What it is?
A linguist will be expected to be highly proficient in a foreign language. Your proficiency will need to be near-native. In the cleared space, professionals speaking Farsi, Pashto and Dari, or African languages are most in-demand. But positions are frequently available for talented linguists with proficiency in languages from Spanish to Russian.
The main duties of a linguist are translation, transcription and interpretation. Linguists are frequently asked to translate and interpret open-source intelligence (such as blogs and social media sites), as well as written-reports and other forms of intelligence.
Education and Training
Unlike many other government positions, linguists are often not required to have a college degree. Language proficiency and analytical skills will frequently be tested before beginning the job, and candidates who can display the right skills don’t’ need to show a specific degree. Time abroad and native-speaking proficiency are a bonus. If you’re looking to break into a career as a linguist, you’ll need excellent spoken and written communication – in both English and the secondary language you’re being hired for.
When it comes to training, you’ll want to get involved in a great program, or spend significant time abroad. This is not a career for someone who spent four semesters in college French or two months studying Mandarin via Rosetta Stone.
Skills and Certifications
There are a number of online linguist certification programs – most are not worth the time or money. Companies looking to hire linguists have their own internal oral and written tests, and will not take an online credential as proof of proficiency. Because cleared analyst careers have heavy overlap into intelligence analysis, a TS/SCI security clearance is frequently required.
Service members or DoD civilians who have completed courses at the Defense Language Institute will want to include that information on their resume, as well as the results of their Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT). The DLPT is an annual test that assesses an individual’s proficiency in a foreign language.
A Typical Day as a Linguist
(The average day of a linguist is highly variable, based on whether the linguist is based in the states or OCONUS, as well as whether the linguist is focused on basic language interpretation or is heavily engaged in computer-based analysis. Below is an example of a few things a U.S.-based linguist can expect to do in the course of a day).
07:30 – Arrive at a government agency office and log-into your laptop. Scan a variety of open-source foreign websites, including popular news web sites, blogs, forums and social media sites.
09:00 – Draft a report based on the morning’s findings, correlating news trends and providing updates on issues related to ongoing projects.
10:00 – Check e-mail for the day’s calendar of meetings, scheduled deadlines and updates on ongoing projects.
10:30 – Transcribe a speech.
11:30 – Weekly staff meeting.
12:30 – Lunch at your desk, while scanning international news headlines.
13:00 – Update database of translated source material.
14:00 – Travel to a local military installation to provide language training to a group of 15 military officers.
15:00 – Back to the office to continue working on an on-going report.
16:00 – Afternoon huddle with other linguists, reviewing projects of the day and sharing information related to trends and group projects.
Security Clearance Concerns
Foreign influence is one of the adjudicative guidelines in the security clearance process, and can be a concern for individuals who have spent extensive time overseas. Overseas contacts, including friends and love interests, can have a negative impact on your ability to obtain a security clearance. Foreign preference is also an adjudicative guideline that can present a challenge – it addresses individuals who ‘act in such a way as to indicate a preference for a foreign country over the United States.’
Both potential issues can be mitigated by demonstrating your allegiance to the United States, as well as limiting your financial and personal ties to a foreign country. A person may have family living overseas (including close relatives) and still obtain a security clearance. The issue comes down to allegiance and preference. Adjudicators will consider the amount of time you have spent in the United States versus other countries, the relationship of those countries to the United States, as well as your motivations for considering government work.
The number one piece of advice if you’ve spent significant time abroad? Be very up-front and detailed about everything in your SF-86. Bringing everything forward in the beginning will look much better than neglecting details and having to disclose them later.