Are You Ready To Make a Good First Impression in Your Face-to-Face Communications?

photo-7Friday, May 31, 2013. It was the second-to-last day of class for students in French 309, “French for Commerce & Industry,” at Northwestern University.

They had just started the unit of interviews in the previous class and their final exam would be in the form of an interview. After a brief introduction to the workshop, First Impressions: Face-to-Face Communications to Get Started on Your Job Search With a Language Degree, I said:

“you’ve done a great job with your job search documents. They’ve earned you an interview! You arrive and the interviewer says, ‘I see on your résumé that you speak French.  Racontez-moi votre expérience.” 

“You now have to switch to French and summarize your entire life’s experience with the language and cultures of the French-speaking world.” 

I gave students 3 minutes to prepare an answer–and reminded them that it was 3 minutes more than they would have in a real interview.

After 3 minutes, we did a speed date in which students shared their answers and refined them between each “date.”  

With a few practice runs answering that interview question under their belts, we moved on to work with three major categories of interview questions that take candidates by surprise:

1) broad general questions 

  • what do you do?
  • tell me about yourself?
  • Why should we hire you?

We discussed what those questions really mean and then moved straight to how to use a French major or minor to answer them.

For example, to answer “why should we hire you?,” it is essential to research the company and identify an unmet need: are they trying to expand into international markets, compete with emerging market companies, improve communication with clients, managers, employees or peers abroad?  Then use the Elevator Pitch format to show how your international experiences match their need.  

2) specific questions that require detailed stories to answer 

  • Do you work better independently or in teams?
  • What are your weaknesses?/Tell me about a time you failed at something.
  • Tell me about a time you worked in multicultural teams.

International experiences are full of anecdotes that provide excellent illustrations of the characteristics interviewers are looking for when they ask these questions. The details of a mis-communication or getting over a learning curve while traveling can show that you are a problem solver, that you recognize your mistakes and take action to correct them. It can show that you are good at perceiving patterns and communicating that information to others.

One student shared the details of her experience working in a French bakery and it showed that she was teachable and could follow instructions in a practical sense, but also illustrated her ability to empathize and understand the perspective of a small business owner.  

3) Do you  have any questions for us? These are the questions you have to be ready to ask–usually at the end of the interview.  You must have questions ready.

Again, that can be a chance to highlight your foreign language studies. From your research on the company, you know what their international interests are. Then you can cite your own international experiences and ask how those skills might be brought to bear on the company’s international interests.

In all 3 categories of questions, foreign languages and cultures can be the factor that differentiates the winning candidate from the also-ran candidates.

Finally, to close the workshop on Friday, students had to take leave in an interview-appropriate way by approaching me or one of the faculty members present to:

  • say “thank you”
  • express interest in the job
  • offer a hand to shake
  • demonstrate positive body language.
Darcy Lear on the Northwestern University campus. May 31, 2013.

Darcy Lear on the Northwestern University campus. May 31, 2013.


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:
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