Friday, January 17, 2020

Has Your Foreign Language Skills Ever Been Tested in a Job Interview?

If you state on your résumé that you can speak a foreign language, be prepared because you are likely to be interviewed in that language. 

One year, I interviewed for a workforce development position at a prominent agency in San Francisco, California and passed the interview with flying colors. Being that I'm so passionate about the Spanish language, I made it a point to emphasize my experience working with Spanish speakers and my travels to several Latin American countries. The job announcement itself stated that the ability to speak Spanish is a plus. 

Sure, I had Spanish in school, but like anything in life, the classroom is no match for the real world. I once had a supervisor who minored in Spanish in college, and was so surprised when she asked me to help her with her Spanish. The difference between her progress and mine was that I always made it a point to seize every opportunity to converse with monolingual Spanish speakers.

When I returned for my second interview for that highly coveted position, I was as usual confident and ready to rumble. However, this time—there were two Latino managers waiting for me in the interview room. That made me unusually nervous because I knew my Spanish was going to be tested. 

Fortunately, the two interviewers spent almost the whole interview in English until they were satisfied that I was a good match for the open position. Then one asked me a question in Spanish. For the first time in my working life, I started stumbling over my words as I attempted to respond in Spanish. Finally, I just let it all hang out and stated (in Spanish) that I speak much better Spanish with those who speak Spanish only and no English. I added that bilingual people make me nervous and I begin forgetting simple words (a true statement!).
They both laughed and commented on how fine my Spanish sounded to them and let me off the hook telling me not to worry. There were other interviews where I did not get off so easily. At a predominately Latino employment services agency, the hiring manager, in the middle of our interview, insisted that we continue the rest of our discussion in Spanish. Reluctantly, I complied, but fortunately, I performed much better than I anticipated

When I apply for positions where the use of Spanish will be an asset, I want the employer to know upfront that I'm functional enough in the language to make conversation, conduct business in banks and shopping centers, but most importantly, do my job as a workforce development specialist and as a professional résumé writer.

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