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Education First: the start to your global career?

Graduate destinations are endless for LSE alumni. You might have some ideas on where you want your career to take you. Knowing where to start is a bit trickier.

Education First (EF) is one option you could consider. With a workforce of over 40,000, EF is the largest private language school provider in the world, as well as the official provider of language training for the Olympic Games. Impressive indeed. I’m here to tell you about my experiences working as an Operations Area Manager.

Lucerne, the home of EF’s global headquarters. Located in a German speaking canton, in the central area of Switzerland, the city is home to this international brand. The office sits on the city’s beautiful lake, offering great views from its terrazza of the surrounding Alps and the renowned wooden bridges that link up the Old Town. But it’s not any office. The building is a majestic old fashioned five-star hotel, called the Grand National. EF has plucked the fourth and fifth floors of this great spot, making it a strong contender for one of the offices around the world with the most stunning panorama.

As a first “real job”, EF is everything that graduates are looking for. The work is genuinely fun. Sure, it can be challenging and difficult at times, but newcomers will find that they will put all their skills to use. It’s the ideal place to start putting theory into practice. In under a year, team members can expect to practice negotiations, budgeting, sales, marketing, finance and strategy. It’s such a multi-faceted and dynamic company that outsiders can easily deem this to be exaggeration. It’s not. The learning curve that EF offers is so steep that I felt that I was breaking new ground every single month.

With offices practically in every country and capital, the chance to move far and wide is definitely there. Most EF teams have “kick off meetings” in fun locations – be it the Bahamas, Las Vegas or Athens. Your monthly work will typically include business trips and some EF products allow you to experience first-hand what you contribute towards. I went on two free holidays! Getting stuck in one office is a risk that you don’t run with EF, that’s for sure!

EF has a greater proportion of women than most other workforces. 70% of EF employees are women and the company can be interpreted as a great beacon on this front. Moreover, the international character is so apparent that it’s normal to have a boss from Greece, those who sit on your left from Spain, those who sit on your right from Italy, your room colleagues from the USA, Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, France etc… you get the picture. The cherry on the top is that 70% of the office seems to be aged 27 or under. Cultural and social diversity is what EF is all about.

The great dilemma at EF is arguably the difficult hours that EF employees face. The whole company lives through the “high season”, that is, the profit making cycle of the year. Throughout its various businesses, this typically tends to be March-September time. Prior to this excruciating event, teams prepare to endure the summer months through detailed operational planning. During it, long hours and weekends in the office are a common sight. Once the season is over, the pressure subsides like the end of a mighty storm. Then it’s off to recharge the batteries! Members of each team will set off on exotic travels or start visiting friends and family back home.

To fresh eyes, the company is like a work place on a continuous high. Business trips left and right, wild international events and fun people will have you distracted for the first months, perhaps even years. However, it’s not for any reason that the company has a short turnaround of staff. The 15-month mark is how long most people stay. Individuals rarely stay on longer; they just can’t keep up with the work intensity. There exists a lack of appreciation that employees might have some life outside the office!

Human resources. Two words that EF does not comprehend. The company has no substantial understanding, nor willingness, to invest in its own people. The paradox lies in that EF knows it depends on its people, which is why it will search far and wide for young, diverse and proactive individuals. The flip side is that there is no thought given to career growth nor professional development. It is a very horizontal company, with few people rising upwards, to the point where individuals will either remain in their position for the foreseeable future, or start to look elsewhere. Every new wave of arrivals rejuvenates the company, allowing it to stay on top of the latest trends in technology and consumerism. As such, the longer one works for EF, the harder it is to develop professionally. Few internal training and development opportunities exist, which is a great shame.

Is EF for you? The travel dimension involved with EF is unbeatable. If you want that type of thing, go for it! It’s a great place to start your career and get some wind in your sails. The people you will meet, the achievements you will make and the places you will see are things you can treasure for the rest of your life. Just make sure you don’t stay too long!

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