Nobody's Perfect Hilfe, ich habe die Bewerbung vergeigt!

Fast alles lief rund bei der Bewerbung in London, wären da nur nicht diese Zweifel: Die Briten hörten bestimmt den Deutschen bei manchen Sätzen böse stolpern. Ist das schlimm? Ian McMaster, Chefredakteur des Sprachmagazins "Business Spotlight", gibt Entwarnung - and now let's switch to English.

Interview in London: You want to know the real reason why you didn't get that job?

Interview in London: You want to know the real reason why you didn't get that job?

You are relaxing at home in Germany on a Sunday afternoon, thinking about the job interview you had a week earlier. You applied for the position of international marketing manager at a media company in London. It seemed like your dream job because they specifically wanted a native German-speaker who is fluent in English.

You have a good feeling about the interview as you lie on the sofa reading the latest novel by John Grisham, your favourite author. Both of the people who interviewed you -- the company CEO and the head of personnel -- seemed to like you. And you liked them, too.

Although your qualifications and previous job experience didn't exactly meet the requirements of the company, you are confident that you will progress to the second round of interviews ten days from now. After all, nobody's perfect, are they?

You don't want to be overconfident, but as you go to sleep that night, something tells you that the company will contact you the next day, probably by phone, to arrange your next interview.

Oops, you mixed up your verbs. How stupid!

And the company does indeed contact you on Monday. Not by phone, however, but via a good old-fashioned letter. "Thank you for your visit to our office in London last week," it begins. You still haven't understood -- not until you read the sentence that begins, "We regret to inform you that..."

Once you recover from the shock, things slowly start to make sense. Although there didn't seem to be any communication problems during the interview, your English clearly wasn't good enough. You begin to remember some of the things you said:

  • "When I have been the marketing manager in Hamburg between 2005 and 2007, sales have increased by 20 per cent."
  • "I am in my current job since three years."
  • "I am reporting directly to the chief."

That's the only possible explanation for your failure, you are sure -- the fact that you mixed up your verbs and used the false friend "chief" (Häuptling), instead of "boss" or, better, "chief executive". How stupid! You know you should have said, "When I was the marketing manager in Hamburg between 2005 and 2007, sales increased by 20 per cent", and "I have been in my current job for three years". No wonder you didn't get through to the next round!

Well, you can believe that explanation if you want to. But I don't buy it for a second. In fact, I don't believe anyone ever lost a job as a result of such language mistakes -- unless, perhaps, they were applying for a position as professor of English or a language editor at a publishing house.

In one important respect, however, you were right. Nobody is perfect. And that is both the title and the message of this new column. You see, perfect English is not essential for success in international business -- whether in job interviews or other typical situations, such as meetings or negotiations.

Don't worry too much about language mistakes

I'm not saying that it isn't important to learn English as well as possible. What I'm saying is that the most effective international communicators are not necessarily those with perfect language skills. (Native English speakers, for example, are often poor international communicators.) Other qualities, such as good listening skills, or the ability to build rapport and influence people, often play a much more significant role.

Over the coming months, we'll be looking at how you can become a more effective communicator -- but without being perfect either in English or in your behaviour.

I'll also tell you about some of the people who impressed me most in job interviews over the past 25 years, even though they broke many of the standard rules you will find in textbooks.

Ah, but you still want to know the real reason why you didn't get that job? Simple. You didn't convince the interviewers that you were the right person.

Sure, you talked about how long you had been in your job, who you report to, and how sales had increased between 2005 and 2007. But you gave them no idea of your own achievements. What did you actually do? Which goals did you reach? And what could you do for the new company?

Leaving out such points is a common mistake, both in job applications and job interviews. So, rather than worrying too much about your verb forms, start thinking more about the impact you are making on other people. In the next column, we'll find out how a former US President can help you here -- and he certainly wasn't perfect.

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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