But really all of your job search materials comes down to this question: what makes you unique?
I work with clients all the time who are able to describe an experience that they had, but it was often shared with an entire classroom full of people. I have to keep pushing them to tell employers and professional schools: what about that experience makes you unique?
One student was drafting a letter of recommendation request to send to a professor who had taught a drama course in which students read plays in Spanish and write & perform a drama in Spanish. That is the part that is relatively easy to articulate–and it applies to everyone who has ever taken the course.
To answer the question, what makes you unique?, the student added the name of the play she wrote, the names of her co-authors, and the character that she played. She ended up with an amazing summary that was entertaining everyone else in the workshop; she had a huge smile on her face as she remembered the play; someone else in the room was one of the co-authors and was animated and engaged in the conversation.
She got on a roll and was able to talk about the new perspective she gained from playing a character so fundamentally different from her–it was as if she was seeing the world through different eyes. This is what intercultural competence is all about–employers want to see that you can step outside of your own experience and your own comfort zone, to see the world from the perspective of others, and appreciate those perspectives.
Another student told the story of waiting three hours in a Paris restaurant for the waiter to bring the check. From that she learned at least two things: 1) that you have to ask for the check in France and 2) it’s important to look for other ways to ask for the check–such as gesturing with your hand in the air.
Now she always knows to observe her surroundings and to learn from what she sees–something she can apply around the office or on business trips anywhere in the world. Employers want self-aware employees with the ability to behave in culturally appropriate ways in a variety of situations–and this story is an excellent illustration of that.
A third student told the story of being alone and lost in a city in Italy at the age of 14–before she spoke any Italian. Without any language skills, she kept her cool, found the right person to ask for help, solved her problem, and got back to the hotel. This shows that from a young age, she was a resourceful person who was able to solve a problem while remaining calm under stressful circumstances. Rather than shying away from different languages and cultures after that experience, she embraced language study and continued to improve her own skills so that she can avoid repeating that experience and save her poise under fire for newer challenges.
More than one student was able to give a specific example of interpreting in a workplace such as a school, a restaurant, or a gymnastics program. These were amazing examples full of quantifiable information and specific details. For example, “over a ten year period, interpreted for dozens of Spanish-speaking families and English-speaking gym managers at ABC Gymnastics.” That one line tells employers so much:
- You have staying power (a college kid with ten years of experience in a single workplace! Amazing!)
- Dozens of families means that you can communicate about a variety of topics and are comfortable in conversational Spanish
- You are comfortable engaging with adult clients from another language group and culture
- You are able to work with bilingual children using your own bilingualism
- You are comfortable interacting with management and taking on strong supporting roles
While the resume line has to be specific, short, sweet, concise & contain quantifiable information wherever possible, you will have to connect the dots for employers by explicitly stating the above bulleted items in some part of the application and interview process. And the opportunity to do that comes up in a cover letter, a personal statement, a networking event, or a job interview.
Every language student–whether in the first semester of study or the final course of a major–has unique experiences that illustrate traits employers are looking for in new hires:
- effective and professional communication,
- ability to understand & demonstrate appropriate behavior in a variety of situations.
What are your examples? Specific stories, with details that are unique to you!
It takes some time to come up with the best ideas, then it requires some effort to polish them. But once you get going, it is fun! And that enthusiasm combined with your attention to detail will make you the standout candidate in a competitive job market.
Darcy Lear is a 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