Nobody's Perfect Lieber ein Zauberer als ein Zauderer

Treffen sich ein Ami, ein Brite und ein Deutscher... Auf Vorurteile sollte bei Bewerbungen besser niemand bauen, warnt Ian McMaster. Der Chefredakteur des Sprachmagazins "Business Spotlight" sucht magische Momente und hat auch Tipps für Kandidaten bei US-Firmen - and now let's switch to English.

Magier bei der Arbeit: "Create a magical atmosphere"

Magier bei der Arbeit: "Create a magical atmosphere"

In the last column, we received tips about job applications from a magician and a former American president.

The lesson from both of them was the same: give the company you are applying to what it wants. If applicants would only remember this simple message -- both in their written applications and at job interviews -- everyone's life would be easier.

Let's stay with the topics of magic and Americans by imagining that you are applying for a job with a US company, either here or in the United States.

I have just finished an excellent book by two neuroscientists who work in Phoenix, Arizona. In "Sleights of Mind: What the neuroscience of magic reveals about our brains", Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde note that a key part of a magician's act is to build a relationship with their audience via their words or "patter".

This "rapport" encourages the audience to believe the magician. And that's your goal in any job interview: to create a magical atmosphere in which the interviewer believes you and, ultimately, can't resist you.

All you want is practical tips? Okay then...

Sounds wonderful, you say. But what about some advice about how to write a job application to make sure you get to an interview with a US company?

Oh, how disappointing! Here I am trying to conjure up a magical atmosphere and all you want is practical tips. OK, well, here are some concrete points:

  • Many people in the US start their résumé (the US term for curriculum vitae) with a short (30-40 word) "executive summary" of their experience and career goals.
  • You do not need to include a photograph, details of your age, marital status, religion, nationality, parents etc.
  • It is typical to use the "reverse chronology" order for your résumé, starting with your most recent job experience. Alternatively, a "functional" résumé is divided up into your areas of skills and experience ("sales", "customer service", "technical skills" etc.). This can be particularly helpful if you have worked in many different areas.
  • You do not need to include testimonials from each past employer, although if you have one that is exceptionally impressive, it won't harm you (translated correctly into English, of course).
  • Instead, it is normal, as in Britain, simply to put "references available on request", meaning that, if the company is interested in working with you, you will name "referees" (people who be contacted for information about you).
  • You could, however, include short "endorsements" -- quotes from people about your work: "Jana was the most innovative marketing manager I have worked with over the past 20 years. She is an excellent leader and a model employee."
  • Larger companies will often scan résumés electronically for "keywords" that show you have the relevant qualifications and experience. Make sure that relevant words appear often in your résumé.
  • Most US firms want job applications sent by email, not post, but check beforehand.
  • Address a woman in an email or letter with the neutral title "Ms.".
  • The typical US ending for your covering letter or ending is "Sincerely".

One excellent book that covers points such as these is, interestingly, called "Résumé Magic" by American career expert Susan Brittan Whitcomb.

Guess which interviewer had which view?

And a touch of magic, as I said, is what you'll need if you get to the interview stage. In particular, you'll need to respond to the individual personalities of the people interviewing you. Think about this scenario, based on a true situation:

A Scottish woman is being interviewed by a British person, an American person and a German person. The applicant is very direct in her presentation style, confident to the point of arrogance. She makes clear that she thinks she is the best candidate for the job. One of the interviewers clearly doesn't like this style. One reacted positively and wants to employ her immediately. And the third interviewer is not sure. Which interviewer had which view?

If you said that the American interviewer liked the direct, confident, style, I'm afraid you're wrong. That may be the cultural cliché of outgoing Americans, but it does't apply to everyone. Well, then, it must have been the German -- after all, Germans are direct, aren't they? Oops, wrong again. In fact, it was the Brit who was immediately convinced.

And my point? When applying to American firms, of course it makes sense to find out about normal ways of doing business, writing job applications etc. But don't become a slave to cultural clichés.

Instead, remember that, if you get to an interview, you'll be talking to people, not "Americans". Or to misquote John F. Kennedy: "React not to the nationality, react to the person" (who in the US, could have any of a number of ethnic and cultural backgrounds).

So no, you don't need to be perfectly American in your application, but you do need to create that bit of magic.

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur des Sprachmagazins "Business Spotlight", das alle zwei Monate erscheint. Er ist Brite, lebt seit 1989 in München und hat ein Vierteljahrhundert Erfahrung im Umgang mit Bewerbungen. McMaster ist ausgebildeter Lehrer für Wirtschafts-Englisch und Koautor des neuen Buches "Communicating Internationally in English".

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