When You Don’t Know What Language the Job Interview Will Be in

So you speak several foreign languages, and you are applying for multilingual jobs based in different countries, aren’t you?
But what if the region you pick is already multilingual itself?

How do you make sure about the language the interviewer will pick to run the job interview, especially within large companies, where you might not even know who your interviewer will be?
The above situation happened to me as I started working as a self-employed consultant for multilingualism.
Like anyone else starting their own business, I still needed to pay my bills, so I applied for a part-time job as a university lecturer for Italian.

This was in Villach, a city of the Carinthia region, in south-west Austria.
Carinthia is a unique land hosting the borders of as many as three countries (Italy, Austria and Slovenia).
Multilingualism is a big deal and also a big issue, there.

Because of historical and political reasons, Italian and Slovenian are being taught in most schools and kindergarten, but still many people grow up bilingual Italian-German or Slovenian-German. Some international companies welcome employees from all over the world, and an International School and an International Kindergarten exist, as well as a Carinthian International Club.

The college that received my application mostly offer classes in German, although many courses run in English, too. By getting that job, I would be teaching Italian in the context of an international course, where foreign people may also have basic or poor skills in German and English.

Still, being the university an Austrian one, I also needed a perfect level German, as well as to demonstrate my level of Italian, because being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher!

I am multilingual and I didn’t know which language the job interview would be in, so, you may wonder, why not to ask?
But you know, asking would just ruin the fun in such a situation 😉
So, here are my 10 tips to get prepared for a job interview when you actually don’t know which language the job interview will be in (and just in case you were wondering, yes, I eventually got that university lecturer job! 😉 )

1: Prepare your CV in all the languages
Do not take for granted that everybody speaks English. Let a native speaker friend or colleague have a look at your resume in each language, as it has to be perfect!

2: Prepare the presentation in all the languages
This means you need to be able to present yourself, your education, your experience and what makes you a perfect candidate for that job in all the languages you know. And you’ll also need to consider intercultural issues!

3: Do not take your first language for granted
Be prepared to demonstrate an excellent of your mother tongue as well. And if you are used to speaking different languages on a regular basis, you’ll know that sometimes it could be tricky to find a word in your first language because you’re probably thinking in another language. And sometimes it sounds like you forget words and expressions in your mother tongue, especially in stressful situations. Do not worry, this is normal for multilingual people, but be aware of that!

4: Research all the vocabulary you need prior the job interview
And be prepared to use it in all the languages you speak, because if the interviewer only speaks one language, you will have to give up the code switching. So, make the effort and prepare yourself well.

5: Create a multilingual glossary
Using categories will help you memorise new words. You can, for example, create a category for your education (What was the name of that particular technical course you attended in Germany a few years ago? What were the key points?), a category for your job experience and so on.

6: Study your presentation well
And gain self-confidence!

7: Each room a language!
If you can’t switch language easily, then try what I did. I walked in my apartment changing language every time I stepped in a different room. So the kitchen was Italian (what else? ;-), the living room was English and the office room was German, and I would only speak the language belonging to the room I was sitting in! I know this sounds weird but it helped me stay concentrated. After a bit of practice, you’ll get able to switch from a language to the other easily.

8: A very important one
Don’t get depressed if you’re mixing the languages, it is normal! Just try again and again until you master code switching like a professional, without hesitations and without the need to translate every single thought in your head.

9: Be proud of yourself!
Remember that not many people can do what you are doing, so be proud of yourself!

10: Stay calm and let it be 😉

The Shortlisted Karin Martin

6 Responses

  1. Avatar

    Quite right. As for the rooms trick, I noticed it is a common trait to many people to assign places to concepts.

    As for me, being the ‘engineer’, my four languages are in boxes. In order to use one language, it helps me a lot to picture in my mind the image of closing the language that I am using at the moment into a box, put it on a shelf, take the other box with the language I want from the shelf, and open it. I know it sounds silly, but I can hear the noises of the action and something clicking inside my head.

    Also, an acquaintance of mine used to memorise speeches by assigning sections of the speech to landmarks on a route he knew very well. He would then follow the route and deliver the speech, and he was able to rewind and go forward at leisure.

    Our brain is indeed a weird place 😉

    • Karin

      Yes, Lorenzo, you right! Our brain is not only weird, it is absolutely fascinating! 😉 Even more fascinating is the way we memorize and learn things. Have a look at the book by Henning Beck “Irren ist nützlich: Warum die Schwächen des Gehirns unsere Stärken sind”, I’ve just attented his lecture: great stuff!! 😉

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