The Western European localization job market

There is this pesky thing where I live near Boston called a Nor’easter. It is a powerful storm that dumps massive amounts of snow on us every winter. Just yesterday we got hit with one that dropped more than two feet of heavy, wet snow all over us. Temperatures were far below freezing and everything shut down. I persuaded my kind boyfriend to drop by — three times — to shovel the driveway.

What do I do when I’m locked inside? I pad around my house wearing wooly socks and drinking cup after cup of warm, frothy coffee. I research house rentals in the south of France. Sometimes I poke around Parisian apartment sites and daydream. I imagine London. How about Ireland for a few months? Or Italy; yeah, Italy.

Americans, or a lot of us, anyway, have a dreamy fondness for Europe. We think of great fashion and food, people hanging out in cafés, having romances and talking all day about wine and art. Americans do, of course, often travel to Europe. Some of us go during college. Some go after college on a backpacking adventure before getting our first job. We go to research family history. And some, like those of us in the language industry, are lucky to keep on going for work and for play. London and Paris are very common destinations for us, though it’s not uncommon that other Americans I know who have been all over Europe at one point or another know it quite well also. Name a European place and I can rattle off several of my non-localization American friends who have been there, have family there and can mutter a phrase or two in the local language.

Personally, I’d guess I have been to Europe a dozen or so times. I lived there as a college student when I attended the Sorbonne in Paris for a year, and from there I took a Eurorail pass trip — 12 cities in 15 days. Since then I’ve been back for business meetings, vacations, conferences, weddings and getaways, and I am always happy to jet off in that direction. Though I feel very familiar with Europe, I remain, nonetheless, only a visitor from abroad.

Ask me about the US localization job market and I could rattle on for days, but for intel on Western Europe, I called on Inger Larsen, managing director of Larsen Globalization, a language industry recruitment company based in London.

Larsen and I know each other well. We were business partners for close to seven years, both recruiting for the company she founded in 2001. My US-based partner and team kept focused on the US market, and Larsen and her crew took care of the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East. We all recruited for Asia. For years now we have gone to each other for advice and like to toss back and forth tidbits on what makes us different.

The great thing about getting to know a job market through a recruiter is that she (or he) has a very good feeling for how jobs are flowing at any given moment. They know trends in hiring, they know who is hiring and what the most popular positions are. They know what the salary ranges are and they can advise applicants on the best way to land a good job in a particular place. In preparation for a forthcoming European adventure (exactly when is still to be determined) and to contribute to this piece, I asked Larsen a series of questions about the Western European job market in the localization industry.

Spacinsky: First, Inger, thanks for agreeing to collaborate on this article. Can you give a little background on your experience in the industry for people who may not know you?

Larsen: I have been in the language industry all my working life. I graduated as a translator in Norway in 1984, then worked with IBM for a few years until I got into localization project management. After that I worked as a part-time lecturer at Surrey University in the UK, then a localization program manager for Microsoft in Dublin. I went on to take a role in global account management for Xerox, and for the past 13 years have been in recruitment for the industry.

Spacinsky: Just to be clear, what are the countries that we are referring to when we say “Western Europe”? I would be inclined to include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. Am I correct about that?

Larsen: Well, now that we don’t have Eastern Europe any more, over here we don’t talk so much about Western Europe as a region. At least we don’t refer to it that way. Former Eastern Europe has become “Central Europe” and is part of the European Union (EU) alongside former Western Europe, Southern Europe and the Nordic countries. The only main European countries that are not in the EU now are Norway and Switzerland. Generally Europe refers to the EU overall.

Spacinsky: Well, that clarifies things. I think in the United States we still make a general distinction between “Western” Europe as being most of the countries that were not formerly considered Eastern Europe, and can think of Scandinavia and other areas differently. So now we know better. Can you tell us what major cities/countries in the EU have an abundance of localization opportunities at the moment? Where do you find that companies are doing the most hiring?

Larsen: If you look at localization history, it has changed a fair bit. Dublin used to be the major localization center of Western Europe about four or five years ago. That economy has since taken a downturn, and many of the companies that enjoyed tax benefits from the Irish government have lessened their presence in the country. There are still companies there, but hiring is not as it once was. Now we find that localization is most prominent in the European countries that have the strongest economies, namely the United Kingdom and Germany. They are jointly number one in that area.

In the United Kingdom, there are major localization centers in the Midlands (which is around Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield) and also, in particular, London. London is extremely attractive to our professionals. It helps that everybody speaks English here in the United Kingdom as well. In Germany, the two major hubs are Munich, which is traditional, and now, increasingly, Berlin. German companies find it more difficult to attract international candidates, as business-level German language skills are required in addition to English. It is not acceptable to do business with German companies in anything but German, and the companies are very firm on that.

In third place, there is Spain, with Barcelona being a major center for localization. Spain has more universities with translation departments than any other EU country. If anything, Spain has an overabundance of translation professionals, but the upside to that is there is plenty of talent to choose from if a company chooses to hire in that region. Also, I notice another trend where there are extremely well-educated and specialized language professionals in countries where the costs are substantially lower than in other parts of Europe. These areas are Poland, Romania and the former Russian or Baltic states. We also see quite a lot of outsourced software development in these regions for the same reason.

Spacinsky: Do you find that there are more client or vendor positions in the EU? Or equal amounts?

Larsen: Not at all equal! Client companies typically have small internal departments and outsource as much as they can to their vendors. I’d say that maybe 10% of the jobs I see are on the client side. Traditionally, especially compared to the United States, Europe does not have as many startup companies that go global and need broad localization services, and we don’t have comparatively as many global headquarters offices here either. Most that we have here are vendor companies, in particular multilanguage vendors that do the most hiring in the industry.

From a candidate perspective, we come across many great, senior candidates who would be very well placed for localization management positions on the client side and would like those kinds of opportunities. Unfortunately, those roles are very often filled by internal candidates who have been waiting for a good while. External candidates don’t always have as much chance of being considered or selected for the client roles. Vendor roles, however, are more abundant.

Spacinsky: Are there any general trends in localization hiring at the moment? Are there particular industries (such as gaming, tech or finance) that are looking for talent from our industry?

Larsen: The two industries that spring to mind immediately are medical and pharmaceutical. These are very complex and demanding industries that have a need for specialized language talent. These industries are highly regulated where quality requirements are a matter of life and death, literally speaking, so the companies take it seriously. We are seeing positions with that specialization a lot lately.

Gaming, meaning online and electronic video game development, has been quiet for many years in my experience as a recruiter, though it was vibrant and active for quite a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is less demand for localization talent, but the companies may be filling their needs in other ways. It is possible that they are less focused on the requirement for a translation degree and emphasizing other skills and experience instead. The newer industries that are posting more and more language positions are related to e-commerce, renewable energies and elearning specializations.

Spacinsky: What are the most common localization positions you see open in the EU region?

Larsen: The most popular positions we recruit for are, and always have been, sales people for vendor companies who will be tasked to generate new business. We call them hunters. And project manager positions on all levels are always in demand. In-house translator positions are surprisingly popular as well, as is the need for strong vendor managers. I am still waiting — and hoping! — that we will soon see more positions linked with machine translation technologies, but that hasn’t come around yet.

Spacinsky: How do salaries differ across countries? Do some places pay more than others? Are there any particularities in salary negotiation that vary from place to place? What about general offer packages?

Larsen: I would say that in general, salaries in the localization industry are 10% below general market averages. Across our industry, the salaries are linked with the cost of living and taxation in the various geographical locations, but are still generally lower than other jobs. The higher cost of living areas are London, Munich, Scandinavian capitals and Hamburg. The lower cost of living areas are Berlin, Barcelona, Central Europe and UK Midlands, where we see our positions and the salaries adjust accordingly.

Salary negotiations? Well, if you are in sales, you are always expected to negotiate a bit, at least for form’s sake! Packages do differ a fair bit from country to country. Within the EU it is fairly equal, though there are some particularities. A car or car allowance is more common in Germany than other countries, but only really for sales people. In the United Kingdom, travel costs contribution is becoming more common. In the Netherlands, lunch vouchers are common — and not to be sniffed at!

Compared with the United States, I do think that most EU countries provide excellent national medical and dental care, so you don’t see health and dental benefits included as part of an offer package. Pension contributions — meaning company contributions to the state or country run pension system — is very common and very desirable. We will often see personal performance bonuses as well, and company performance share bonuses that come into play in offer packages, but I understand you have that too in the United States.

Spacinsky: Yes, bonuses as part of compensation are common in our offer packages as well. I am wondering, how challenging is it for people from one country to move to, live in and work in another country in this industry? How common is it?

Larsen: Within the EU it is very easy to move from country to country and localization professionals do that very happily. In the United Kingdom and Spain, I would say that about 75% of the candidates hired through us are nonlocal citizens. For Germany, probably the reverse is true, with 25% non-German because fewer candidates have both English and German business language skills. What makes our industry so great and rewarding to work in is the wonderful international atmosphere. Did you know that it happens quite often that I get a call or an e-mail from candidates who have left the industry and say “Please find me a job in localization again! I can’t stand it here — everyone is so mono-everything!” International and multilingual candidates are what our clients are looking for. Candidates are happy to relocate and the hiring companies are very happy to welcome them.

Spacinsky: What advice would you offer to someone interested in finding a job in the EU in localization?

Larsen: It pains me to say this, but the harsh reality is that a valid work permit is a vital requirement. There are some schemes in place for skilled workers from outside of the EU, and also for students to be able to work for a limited period after their studies are finished. These vary from country to country. It is, generally speaking, extremely difficult to obtain a work permit unless you have unique non-EU language skills where there are no other qualified or interested candidates within the EU. Being a people and talent collector, I wish it weren’t so, and that all great talent could migrate freely.

Practices do vary a bit within the EU and I am not an expert on all the local variations. I do know that there are corporate secondment schemes that make it easier for employees to work in other geographical locations, so that might be an avenue worth pursuing for some. Regardless of how someone might manage to arrange it, I can only emphasize that working and living internationally will teach you both soft and hard skills that you cannot obtain in any other way and that will stand you in good stead no matter what you choose to do later in life. Myself, coming from a small town by a small fjord in Norway originally, I recommend that if you want to grow both professionally and personally, get out there and live and work abroad — it’s worth it!

Spacinsky: I second that! Thanks so much.

Larsen: With pleasure.