I have a vivid memory of someone telling my daughter that she just had to check out the Jason Sudekis YouTube video, “An American Coach in London.”
This person detailed all the slapstick shenanigans from the video: “two halves!” “Put on your pads!” “The game can end in a tie?!”
My daughter sat through the re-enactment with that polite I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about smile on her face. And it dawned me then that she is monocultural. Soccer is her sport. She plays it, she watches it on tv, she tries to get us to take her to any college or professional games she can. I guess I just assumed she knew a little bit about American football.
The lesson here: we can always be surprised by our own culture, what we don’t know about ourselves, and our own lack of multicultural understanding.
We need to be prepared to turn our gaze onto ourselves in order to better understand the world around us. It’s essential to think about what a new experience or a new encounter with something different says about us (instead of focusing on our perception of others), and ultimately use that understanding to better relate to and collaborate with others. When we think about ourselves “from the outside” like that, it makes it a million times easier to process those new and different things we see in others.
What does this have to do with career prep? the job search? professional documents? interview preparation?
At least two things:
First, remember that your job applications and your interviews are really about them–the interviewers, the recruiters, the organizations (and not about you).
You have to step outside of your own experiences–what you hope to gain from the experience of employment–and instead think about what the employer needs from you– hopes to gain by hiring you.
To do that, you have to practice. You have to stop thinking just about your version of any experience (whether it’s football/fútbol, or employee/employer).
Second, this kind of misunderstanding or clash of cultures is yet another specific example that could be used in a cover letter, personal statement, or interview answer. Here are some commonly-asked interview and professional school essay questions followed by possible answers based on my above football / fútbol anecdote:
Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you did to address it?
Something like: “I didn’t know what this person [describing the Jason Sudekis YouTube video] was talking about so I went home, researched it, clarified with some friends who knew a lot more about it than I do, never made that mistake again, and now have a strategy for dealing with similar situations in the future. For example, at this company…”
What’s your greatest weakness?
Something like: “I didn’t always think about things from other people’s perspective, then this happened… I was surprised to feel like an “outsider” on a topic that I’m supposed to be an “insider” on simply because of my national identity. This gave me a better understanding of how differently two people might process the same information. Now I know [something that you know the organization values because you did think about that organization from a perspective other than your own when you thoroughly researched it before applying]…and this would help me to transition from outsider to insider not only within the company, but also with international vendors [or some other group–clients, owners, employees].”
Why do you think you’ll be a good fit for our company culture?
Something like: “This experience taught me to pay attention to the culture around me and compare / contrast it with my own experience so that I’m always aware of my surroundings and how I fit in there. In researching this company, here’s what I noticed about this…”
Describe experiences that will enable you to better understand patients [or ‘clients’] with a culture different from your own.
Something like “From this football/fútbol experience, I know that we don’t always examine our own cultural assumptions well enough, much less attempt to understand other people’s. In the context of this job, I will…”
Everyone has some great experience or story, but isn’t always aware of it–or doesn’t know how to turn it into a good example for the job search context. Even when you’ve stumbled upon a good story, it’s not enough to just tell it–you have to connect it to very specific skills, attributes, or qualifications that a given employer seeks. And then you still have to connect those skills, attributes, or qualifications that you have to the specific company and industry in which you are seeking employment.
For help with this and other aspects of your job search, see my services page.
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. For one-on-one support in preparing for your job search or to set up a campus workshop, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org