“Developing Your Cover Letter and Elevator Pitch:” A Job Search Webinar from McGraw Hill

Screen Shot 2019-04-02 at 9.03.45 AMMcGraw Hill regularly sponsors a webinar series on the college to career transition, which aligns with a lot of the work I do.  To see the offerings, follow this link.  I will be presenting “Developing Your Cover Letter and Elevator Pitch” on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 7:00 EST (6:00 CST).  

My brief presentation will focus on the essentials of cover letters and elevator pitches.  No matter where you are in your job search, this session will dive into the kinds of details you should share in the form of a cover letter and the importance of crafting and practicing a few pitches about yourself.

Cover letters are an opportunity to tell some stories that are unique to you and to engage in a narrative form (to contrast with the short, skimmable phrases you must use in your resume).

There is no template you can use to have an effective cover letter–it has to be unique to you (please don’t use the fill-in-the-blank cover letters you can find on the internet).  

Find job ads in your field of interest and craft anecdotes from your own experience that tie to some of the main qualifications.  

And always find a way to make it ‘about them’–the industry, the organization, the specific job–in order to show how you meet their needs or solve their problems (a bad sign is a cover letter with “I” or “My” as the first word of each and every paragraph).  

In the April 16th webinar, I will provide some specific examples of what these cover letter paragraphs might look like.  

The elevator pitch (or personal branding statement or STAR technique) is all about being prepared to summarize your entire career or job search in 2-3 sentences.

To have a compelling pitch that leaves people wanting more information, you have to plan and practice.  It requires moving away from “I am a…” or “I want to do X” to a concise description of your primary assets, value added, problems you solve, needs you meet.

Once again, you see how it is about you in the sense of describing the problems you solve and the needs you meet, but that it is essential to frame it in terms of the potential employer’s unmet needs and unsolved problems.

Hope to “see” some of you at the webinar on April 16th.

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses” from Georgetown University Press.  For help customizing your job application documents and navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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Is There Room for Languages for Specific Purposes in the Humanities?

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These are not the best of times for the humanities in general and foreign languages in particular.  Budget cuts are the norm on college campuses.  Universities depend on endowments for funding and when that money goes to academic programs, it funds business, ECON and STEM (see articles and stats here, here, here, here, here, and here), then those programs get the lion’s share of incoming students.  We saw BAs in the humanities decline by 10% in the three-year period 2012-2015 (source, Washington Post).  Over a similar three-year period (2013-2016), a total of 651 language programs ceased to exist on US campuses (source, MLA as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education) That doesn’t include language programs that are still in existence on campuses that eliminated language requirements and in so doing decimated the enrollments in those programs, leaving faculty struggling to attract and retain students. At the same time, 2015 saw a record high number (5,891) of PhDs awarded in humanities disciplines while the openings for tenure-track positions in the humanities continued in its precipitous fifteen-year decline (source, InsideHigherEd).

These are facts. You don’t have to like them, but you cannot pretend they don’t exist.


At the same time, there is a lot to be said for the humanities. Underemployment is much lower among humanities degree holders than among those who majored in business and related majors (source, Forbes –this trend surely due in part to the skewed admissions numbers cited above). It has always been argued effectively that students in all disciplines need the skills that come from studying the humanities–Google “why study humanities?” and you will get pages and pages of hits (for example, this and this) that emphasize that the humanities educate the whole person with critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze and synthesize, important written and verbal communication skills, and lots of “soft skills” or “executive function” skills like problem-solving, decision-making, resourcefulness, and independence.

But it’s not fair to tell students that they’re gaining those skills without explicitly talking to them about how they’re doing that and how they might apply the skills beyond the classroom and after graduation. And students know this at some level because they’re not convinced to study the humanities by the simple arguments that “humanities courses educate the whole person,” “you’ll use these life skills” and “lots of important professionals majored in humanities fields” (see “Steve Jobs studied calligraphy” and “billionaire Mark Cuban says the humanities are good“). 

We need to ask ourselves serious questions: how are we going to convince today’s college students–who have been admitted to college by claiming non-humanities academic interests and and who need to enter the workforce upon graduation either to pay back student loan debt or because the prospects of having a career in academia are so grim–that they should also study the humanities? It cannot be by telling them, “Steve Jobs studied calligraphy” or “Mark Cuban said so” and then hoping they’ll sign up for the same classes our departments have offered for literally decades.


This is the part that always seems to go unaddressed in all that has been written on the topic.

We must answer the questions that we demand our students answer on a variety of topics: why? how? How are our humanities courses tied to our students’ futures? They are not going to be college professors. We do not have to get on board with colleges turning into career development, job training / professional preparation centers. But we do have to find a way to talk to students about how what we are doing in our courses is connected to their actual, real futures.

Chances are your department needs robust undergraduate enrollments in its minor and major programs even though your department knows that you could never conscionably send all those students to the graduate programs in French studies or English literature that the major program prepares students for (because you also know it is highly likely that your graduate program is already churning out way more PhDs than the academy could ever absorb with anything close to tenure-track lines–see above).

Our courses, our major & minor programs, our departments have to change to reflect the realities of our students.  We have to face the fact that our students will need to earn money when they graduate and inevitably work outside academia. We have to be explicit with them about what our courses have to do with their post-college reality. If we reject all the students who don’t plan to engage with humanities studies in a lifelong manner, then we effectively eliminate our own jobs. 

This brings me back to my opening question: Can Languages for Specific Purposes programming attract more students to foreign languages / humanities courses?

The first step:  Needs assessment

First, ask yourself: what are your needs–as a department, program, or course instructor? Do you need to attract and retain more students to boost undergraduate enrollments? Do you need to meet student, tuition-paying parent, and administration pressure for ”real-world / readiness skills”? Do you need some kind of PhD+ for graduate students so that they go into the challenging job market with the traditional PhD plus some unique value-added skills that make them stand out against all the competition? Do you need to re-vamp an entire program? Do you need to just do enough to “get through” this pendulum swing that is so tough on the humanities? Or do you just want to be practical about administering your own courses?

Once you decide what needs you have to meet, there are a lot of options.


New programs 

Every year, more campuses expand their offerings to include languages for the professions. The field I know best is Spanish for the Professions and the program with which I am most familiar is UNC-Chapel Hill’s minor. It is an example of building a flexible program that allows the department to adapt to evolving needs.  When the minor was established more than a decade ago, it was to relieve the high demand on traditional courses from an abundance of students minoring in Spanish. The professions minor was designed around the most common majors among all those students flocking to the traditional Spanish courses–and the demand for the new minor was through the roof.  One of the required courses was an “allied” course related to the Spanish-speaking world that had to be taken outside of the Romance Studies department. As enrollments declined in the traditional courses over time, the adjustment was made to allow students to take their allied course within Romance Studies. And the next evolution can be to require that the allied course be any one of the traditional courses in the Romance Studies department.  

The University of Colorado at Boulder has a professions track in their Spanish major that includes the unique offering in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development as well as interdisciplinary programs in business and engineering. At the University of Alabama Birmingham, students can major in applied professional Spanish. The program is a wonderful illustration of blending traditional courses with applied professional courses. Georgia Southern’s certificate program starts at the intermediate (200) level, Arizona State University’s certificate program has a required Spanish in U.S. Professional Communities course, and the University of Florida’s certificate program in Spanish for the professions includes one-credit courses on rotating special topics such as coffee culture, soccer, drug wars, and popular music.

There are as many ways to design programs as there are campuses willing to do so.

New courses

Without creating entire programs, it is possible to attract students interested in the professions by adding several courses that would serve their needs (service-learning, business, medicine, journalism, law, social justice, career preparation / college-to-career transition etc.).

Duke University offers a French course on “Business and Culture in the Francophone World” as well as various interdisciplinary courses cross listed with programs such as theater, political science, and economics.  

To be effective, those courses should count for something–perhaps serving as a mix-and-match with traditional courses so that students still have to populate the traditional minor and major courses while pursuing their “specific purposes” studies.

One off courses or special sections of multi-section courses 

One-off courses in languages for the professions abound–for example, the ubiquitous business Spanish class that is on the books on many college campuses.  Depending on student demand and faculty willingness, you can create these one-off courses that can serve to initially attract students.  In high-demand areas like business Spanish, there are established textbooks (Éxito comercial) and curricula. Note that to attract students, it helps if these courses “count” towards a program of study (and aren’t just electives).

Another option is to develop special sections of multi-section courses. This is particularly effective at the beginning and intermediate levels and can be used to attract students to continued study at the minor or major level (though the minor and major then have to offer something appealing to that students population).  

At the University of Chicago students can take a special section of the final course in the second-year sequence that is “Spanish of the Professions.” The section is offered at the same time as one of the other traditional sections so that students can easily transfer in and out during the first week of classes. Students in the special section keep up with the vocabulary, grammar, and chapter themes of the intermediate textbook and take the same tests as students in the other sections (this to ensure they are equally prepared to go on to the next course). But instead of doing extra literary readings and writing traditional academic essays, students in the special section explore their own area of professional interest, regularly reading, listening, or watching content, then blogging about it and occasionally presenting on it in class. At the same time, they develop a course-long project investigating the resources available for Spanish-speakers in their professional area of interest in the geographic regions where they plan to live and work–with the goal of identifying an unmet niche that they could fill.

Weave professional skills that every employee in every workplace needs into already-existing courses and programs

NETWORKING A lot of the workplace skills that all of our students will need regardless of chosen profession can be layered on to what we are already doing everyday in language courses, where classes are small in size, students work in pairs and groups often, and get to know each other. The content of language classes is often the same “small talk” that is common at networking events: your name, where you’re from, what you do, your interests.

To tweak this work that we’re already doing for professional networking, just make sure students know the importance of:

1- finding out names, remembering names, and using names (they should know how to say, “I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten your name. I’m ___? What’s your name again?” in at least two languages).

2- professional body language: warm and open, a natural smile, eye contact, and the offer of a handshake (in US culture–teach this also as appropriate to target culture). Avoid crossed arms or negative facial expressions that are often a manifestation of nervousness, but can come across as being cold, unreceptive, and uninterested. This is the activity that can seem a bit silly to practice in a language class–but it’s a low stakes environment that will get students over the learning curve before they are in high stakes environments like job fairs and professional interviewers (where many of their peers will still be sheepish and awkward about eye contact and shaking hands).

3- listening carefully to what others say and asking specific follow-up questions. The goal is to find out what you have in common so that you can follow up later with a link, article, event, invitation, etc. (and thus build those professional relationships over the long term). This can be a good goal for out-of-class oral exams: “have a natural, authentic conversation” that ends when the two parties have identified something new that that have in common.

Note that “networking” is not asking for favors, nor is it all about icky self-promotion. It is about building long-term professional relationships over an entire career. Our professional conferences are three-day long networking event–otherwise, we could just post our ideas to each other electronically and not bother with the physical gathering.

Here is a link to some actual class activities I have used.

WRITTEN AND VERBAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS. The humanities are all about written and verbal communication skills. And we rightfully tout that in defense of the humanities. However, we usually do not talk to students about how all those skills might translate to their professional lives after graduation.  What are we preparing them to do? Because they won’t have to write essays in most workplaces. They’ll have to write memos, emails, agendas, reports.

We can use this kind of professional writing to our advantage; for example, by using email writing to streamline the administration of our courses. It only takes a couple minutes to train students to write professional emails that are thorough, clear, and concise. See a specific first-day-of-class activity here, in which students take responsibility for consulting course documents and contacting tech support to answer their questions and solve their problems–thus saving the instructor various emails from each student throughout the course with questions like, “where is your office?” “how much is the midterm exam worth?” “I can’t access the textbook publishers online quizzes–what should I do?”

At the same time, email writing can help students develop transcultural competence by putting themselves in the role of the recipient of the emails they receive and seeing their own emails as the other might. See my full post on the subject here. All of this improves the administration of our own courses while also getting at some of the most challenging work of language education (transcultural competence). Students develop skills they will need in the workplace–they will tell you how much they use professional email writing in their L1 and L2 –and how well it is received. And employers always say they want independent, resourceful, problem-solving employees. It’s a win-win-win.

GATEKEEPING. Gatekeeping is fundamentally about access. If you can take down a correctly-spelled name and accurate phone number or email in your L2 so that a more fluency speaker can call that person back, you have granted access where it otherwise would have been passively denied. That is an important skill to have anytime, but especially when dealing with vulnerable, language-minority, immigrant communities. I’ve posted on this before.

In learning to leave and take basic messages, students are also getting age-appropriate practice with the building blocks of language (the ABC’s and 1-2-3’s often get short shrift in language education, in part because of seeming lack of age-appropriate practice material).

Students can quickly learn how to take control of the conversation to get and give information by asking, “how do you spell that?”, “one digit at a time, please,” “I got the first name; what’s the last name?”, “I’m going to repeat that back to you; is this correct…?” They learn to avoid global requests for repetition (“what?” “repeat”) that leaves them in “deer in the headlights” mode. I have also posted on this before.

These are just a few examples; you can also use follow up from group work as a way to practice professional presentations and build digital literacy skills into your courses.

Why not tweak content that is fundamental to what we are already doing in our language courses and apply it to those professional skills that every employee in every workplace needs while also streamlining the administration of our own courses? We need to change, but it can be additive; we don’t have to give up anything we’re already doing.  

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses” from Georgetown University Press.  For help customizing your job application documents and navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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New Titles for Language Educators from Georgetown University Press


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Fifth International Symposium on Languages for Specific Purpose Announced

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This is a must-attend conference for anyone interested in Languages for Specific Purposes–service-learning, languages for the professions, social justice.  The site just went live on March 19th.

At every LSP conference, I get wonderful new ideas for languages for specific purposes programming and fresh understanding of what people are doing with languages outside of academia and how LSP educators are addressing their needs.

I have always been interested in medical Spanish and here are just two related memories from the symposium last year in Gainesville, FL:

1- A presentation by Glenn Martínez and José Pares-Avila, “From the Medical Interview to the Motivational Interview: Training Health Professionals for Chronic Care Counseling” covered behavior modification treatments, such as smoking cessation or diet and exercise prescriptions for type-2 diabetics, and emphasized the “language resources” required to provide that type of medical care to speakers of Spanish.  The actual grammatical structures needed at the beginning of the treatment are more “advanced” than the ones needed at the end of treatment, but when treated as “resources” required to provide care, language educators can equip health care professionals to work with Spanish-speaking patients. The importance of culture was not neglected, as the field of syndemics, which looks at social determinants of health, addresses issues of culture (among others) as they relate to health.

2- “From Workplace Tasks to Language Functions: An Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Approach to LSP Curriculum Design” by Maura Velázquez-Castillo and Shannon Zeller had it all–it was wildly entertaining as the presenters mimed some of the issues livestock workers experience interacting with cattle and the difficulties of not only communicating with veterinarians with a different native language, but having to do so over a distance from rural locations. At the same time, the issues they presented could not have been more serious–immigrant livestock workers, lack of veterinary professionals, language and cultures barriers, the economic impact of all their work, and the essential grant that was funding the presenters’ work. 

These were just a couple presentations that piqued my interest–many language groups, including French, Arabic, and Russian, were represented and the topics ran the gamut. Here’s a link to the full program from the 2018 symposium.

There is always a ton of support from like-minded colleagues working in LSP fields that can buoy you from one symposium to the next.

The symposium happens every other year and will be at UNC-Charlotte March 5-7, 2020. Mark your calendars now–and see the call for proposals to submit to present.

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses” from Georgetown University Press.  For help customizing your job application documents and navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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Professional Development for the First Week of Class

IMG_4945This is the first week of classes on many campuses and it’s an opportunity for one of my favorite activities: integrating professional development into any already-existing course in such a way that it also improves the administration of the course.

Here’s the tip–take 3 minutes to go over the basics of writing a professional email:

  • use the subject line to communicate clearly what the message is about,
  • use a formal greeting for a first-time communication (“Dear…” in English, “Estimad@” in Spanish, etc.)
  • in the body of the message, concisely answer all of the relevant who, what, when, where, and why?
  • use a formal sign off for a first-time communication (“Sincerely,” in English, “Atentamente,” in Spanish, etc.)

Here’s the assignment:

Use the above to write me a professional email. The body of the message should say:

“I have read and understand the course documents [syllabus, calendar, assignments, etc.”] and I have access to the [campus] and [textbook publisher] online learning systems.”

Grade as you would any similar homework assignment and save in an email folder.

For students, this can also be an activity in developing executive function and analysis/synthesis skills. You may want to point out that:

  • a good message reflects the ability to analyze and synthesize information so that everything necessary is included, but a lot of excess information is not added.  
  • with the two sentences you ask them to send, they are putting in writing the resources that they will independently consult when they have questions about the course (whether it’s due dates, how much a given assignment counts toward the final grade, the location of your office & office hours, the tech support for the various online learning systems). With that message, they are telling you that you won’t be the first point of contact when they have a question, because they know where to find the basic level of resources.

These are skills employers repeatedly report that they want in recent graduates who are new hires: analysis, synthesis, written communication, independence, resourcefulness, problem-solving. 

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” For help customizing your job application documents and navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com

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Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 2.54.21 PMOne week from today I’ll be in New Orleans for ACTFL 2018.  My book, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses,” will be at the Georgetown University  Press booth in the exhibit hall.

It’s a very practical guide. Each chapter covers a workplace skill that can easily be woven into already-existing language curricula: course management, gatekeeping, networking, professional correspondence, presentations, and digital literacy.  

The format is user-friendly; each chapter starts with an explanation of what you are already doing in the language classroom that is tied to the professional skill, then walks you through what to add to explicitly integrate workplace skills before concluding with specific activities, lesson plans, and sample rubrics that can be adapted for any language or course. If you’re going to be in New Orleans, please reach out (darcylear@gmail.com) or stop by the exhibit hall.  

In addition to this volume aimed at language teachers, I’m looking for insights from former students on how they use skill from their languages studies–in expected or unexpected ways–in their professional lives. I’d especially like to know what they wish they had learned while still in college that would have helped in the college-to-career transition or workplace.  If you are a former language student or are in touch with former students, please comment here or send me a private message: darcylear@gmail.com

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of the volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” For help customizing your job application documents andnavigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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Can Your Language Students Take an Accurate Message?

IMG_4135I have  blogged about the professional value of being able to take phone messages before (see posts here and here).

Today’s post is about getting started with taking phone messages in a foreign or second language.

In an introductory language course, students can get practice with the building blocks of language (the alphabet and numbers) while also developing some fundamental communicative strategies.  

The alphabet and numbers often get short shrift in language courses. And the typical L1 activities to build fluency in letters and numbers are designed for pre-schoolers–cute songs and basic counting games. However, adult L2 learners can deploy similar repetitive practice in introductory language courses by asking, “how do you spell that?” regularly (when studying new vocabulary, talking to new people whose names they don’t know, etc.) and by regularly taking phone messages.

At the end of each week or at the end of each unit of study, I read a simple phone message to students. In first-year classes, they just have to get an accurate name and phone number so that a more fluent speaker can call back. In second-year courses, students can take simple messages.  

The key strategies students need to effectively take a basic message include being able to take control of the conversation and ask for information “one letter at a time” or “one digit at a time,” repeating the information back and asking if it’s correct, and know how to say, “someone will return your call.”  

Eventually, small groups of students can work together with one leaving the message and the others taking the message.

With all of that in place, here is what first- and second-year students struggle with: the alphabet.

Even as students develop fluency in speaking, reading, writing, and communication strategies, they don’t get much repetitive practice with the alphabet like they did when acquiring their L1s.  Despite regular practice with strategically taking phone messages, Spanish students a few weeks into a first-year course write “h” when the letter “g” is said (the letter “g” in Spanish pronounced like English “hay”). Students have to train themselves to mentally compare the Spanish pronunciation of “g” to the Spanish pronunciation of “h” (“hache”), which they don’t tend mistake for a different letter. Or they must develop the strategy of repeating it back to the person so that when they say, “hache,” the speaker will correct them.  Similarly, vowels bewitch learners of Spanish because the Spanish “e” and “i” sound exactly like English “a” and “e”–so chaos can ensue when conducting a simple exchange along the lines of “how do you spell that?”

This is a testament to the need for a lot of opportunities to practice spelling in the target language. All the strategies in the world ultimately won’t overcome a lack of knowledge of the basic building blocks of a language. Additionally, students should develop mechanisms to check themselves, such as jotting down all the vowels: a-e-i-o-u and saying them to themselves to review which is which (in the case of Spanish).  

Teachers too often skip over the most basic information–like letters and numbers–which is a lost opportunity to both build a foundation in the target language and frame the experience within a professional development context.

LearHeadShot2018Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in  job search documents, interview preparation, and academic documents. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” For help customizing your job application documents andnavigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
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