manchester
Full-time and part-time opportunities (flexible working hours available)
£34,663 - £43,490

Your knowledge of Mandarin could open up a career in intelligence.  By joining MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, you can play your part in protecting the UK. 

About Us
MI5, MI6, and GCHQ are the UK’s Intelligence Services. We work together to safeguard Britain’s people, interests, and businesses from various threats at home, overseas and online, including cyber-attacks, espionage, terrorism, and organised crime. Working across our vital missions, you’ll deliver impact at the heart of national security, all within a supportive and inclusive environment that allows everyone to thrive.  

About The Role
If you have a passion for languages, working as a Language Specialist for the UK intelligence agencies presents a truly unique opportunity. You’ll be working at the heart of our mission, supporting high-value activities that will keep the country safe.  We’re looking for Mandarin linguists for a role that is well beyond translation and transcription. Your knowledge of the Mandarin language, as well as your in-depth understanding of Chinese culture, ideology, and politics will be a significant asset in helping to safeguard the UK. 

With an adept knowledge of Mandarin language and Mandarin culture, you’ll be able to identify nuances, and seek out key information from spoken and written materials, contextualise and, then make the information accessible and understandable to others. And, every step of the way, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to develop your own career path, focusing on the areas that interest you most. Whatever you’re doing, you’ll enjoy varied, unique work using Language skills you would never have considered could create such impact. 

At MI5 and MI6, you’ll be part of a multi-disciplinary team and play an active role in directing projects and driving forward investigations. It’s rewarding work, which will draw on your judgement, people skills, as well as linguistic and cultural expertise. Confident reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Mandarin, you’ll do everything from translation and interpretation to operational work that includes planning, casework, and training. 

At GCHQ, you’ll combine language and technical skills to piece together snippets of information, collected from a variety of digital communication sources. Working in a diverse team of technical experts, you’ll apply analytical skills and an understanding of communication technologies to build an accurate intelligence picture, enabling you to identify reportable intelligence and progress operations, as well as help shape and influence Government policy. 

About You 
You don’t need any experience or qualifications to be a Mandarin Language Specialist with us, just active and passive language skills, excellent written English, and a good knowledge of Chinese culture, history, religion, and politics. Essentially, you’ll be passionate about the language and a proficient user (at C1 level, see explanation below) of Mandarin language in all its forms. Your proficiency could come from growing up in a multi-lingual family, undergoing language training in the military or studying Mandarin to a high level academically.

 At C1 level or higher, you’re able to:

•    Understand a wide range of longer and more demanding texts or conversations.
•    Express ideas without too much searching.
•    Effectively use the language for social, academic, or professional situations.
•    Create well-structured and detailed texts on complex topics.

You can also access the CEFR self-assessment grid for more information on our requirements. 

Having a keen interest in technology will support you at GCHQ. But whichever organisation you join, we are looking for problems solvers with interpersonal skills and a high attention to detail. You will also need:

•    An analytical, enquiring mind.
•    Good judgement and effective people skills. 
•    A collaborative approach, as you will share your knowledge and contribute to professional standards of best practice.

During the interview process, you’ll need to pass a language proficiency test by reading and translating newspaper articles and broadcasts. The result will be considered alongside the role requirements on a case-by-case basis. Have a listen to a Mandarin audio clip here. If you can understand most of what’s said, we strongly encourage you to apply!

Training and Development

At MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, we have an inclusive and supportive working environment that’s designed to encourage open minds and approaches.  We value and nurture talent and we’re committed to ensuring you have the support and guidance to build a rewarding career at the heart of national security. From language events and workshops, to acquiring professional qualifications, our strong learning culture will continuously develop you, your knowledge, and skills. By joining MI5, MI6, or GCHQ, you’ll be joining a network of colleagues across all three agencies. This widens our perspectives so we can engage through diversity of thought and approach.

As part of the selection process for MI5 and MI6, we’ll identify specific areas for development and tailor a training plan to meet your needs. When you join, you’ll have an induction and be assigned a buddy from the same language area to help you settle in. You’ll also be paired up with a profession head to oversee your career interests. You’ll receive training in applied skills such as interpretation and gain access to a range of language and non-language training opportunities, including our corporate academy. 

GCHQ has an equally strong development offering. You’ll work alongside and learn from a community of language experts who’ll share their knowledge and encourage your contributions. And as well as being assigned a buddy on day one, you’ll undertake a comprehensive induction package that spans multiple areas of the business, so you can see how we use the Mandarin language in our work. Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) qualifications can be attained, and you’ll also have opportunities to upskill, which in turn will attract financial rewards. 

Whatever your career path, you’ll be part of a community of passionate, dedicated, and talented linguists, working together on critical work you won’t find elsewhere.

Rewards and Benefits

At MI6 and MI5, you’ll receive a starting salary of £37,281 - £43,490 (plus the possibility to qualify for additional language allowances once in role).

At GCHQ you’ll receive a starting salary of £34,663.  Upon successful completion of the 6–month probationary period, you’ll be eligible for an additional payment of £3,000 per annum in recognition of your language skill.

Other benefits include: 

•    25 days’ annual leave, automatically rising to 30 days after 5 years' service, and an additional 10.5 days’ public and privilege holidays.
•    Opportunities to be recognised through our employee performance scheme.
•    Personal Learning Budget (MI5 only)
•    Opportunities to work flexibly, subject to business needs.
•    Interest-free season ticket loan (travel and parking GCHQ only)
•    Excellent pension scheme
•    Cycle to work scheme. 
•    Facilities such as a gym and restaurant, and on-site coffee bars
•    Paid parental and adoption leave.

Equal Opportunities

At MI5, MI6 and GCHQ 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, ages, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, ways of thinking and those with disabilities or neurodivergent conditions. We therefore welcome and encourage applications from everyone, including those from groups that are under-represented in our workforce such as women, those from an ethnic minority background, people with disabilities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds.   

Find out more about our culture, working environment and commitment to diversity on our websites:

We’re Disability Confident

MI5, MI6, and GCHQ are proud to have achieved Leader status within the DWP’s Disability Confident scheme. This is aimed at encouraging employers to think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain, and develop disabled people. Being Disability Confident, we aim to offer a person-to-person interview to any candidate who self-identifies as disabled and meets the essential criteria for the role. This is our ‘Offer of Interview’ (OOI). To secure an interview for this vacancy, the essential criteria (in order of application process) are: 

•    Demonstrate a strong motivation and commitment to work for the UK intelligence agencies, assessed at application form sift.
•    Demonstrate a high level and knowledge of the Mandarin language and achieve a pass in the language tests.

What to Expect

Our recruitment process is fair, transparent, and based on merit. Here is a brief overview of each stage, in order:

•    Initial application and eligibility sift.
•    In-person language tests in London
•    An in-person interview and analysis test in Cheltenham or London

You may also be required to undergo a hearing test for this role.

Please note, you must successfully pass each stage of the process to progress to the next. Your application may take around 6 - 9 months to process including vetting, so we advise you to continue any current employment until you have received your final job offer.

We regret that we are unable to reimburse travel expenses.

Please note, all our contracts include a mobility clause. This means you could be liable to serve away from your usual place of work for periods of detached duty or training. 

In MI6 there are opportunities for overseas travel and postings – we’ll make every effort to ensure personal circumstances are taken into consideration when an opportunity arises.

Before You Apply

To work at MI5, MI6, or GCHQ, you need to be a British citizen or hold dual British nationality. You can read our full eligibility criteria here.

This role requires the highest security clearance, known as Developed Vetting (DV). It’s something everyone in the UK Intelligence Community undertakes. You can find out more about the vetting process here

Please note we have a strict drugs policy, so once you start your application, you can’t take any recreational drugs and you’ll need to declare your previous drug usage at the relevant stage.

The MI5 and MI6 roles are based in London, so you’ll need to live within a commutable distance. Please consider any financial implications and practicalities before submitting an application. An interest-free loan via our benevolent fund is available to assist with relocating into privately rented accommodation to take up the offer of employment.

The GCHQ role is based in Cheltenham or Manchester, so you’ll need to live within a commutable distance. Please consider any financial implications and practicalities before submitting an application, as we do not offer relocation costs.

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 the UK will impact on our ability to progress your application. You should not discuss your application, other than with your partner or a close family member.  
Right to Withdraw Statement:  

Please be aware that we withhold the right to bring forward the closing date for this role from the original closing date once a certain number of applications have been received. Please be mindful of this and submit your application at your earliest convenience to avoid disappointment.