Job Interview Was Too Short? That’s Probably a Bad News for You.

Oleksandr Shelegéda, currently a controlling specialist in financial services, is our interviewee at One on One column today. Oleksandr has 7+ years of experience in finance and change management. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and interpreting in Kharkiv Technical University, Oleksandr continued his education and obtained a Master’s degree in Project Management. One of his most memorable experiences is working for OSCE observing missions. To learn more about him, visit Oleksandr’s LinkedIn page.

Rina: How long have you been studying English? When did you first realize that you can communicate in it fluently and well enough to be able to live and work in the English language environment?

Oleksandr: I set off on my way of learning English when I was 6 y.o. It was in a small town in the Western part of Ukraine, in a small school, and with a new teacher every couple of years. There was more fun than learning in it to me. Probably, the first time I started to believe that I could speak and understand English was on the day of 9.11.2001. On that day, one of the TV channels was going live without translation and I was interpreting all that to my family.

Rina: Can you recall your first job interview?

Oleksandr: I’ve been on interviews since my University times so I can’t remember the very one. My personal attitude towards interviews in general is that you should go there quite often, just in case. Even if your job is good and you don’t want to change it in the next year. Just try to analyze the information you get there. This skill will only come if you practice a lot.

Rina: Of all the interviews you have been through, what question do you always find the trickiest and the most difficult to answer?

Oleksandr: Once you’ve had enough experience, everything becomes normal for you. You should never be afraid of saying no or I don’t know during interviews. The hardest thing for me now is to keep myself from laughing when I hear some old fashioned questions, like Where do you see yourself in 5 years? or What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Rina: Have you ever had to answer absolutely unexpected questions that took you by surprise? How did you answer them?

Oleksandr: Sometimes recruiters would like to find a person with excellent knowledge of specific areas and they ask you questions out of your working field, like, What kinds of books for kids do you prefer? when you are applying to be an accountant.

Rina: Are you always nervous during the interviews? Does your emotional state during the interview affect your presentation in English? If yes, in what way? How do you prepare for your interviews every time when you get an appointment?

Oleksandr: I would say that it is normal to be a bit nervous before or even during interviews. To me, it really helps when I realize that I am also here to check how good is the company for me, and is it not only them who are in charge of the interview. Also, it always helps to think about possible ways of communication with interviewers beforehand. In this case, you will always have something to say and you won’t be scared.

Rina: How long do your interviews normally last? Do you feel more confident in the beginning or in the end of an interview?

Oleksandr: I would say that usually it takes from 30 to 60 min for a good interview. If it is too short, that’s probably a bad news for you. If it is too long, it may mean that the interviewers are nervous themselves or are unprepared, and then you can’t understand what are they looking for. You should probably forget about them and switch to other opportunities.

Rina: Can you remember any situations of using (not using) particular English words/phrases that influenced your communication with the interviewer? Were there any situations of misunderstanding because of misused words or mistakes made by you or by interviewers? Share any stories you can remember.

Oleksandr: It is always great when you know the necessary terminology in English. Sometimes it can also help when you give an explanation to the interviewers about a specific topic in order to sync with them. That helps in both ways – they can see that you know the topic, and you are not afraid that you are being wrong with your answers.

Rina: What is the best way to refresh your English communication skills before a job interview? How do you usually prepare for coming interviews? How much time does it usually take you?

Oleksandr: It is really hard to prepare yourself for this before the interview, especially when you have another job and the only time you have is a time for commuting between 2 locations. SO the only piece of advice here is to have a good rest on the night before the interview, and then to stay positive and fresh – that helps a lot.

Rina: Have you ever failed a job interview? If yes, what lesson(s) did you learn after it?

Oleksandr: It is not hard to receive a ‘no’ from recruiters. It is hard when they just ignore you and do not write back to you after the interview, not even a short message. Unfortunately, this may happen, so be prepared to send a note to them after some time if they don’t write back – and then, put them on your black list and try to forget about that interview, ASAP!

Sometimes, the recruiters provide you a feedback along with the rejection; it will help you to understand your weak points and to see what you need to learn for the future.

Rina: What kind of advice would you like to give to the young people who are about to have the first interviews of their lives?

Oleksandr: Lots of advice you can see above, so just to summarize a bit –

  • Don’t be too afraid;
  • Remember that you are going to that interview to take a look at the company and your potential manager;
  • Try to take some notes during interview, especially the names, and maybe some key questions;
  • Don’t be afraid to write back to them after a while if they never contacted you; and
  • Ask some questions, especially about general topics like their working atmosphere, their attitude towards working hours, and about payment, and about your possible colleagues and managers. This will help you make up your own opinion regarding the company.

Job Interview Tips: “Explain Why You Are Looking For a New Job”

Every time you face a hiring manager in a job interview, you should be prepared to answer questions about why you’re leaving your current job. The ‘trick’ of the question lies behind the hiring managers’ expectations: as often, they do not want to hear about your personal reasons for leaving your team or your lack of agreement with your direct boss. Rather than sharing about your problems and any negative experiences, you should build your answer around discussing the opportunities which this new position is going to open for you.

While the specifics of your answer will depend on whether you are leaving your current company voluntarily or were asked to leave, it’s very important to answer in a way that will work in your favor.

For example, you should never say that your boss is a tyrant or that your colleagues are not nice people. Even if all this is somewhat true, there is no sense or use in pointing this out in a job interview.

Instead of crafting a negative answer, simply highlight the reasons why you’re seeking the new position. For example, “I’m really looking forward to working in a collaborative environment. I do my best work as a team player.” That’s a much better and more positive response.

Your interviewers are not only interested to know about the reasons why you are looking for a new job; they also want to know why you are applying for this particular position in their company. They will also make mental notes when they hear how you speak of your current employer as a gauge to how you would speak to another employer about them. These are very important factors in the hiring decision, so it is critical that you answer this question appropriately.

There are a few mistakes that you should avoid during your interview.

1) Do not try to skip past this question with a vague answer.

2) Try not to show disdain for your duties or your current company.

3) Even if you have personal reasons closely tied to why you are leaving, do not lead with them.

4) Do not try to appear overly saddened to be planning to leave your current position; this can be a bit confusing and come off as deceitful.

The last thing you want to do is leave any doubt in the interviewer’s mind that you have fully thought through your decision to leave your current position.

A Talk About Languages: An Interview with SinDe Barnwell

SinDeBarnwellSinDe Barnwell, a retired physicist, devoted decades of her life to science. An American by birth, she lived for a while in the UK, where she got acquainted with the British version of English. During her life, SinDe used to travel a lot and got familiar with a number of foreign languages and cultures. Now, SinDe lives in Tennessee, USA, and enjoys painting, writing fiction and interviewing creative people for her blog. To read more about SinDe, please scroll down to her bio passage below the interview.

Rina: It is not a secret to anyone that many of the world’s best communicators are the people of science (remember Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, Bill Nye and many others). Scientists are very observant, and so, they often notice the things that ordinary people  take for granted and simply pass by. My questions today will be mainly about human communication; more precisely, about the ways people behave when they have to speak foreign languages in order to understand each other. In this connection, my first question to you will be about the importance of knowing the language of a country which you are visiting. Let me begin with an example. An American once told me in a private talk that he truly believed that all immigrants arriving to the USA without knowing English were fools.

SinDe: OUCH! That hurts!

Rina: Yes, this is true. He believed that, being unable to speak the state language of a country, one is unable to find a decent job and therefore, unable to set up normal life.

SinDe: Of course, each of us needs to expand our knowledge of languages. As Americans it is our obligation to the world to learn a few languages and not be so arrogant.

I once turned in a physics paper written in English to a German lab. The gentleman explained to me that the English language may be accepted everywhere else, just not in his German lab. From that day forward, I have turned in work in both English and the native language, not so much because it was expected (most often it wasn’t), but as a courtesy and to show respect for the people I worked with.

Rina: How often do you hear English spoken by foreigners? What is your first reaction to the mistakes they make?

SinDe: I quite often hear English spoken by foreigners. My first reaction is to try to understand what they are meaning to say. Often I will repeat to them what I am hearing and what I think they are meaning to say.

Often my reaction depends on my relationship with the person. If it is a friend, I often correct their error in speech and then explain what they originally said means to Americans. Occasionally, we laugh at our errors (going both ways) when we realize what we have actually said versus what we intended to convey.

Rina: If you note that a native speaker of English makes a mistake, what is your first reaction? Is it similar to that of the one you have when foreigners make mistakes?

SinDe: My reaction to a native speaker of English depends on the person and the situation. If it is a young child, I will usually correct his wording, particularly as it relates to verb tense or pronunciation of a new vocabulary word.

If I hear a teenager using incorrect grammar, depending on the familiarity with the teen, I may or may not correct the grammar. If I hear an older person using a word incorrectly, especially verb tense, I ordinarily bite my tongue, shudder, and accept it. With older adults I often consider they have been using a word or saying a word incorrectly all their lives and suggesting an alternative word or the correct verb tense will offend them. In daily life, I let it go. If it relates to business or matters of importance I may ask them to clarify what they have said.

Rina: You mentioned once that you’d had some experience of living in Great Britain. Can you share about your most exciting experiences related to the differences between the US and British accents? Can you remember any funny, exciting or a bit embarrassing stories?

SinDe: A story of my first day in England which I shared on my website comes to mind first:

It all happened in 1978 on my first trip abroad and hence, my first trip to the UK… My employer had several positions available in Europe, I chose England. My reasoning was sound… I speak English… , there would be no language barrier in the workplace.

I hopped a plane, flew across the ocean, and landed at Gatwick Airport… My soon to be employer sent a driver, Colin, to retrieve us from Gatwick Airport and deliver us to the Savoy Hotel.

Colin was tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, and about my age. To top it off, he had one of those sexy British accents that could charm the pants off almost any American girl… He checked us in at the Savoy and saw us to our rooms.

My employer had planned a “meet and greet” dinner for 7:00 p.m., so when Colin was about to leave, he announced, “Get some rest if you can. The dinner is at seven so to ensure we have plenty of time, I will knock you up at six.”

I can smile now, but I have to say, in that instant I looked like the naive, untraveled southern girl that I was. And, that’s when I learned English really is my second language.

Getting “knocked up” in England is having someone “knock on your door.” In America, if someone knocks one up, he gets you pregnant.

Here is another example. At a dinner in England, I once asked a server to please get me a napkin. Mine had slipped from my lap onto the floor. He was absolutely shocked. In UK, a napkin is a sanitary “napkin” or Kotex used by a woman during her menstrual cycle. In the US, a napkin is a “serviette” or a thin paper with which one wipes her mouth while eating.

And one more story: Once I was attending a formal dance in England, enjoying all the people doing all sorts of dances when I asked my escort for the night if he “shagged” only to be totally embarrassed. Along the southeastern coast of the U.S. “the shag” is a dance. In England, shagging is having sexual intercourse.

(Learn about American shag dance)

I could go on and on with my errors in speech, but these are a few that stand out in my mind.

Rina: What do you think about the fact that very few Americans can speak foreign languages? What do you think about the role of learning (or knowing) a foreign language in a life of a person?

SinDe: I am absolutely embarrassed at and horrified by our American arrogance when it comes to learning languages. I am fluent in speaking none but can stumble my way through a few of the social amenities. I can read several languages sufficiently to understand what I am reading with clarity, but have had little opportunity to learn speech.

I make it a practice to learn to say a proper greeting in the language of foreign persons with whom I come in contact, just as I make it a practice to learn and remember names. A name is special recognition of a person, giving him an identity unique to himself. Learning a few words of greeting in another’s native language shows respect and caring for that person. As such I attempt to learn a few words of greeting. Saying “hello” and “it’s nice to meet you” or “How are you?” in the person’s native language is easy enough to learn and often brings a smile.

Rina: Can you remember any situations of misunderstanding that happened because someone (or you) misused some words or phrases? Something that was funny or unusual and made you learn something new about the English language or communication in general?

SinDe: My husband once asked our Spanish speaking housekeeper for “gateau” meaning cake in French. (We were practicing our French lessons.) She stared at him in disbelief. She heard “gato” meaning cat and we already had six.

Rina: What aspect of English seemed most difficult to you when you studied it at school?

SinDe: English is a most difficult language, I think, unless you are a native speaker. Grammar and spelling rules abound, but there are so many exceptions that sometimes it seems overwhelming.

My parents were very strict about grammar and education, in general. My mother had no hesitation when it came to “correcting” my grammar, and particularly my pronunciation. As a southerner in the U.S., our use of grammar and our pronunciations are very regional. For example, if you are attempting to say “you all” to include everyone. (i.e. “You all are welcomed to come to our party” in the south would sound like “y’all are welcomed…” and is pronounced “yawl” which is a sailboat.) In the northeast, especially the New Jersey area, one would hear “you guys” instead of “you all.” It is pronounced “use guys.”

Written words often have difficult spellings and occasionally are not read phonetically.

Most of my problems in understanding English are due to regional dialects. The U.S. is a large country and our pronunciations vary by region, often making it more difficult for a non-native speaker. For example, in the southeast a Pepsi-Cola or a Coca-Cola is referred to as a “soda” while in the middle of the country it may be referred to as a “pop” and in other parts of the country as a “drink.” In the southeast, if someone asks if one would like a drink, he is probably referring to an alcoholic beverage rather than a Coke or Pepsi.

While American English is far different from British English, the diversity of language and usage is just a varied within the U.S.

Rina: What in your opinion can help learners of English improve their speaking skills?

SinDe: Immersion in the language. When I attempted to learn a few words of Italian, I moved in with an Italian family for a week. No one was allowed even one word of English. After a week, I could get around in Italy, ask a few questions and understand the answers sufficiently to be comfortable and not too confused.

I would suggest that immersion helps avoid translation, which I find to be a hindrance to understanding the language and the intention of the spoken word. Words do not translate as precisely as we may like. Often, in conversation one may say the exact translated words but miss the intention or meaning.

In our high schools (last four years of school before university) we are “taught” conversational languages. I learned a few words that helped in my life after university, but mostly I learned to ask questions like “where is the train station?” Unfortunately, when a native French speaker gave me instructions to the train station, I didn’t understand a single word.

I would also suggest that reading and writing, and speaking are two separate activities. As you know, I could learn a few words of Russian in the spoken language, but not be able to read a single word (in this case due to different alphabet)

Given enough time, watching foreign movies with subtitles in the foreign language can be helpful. One can hear the words, as naturally spoken with accent, and see the written words in the same language. However one chooses to learn a language, I believe it is best to listen to the cadence and rhythm of the native speakers to learn the phrases and intonation. Situational learning rather than trying to learn words in translation seems to be the quicker method for me. Learn to laugh at your mistakes. Correct them. And, keep trying.

Rina: What is the relationship between being intelligent (reading a lot) and being able to speak foreign languages? Can regular reading help one to speak a language better?

SinDe: Yes and no. I am reminded of my mother who always said, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Personally, I have had my best successes tackling the spoken language first. For example. My neighbor’s last name is “Tucci.”

As a native English American speaker, many (probably most) Americans would pronounce her last name as “to-see.” But, having heard so much Italian spoken I had learned that “cci” or “ci” is pronounced “chee.” Hence, “to-chee”.

Reading her name would not have helped with the pronunciation. Having heard the words first, I was able to recognize the written words. And with that base knowledge of “ci” I could use it to help with other pronunciations.

That said, once a spoken base is established, reading only enhances the vocabulary and usage. Recently, I read Madame Bovary in French. My spoken French has withered, but my reading skills have not. It was a most enjoyable read. So, yes, reading can help enhance one’s understanding of a language and build vocabulary, form and usage, but I firmly believe a base level of speech (and hearing) is necessary.

I also subscribe to several European magazines in the native languages. With pictures and words I can usually get a pretty good idea of the content. I also have quite a few friends who are non-native English speakers. I do not hesitate to ask for help and instruction.

Rina: If it was in your power to set a rule for all people of the world to speak one and the same language, which language would you select as a common language for all mankind? Why?

SinDe: Based on my limited knowledge of world languages, I would probably choose French or another romance language. I like the French rules of grammar. Of course, they seem so simple after having been brought up as a native English speaker. And, far more consistent.

French has a softer sound than English, German, Russian. Occasionally, I think the sounds play so much into our interpretations of intent. The guttural languages sound harsher.

While it will forever be impossible for the world to speak a single language, in my opinion, it would be my wish that every person on Earth learn his or her language proficiently and then learn a second language, and maybe a third.

Rina: What would you recommend to all learners of English who intend to come to your country for a long term of stay (study, work, marriage, etc.) as a way to adapt to the US lifestyle?

SinDe: Learn the basics of speech and learn as many idioms as possible. Americans talk in idioms that have stood the test of time, not necessarily slang.

Watch movies in English with subtitles, over and over again. One can pick up much from hearing and seeing simultaneously, as well as gain an overview of American life. (But, choose the movies carefully.)

Find a mentor or a teacher and be open to learning. Learn to laugh at the mistakes. They will happen. Do not be offended if corrected. Use corrections as learning experiences. When in doubt ask a trusted person how to say a new phrase. And, with a solid base, read, read, read.


SinDe Barnwell about herself:

Education: I have a Ph.D. in physics, emphasis on particle physics, worked in labs in the US and UK, and have traveled extensively lecturing (in English) and participating in seminars and research.

Background: My parents were not university educated. In fact, my father did not graduate from high school but he was one of the smartest people I have ever known. He understood people and taught me to respect every human being as a special person of great worth. He encouraged me to pursue the sciences and maths when it was not readily acceptable for “girls.” To balance my “nerd” tendencies, he often took me to community kitchens or to the less desirable neighborhoods to help those who may have been less fortunate. I have written a couple of essays on my website about a few of my experiences with my father. He always told me that all men (and women) can teach you something and to never overlook or look down upon any person. From my father I learned humility and empathy.

I volunteered in Liberia during my summer holidays working with AIDS patients. That was a life changing experience that I have never forgotten. Today, as a retired senior citizen (age 70) I try to volunteer locally as much as possible.

I make jewelry and dabble with writing and painting as hobbies. Perhaps, as I get older I most enjoy interviewing artists and authors in an effort to learn from them. There is always something to learn.

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