Last week I wrote a post about body language and how having studied foreign languages and cultures is an advantage in networking and interview situations.
Now here’s how you could use the story of an experience with body language in an international context to your advantage in an interview situation.
A common job interview question is:
Tell me about a time you failed at something.
Messing up with communication or body language in an international context provides a great example of both a failure and how you recovered from it.
Here is one of my favorite answers to that question, but it can be anything that genuinely comes from your own experiences:
When I was in Spain, I quickly learned about the traditional greeting, “besitos,” that is air kissing on the cheeks. I understood that you kiss the air to the side of the other person’s cheekbones and don’t actually put your lips on anyone’s face, but a few times I had the awkward experience of almost kissing people on the lips. I asked a friend if it was customary to always go right & put left cheek to left cheek first, then go left. She had to think about it because it was so ingrained to her as a Spaniard that she had never considered it, but the answers was “yes!”
This answer shows that you are culturally sensitive and self-aware. Your recognize your mistakes and take action to correct them.
It also shows that you are good at perceiving patterns and making others aware of them in a collegial way.
That’s a lot of information conveyed in one little anecdote. But you have to illustrate that information with a clear, concise story. You can’t just say “I’m culturally sensitive, good at perceiving patterns, and a real a team player!” It doesn’t resonate with anyone and they just have to trust those empty words.
If you have a story, then those you tell it to know that you are self-aware, can synthesize information, and communicate effectively–all important professional skills that employers are looking for in the best job candidates.
Now: How would you use your experiences with foreign languages and cultures to answer the common interview question: “tell me about a time you failed at something”?
Darcy Lear is a Chicago-based career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they standout in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one coaching or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org