A few exchanges later, she was offering to find out what brand of syrup they served and I knew we were experiencing a major miscommunication.
I was from Planet Maple Syrup—where one enjoys the substance harvested from maple trees, the stuff that’s a major commodity and cornerstone of the national economy of Canada.
She was from a place where all syrup was undistinguishable maple-flavored sweetness.
At the moment, I could think of three options:
- say, “yes, can I see the label on the syrup you use?” Visual clues are a great way to resolve miscommunications.
- say, “can you ask the chef if there’s real maple syrup available?” Engaging a third party is often a good way to clarify a situation in which the original two parties are unable to successfully communicate.
- assume I’m in a place that doesn’t offer what I’m looking for and order eggs. Re-directing away from the problem allows both parties to regain footing.
Whichever path I choose, the story can illustrate my ability to problem solve, get past miscommunications, and deploy transcultural competence (the ability not only to appreciate other perspectives, but to step outside of one’s own and see it as an outsider might).
I present this story because it is precisely these small encounters that language students have experienced over and over again in their courses, communities, and travels that provide excellent examples for both written job search materials and interviews.
Think of all the experiences like my maple syrup encounter that you could use! Package it into a clear, concise, detailed story. BUT DON’T STOP THERE!
1-You have to take the next steps of explicitly connecting that real-life story to the key words, important skills, and specific experiences that employers seek.
2-You have to say, “from this I learned that visual cues, third parties, and re-directing are an excellent way to resolve miscommunications and I have since used these resources…[a dictionary app, objects in the environment, acting things out, a colleague, something you created].”
3-And finally you have to do your homework. Research the organization enough to know what their on-the-ground needs are. Then explicitly say how you will meet those unmet needs with your skills that you’ve just illustrated.
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