Ten Tips for Success in a Phone Interview in Your Second Language

The phone interview: it’s a daunting prospect even in your first language.  But in your second language the thought is even more nausea-inducing.  As a common first step in the recruitment process, it is essential to be well equipped for the moment of that all-important phone call.

Regardless of your level of fluency in a language, speaking on the telephone can reduce even the most confident speaker to a mere stammer.  The difficulty resides in the fact that you can no longer rely on the luxuries of lip-reading and body language.  78% of communication is non-verbal, which explains why a phone call can be such a challenge for foreign speakers.  However, if you are interviewing at an international company it is expected that you will be proficient at conducting phone calls in other languages.  This skill today is indispensable, so here are a few tips to bear in mind before the phone rings:

  1. Prepare notes.  The beauty of the phone call is that you are invisible.  Play this to your advantage and ensure that you prepare answers in note form for questions that you know will be asked, such as “Why do you want this job?”  Additionally, jot down any technical vocabulary which you are likely to forget on the spot.
  2. Don’t be tempted to read entirely from your notes as you will sound robotic and probably speak for too long.  Use it instead as a prompt sheet if you lose your way.
  3. Keep your speed in check.  When nervous and speaking a foreign language, we are likely to speak too quickly.  This can lead to slurred phrases and mispronounced words, making it very difficult for the person on the other side of the line to understand.  Your interviewer will appreciate your measured speed just as you will appreciate his/hers in return.
  4. Pause before you answer.  Sometimes it can be tempting to reply straight away, especially if you are used to taking language exams when hesitating means lost marks.  During a phone interview however, it is expected that you will pause for reflection before answering.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer to repeat something.  Bear in mind that even native speakers have to ask for things to be repeated on the phone.  It is better to clarify a question than to answer what you think was asked and be mistaken.
  6. Be wary of formality.  If you have only had experience of speaking on the phone in a foreign language with friends before, do not be tempted to drop to this level of informality in your phone interview.  For instance, “Hey” and “Bye bye” are not appropriate for a phone interview in English.  Also, for languages which have a polite and an impolite form, such as the “tu” and “vous” form in French, be sure to use the polite form.
  7. Phone signal.  This is vital.  Why make things harder for yourself by trying to hear over background noise or a poor connection?  If you have access to a landline, be sure to give this number to your interviewer rather than your mobile.
  8. Practice as much as possible at speaking on the phone in the given language prior to the interview. If you find comprehension difficult, ringing company numbers with automated messages can be an excellent way to improve your listening skills on the phone.
  9. Ensure that you are well acquainted with basic phone vocabulary.  Here is an excellent site which lists the most important phrases for phone calls in English.
  10. Don’t set the bar too high. If you are far from fluent in a language, it is better not to pretend that you are on your CV as you will quickly be found out the moment you pick up the phone.

If you found these tips helpful, take a look at some of our other articles.  And if you’re looking for a job, consult the offers on our website.

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Is Honesty The Best Policy?

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Have you ever lied in an interview or at work? The answer is probably. Basic human instinct is survival… therefore, exaggerating, omitting and embellishing the truth are often used to cut ahead of the rest in order to get hired or promoted. In an ideal world in which career progression were easy, honesty would of course be the best policy. But with youth unemployment at 22.8%[i] in France and promotions harder to come by, how much do you need to lie to survive in the recruitment process or is honesty really the best policy?

 

The CV

 

The first impression an employer gets from a candidate is their CV… it’s sink or swim!  It is not surprising that 53% of CVs contain falsehoods to survive this stage[ii].  These falsehoods may consist of made-up experiences or skills and even stretching dates of employment, resulting in a more employable and impressive candidate. But beware… whitewashing the truth on your CV rather than merely embroidering it is becoming more dangerous. There has been a recent rise in pre-employment screenings caused by the high demand for jobs; now candidates that have lied are being found out in the first round.

 

The Interview

 

The second impression that an employer gets in the recruitment stage comes from the interview. Candidates will primarily be asked about their CV and if they have not been honest they risk getting caught in their own web of lies and botching their interview.  Some questions, however, may require the candidate to exclude information and facts. Common interview advice is to avoid any negativity towards previous jobs. If asked “Why did you leave your previous job?” an honest reply such as “because I hated my boss…” is not an appropriate answer. Omission of the truth can often be essential in order to keep within the professional boundaries of an interview and to ensure a good impression is made.

 

The Workplace

 

Once in the workplace, careful attention must be paid. Lies are regularly used as a safety net to avoid punishment having made an error. Excuses such as “My alarm clock didn’t go off this morning” should be left in the playground as an apology is more effective in these menial cases. In more serious cases lying to cover up fatal errors or to put yourself ahead of anyone else is more treacherous. This can result in chronic lies causing paranoia and insecurities within the workplace until the truth eventually comes out. In fact, 15% of employees in today’s businesses have been caught lying while at work[iii]. Once found out as a liar the employee’s relationships and reputation will be permanently damaged and they risk losing their job.

Most bosses will be appreciative when told the truth rather than a cover up. Honesty is viewed as courageous whereas dishonesty is cowardice. Statistically, employees who told fewer lies had better relationships and smoother interactions within the workplace[iv]. An honest employee’s credibility and integrity speaks for itself, giving that person increased opportunities since the honest employee has proven themselves.  Furthermore, the peace of mind associated with a moral outlook in the office will result in higher productivity and happiness.

The Answer

In conclusion, there is far more to lose than gain from lying. When applying for a job it is understandable to want to present yourself in the most flattering light, especially in the current market. However, honesty is also highly valued and appreciated in the workplace and can be counted on as the best policy. The advice to give would be: Do not have a reason to be dishonest in the first place. Prove yourself to be a great candidate and employee on your own merit rather than lie and risk your reputation and job.

 

 Alternatively, lie your way to the top… just don’t get caught!

The Value of The French Language

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English is the most widespread language in the world and is more widely spoken and written than any other language. As English is now considered the “universal language”, does bilingualism in French have any value in the recruitment process?  The answer is yes.

Being bilingual in French leads to more benefits than just raw human dialogue. It opens a new world of communication skills that are essential in the work place. As the world becomes a seemingly smaller place, the influence of the French language is becoming wider in tandem with the internet and new markets. For candidates in the job market, a grasp of the French language might be what it takes to shine out from the rest as its value is ever increasing.

As the world becomes more socially, economically and technologically connected, competence in languages such as French is increasingly important.  There are a total of around 355 million French speakers worldwide including new markets that are considered economically important in the near future. The French speaking market is eminent and drives up the demand for French speakers in the job market.

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The French language is also opening new doors for international companies that were not considered valuable in the past. Half of the top-10 fastest growing countries in Africa have French as an official language and we can thus expect Africa to be an increasing focus of global trade and international relations.

Moreover, French is the third most used language on the internet ahead of Spanish. The internet has enabled entirely new forms of communication, research and business in recent years and is now considered a ‘basic need’. Bilingual candidates have goldmines of information at their fingertips that would otherwise be inaccessible to those relying on English.

Good communication skills are valued by many employers as “the most important of all life skills” and the candidate who can deal with a customer in their own language will without doubt have an edge. With the graduate job market crowded and a poor economic climate, bilingual communication skills are bordering on essential.  The recipe for successful communication skills is to understand the culture of the country you are doing business with which comes from being bilingual.

A grasp of the culture gives an understanding of acceptable behaviour and ethical differences that should be recognised for any real communication to take place. Miscommunications may have a serious impact on the success of the negotiation process. Whether it is following instructions or perceiving the motives of a client, it is essential in a working environment.

No one can deny the importance of the English language on an international scale however this does not reduce the value of French.  With the expanding Francophone sphere of influence combined with the necessary communication skills that accompany fluency, bilingual candidates shine out ahead of the rest.  The French language is therefore invaluable during the recruitment process and is becoming even more important with global development. Set yourself apart from the rest and learn French.

Working in Tandem:Language Exchanges

The time had finally come; I had arrived in Paris to put the years of learning French to the test. However, I had come up against a brick wall: despite the fact I was speaking in French, the response was regularly in English.  So what was I to do? Skimming through all the events on Meetup.com, I discovered language exchange events such as Paris English French Conversation exchange, Franglish and Café Conversation and I decided to try one out.

The event I went to had a concept similar to that of speed dating (without the awkward chatting up), with 7 minutes each to speak in French and English. After the time is up, you move onto another table, meet a new partner and repeat the cycle.  Simple.

Language exchanges are successful because they provide a medium to meet native speakers in a relaxed environment. There is no need to feel embarrassed or anxious when making mistakes, as everyone understands the difficulty of learning a language. It is also a brilliant compromise, as both parties get the opportunity to put their language skills into practice. Additionally, the events attract a wide variety of people which allows for a large scope of conversation topics.

Needless to say, the concept can become repetitive and you do find yourself saying the same spiel over and over again.  The constant chopping and changing also has a downside as you often have to leave conservations unfinished when you’ve reached an interesting point. Lastly, as an intern, I found the event I went to a bit expensive at 8 Euros (12 Euros without student discount). However, the price does include a drink.

Complaints aside, I feel it is a worthwhile investment and the opportunity to meet native French speakers, who are willing to help me with my French, is priceless. The road to fluency is often a long and frustrating one but a language exchange offers the prospect to do so in a welcoming and non- intimidating atmosphere. I would highly recommend participating in language exchanges to anyone who wishes to improve their language skills, regardless of their level of fluency.

What do you think of language exchanges? Do you have any other innovative ways for learning languages?