On an unusually hot day in October many years ago, I was sipping coffee and walking towards a large building on Oxford road in Manchester, England. Above the front door to the building entrance there were three large imposing letters which stated 'BBC'.
I nervously approached the reception desk and told the receptionist that I had come to start a work placement. The lady on reception asked me to take a seat, and stated that someone would be coming and show me where I would be working.
As I sat down, I noticed people rushing around who looked important, and I considered all the celebrities who had worked for this company at one time or another. I then wondered how on earth I had managed to get a job at the British Broadcasting Corporation. I had no experience, and I had no relevant qualifications to qualify me to their service. So, what had I done right to get the job?
If you really want to test your skills in English, then applying for an English speaking job is the best place to start. Even for native English speakers the thought of applying for another job is nerve wracking. If you are not looking for a job but are curious as to how you would manage with the challenge of finding and getting an English speaking job, then this article may help you.
The purpose of this article is to help you think about the context of what you are saying in English. It is good to know lots of verbs and other vocabulary, but you also need to consider what information you are passing to the other person, and how much of it is relevant to them. This article will not only help you in your career but your English will also become clearer if you know what to say and how to say it.
Please note that this article is based on my own experience, and the experiences of other people. It is not guaranteed to help you get an English speaking job but it should increase your chances.
Is the stamp on straight?
For the moment, I would advise against sending resumes out with cover letters and filling in application forms without meeting someone in your target company who is in a position to help you.
Your personality and good looks will not stand out in a pile of application forms. I was also told by a friend who worked in recruitment that they would check if the stamps on envelopes were on straight. They explained that they received so many applications by post that they throw away many envelopes without even opening them. “If the stamp on the envelope is not on straight, then it tells me that the person who sent it is sloppy and takes no care in their work” explained my friend.
Rather than search for vacancies, choose a company that interests you and that you would like to work for. As an example, let's imagine that you are applying to work for a company as a photographer.
To approach the company initially, I would recommend calling them by phone. Consider carefully what you want to gain from your phone call and how you can get the other person to help you. Please read the following example dialogue and then consider where the applicant went wrong:
- Applicant: Hello, I am looking for a job as a photographer.
- Receptionist: I see, and how can I help you?
- Applicant: Is there a process for applying to your company for a job?
- Receptionist: Of course, if you look on our website it lists all our vacancies and you can post an application to us. Thank you for your call, goodbye.
- Applicant: Oh I see... yes, thank you. Goodbye.
The above phone call was pretty much a waste of time. The applicant will now send a paper form which may get him or her nowhere, and they didn't even get a chance to give the receptionist their name.
English conversation, like the English language, is at its most effective when it is unpredictable, surprising, and also funny. People in England are particularly easy to attract if you have something genuinely funny to say, and it will give them a break from the monotony of boring business talk. As an example, consider the following dialogue and see how a different approach can work magic:
- Applicant: Hello, my name is Frederick. I walked past your building yesterday and I was very impressed by the architecture.
- Receptionist: I see, well we recently had the upper floors renovated and there's an incredible view of the city from the top floor.
- Applicant: That sounds nice. I would like to see that. By the way, do you know how tall the building is in inches?
- Receptionist: I'm sorry, I really don't know. Why would you ask that?
- Applicant: Well, I am looking to make an exact replica of the building by using nothing except salted peanuts.
- Receptionist: You want to do what!
- Applicant: Sorry, I am only joking with you.
- Receptionist: Ha ha! That's a good one! I almost believed you for a second.
- Applicant: Actually, I'm a photographer and I really need a job.
- Receptionist: Well, I couldn't really help you with that. However, James Sinclair is our creative director but he's based in our Manhattan office. The best thing to do would be to write to him.
- Applicant: I see, I will do that. Would it be possible to visit the top floor of your offices? I would very much like to photograph the view of the city you described.
- Receptionist: Sure thing. My name is Jackie. Call in any time after 11am and I'll show you up to the top floor.
- Applicant: Thanks for all your help, Jackie. Goodbye.
By using a small amount of humour and expressing interest in what the other person had said, the applicant now has a contact name who may be able to help him, and he will get to visit one of the company's offices. The receptionist, Jackie, may also introduce Frederick to someone else who may be able to help him.
The elevator pitch
If you search the Internet for the term 'elevator pitch' it will suggest a time of between twenty to thirty seconds – the equivalent time an elevator usually travels for. The idea is that you have someone influential and able to help you in a confined space where you can sell yourself and your skills to a prospective employer. An elevator pitch does not necessarily need to take place in an elevator.
At one time, I was working abroad as an English teacher. A friend of mine wanted to work in the country as an engineer. Their plan was to visit for two weeks and find a job within that time. The first thing they did was to pay a recruitment company eight hundred dollars to help them find a job. Like many other similar companies, the recruitment agency knew that many people visiting them were only in the country for two weeks. This effectively meant the company did not have to do anything other than wait for the applicant to go back home. That way they could pocket eight hundred dollars without doing anything – which is exactly what they did to my friend.
My friend's next action was to visit the headquarters of construction companies. This also proved to be fruitless – many receptionists were unhelpful, did not give names of people who could help my friend, and usually tried to get rid of my friend as quickly as they could.
My friend's job search was now into its second and final week. They were very nervous, as they had spent eight hundred dollars on a useless recruitment agency and there had also been the cost of their flight and accommodation.
It was then that we discussed making an elevator pitch. There was a lot of construction going on in the city, surely it would be better to visit the construction sites and ask to speak to a project manager - or someone in the position to hire engineers? Before the week was over, my friend met a boss on a construction site and they now have a good job in a very sought after location.
To make your elevator pitch successful, you need to think carefully about what you will say and how you will appear.
To begin with, always dress to impress. Also check your body language: stand up straight, feet apart, face the person you are talking to and never fold your arms. Look the person in the eye, smile, and have a strong and firm handshake. You also need to write out your elevator pitch and practice saying it over and over again, and revise it where needed.
As an example, our character ‘Frederick’ has thirty seconds to sell himself to his contact James Sinclair. Frederick needs to consider what makes himself important and what has led up to this moment:
- Frederick: Hello, my name is Frederick. Are you James Sinclair?
- James: Yes, I am.
- Frederick: I recently visited your Chicago office. I took some photographs from the top floor of the building. Would you like to see them?
- James: I certainly would.
- Frederick: (opening his portfolio) I like to use sepia for landscape shots. I've been using it since I recently completed a diploma in photography at Wigan and Leigh College.
- James: I see. These are wonderful, Frederick. You have a great eye. Who are you working for now?
- Frederick: I've been working freelance since leaving college. Here are some photographs I recently sold to Carousel fashion magazine.
- James: Hmm... I think you should come to my office, Frederick. I have an assignment that might suit you.
We can see from the above example that Frederick had clearly thought out his elevator pitch. He offered James Sinclair photographs of a building that would obviously interest James. He was also able to mention that he had attended college to study photography. He also mentioned sepia to show James that he likes to experiment with his work. Notice that Frederick was able to give James Sinclair all the required information in under thirty seconds.
In the examples you have seen in this article, the most successful conversations revolved around context as well as discussing something of interest to the other person. In practicing your English, try to lengthen your conversations by keeping them in the context of where you are going and what you are doing.
Many English people struggle to make conversation with taxi drivers, and most taxi drivers are probably bored with the following two questions:
- What time do you work to?
- Do you prefer driving a cab at night?
There are so many more interesting questions you can ask. Let's place the conversation in the context of you returning to your home country. You could ask the following questions:
- I'm returning home to Thailand. Have you ever been there or tried our cuisine?
- When I lived in Singapore and the taxi drivers there were not allowed to haggle. Is it the same here?
Always be sure to listen carefully to other people, without interrupting them, and also keep your conversation in the context of the situation unless the other person changes it. Also try to consider what the other person might want to talk about, and try to guide the conversation to that subject if you can.
Never give up
In looking for a job or talking to other people, never ever give up. Three years ago I went for a job interview and did not get the job. I was very disappointed, and it would have been easy to forget about that company and move on. Instead I wrote to their HR department and asked if there would be any more interviews coming up soon for similar positions. The HR department passed my letter to the manager who had interviewed me. They then immediately contacted me and offered me a similar job with a better contract. I accepted the job and I have been working there happily ever since!
Hero image by Saulo Mohana on Unsplash