Working With the Spanish Language

Learning Spanish is a Lifetime Effort

For many years I’ve been using my Spanish on the job, and even received bilingual pay. Unlike your average bilingual person at work, I’m not a native Spanish-speaker, nor did I have years of classroom training. I am self-taught out of a book and flash cards. Today, as a workforce development professional, I’ve conducted counseling sessions in Spanish and even taught a couple of job search workshops.

In prior job searches, I’ve been interviewed in both English and Spanish. I’ll never forget the day, I was interviewed for a position with a prominent San Francisco vocational service. The department manager was impressed that my résumé mentioned my Spanish language experience. When I returned for a second interview, there were two (not one, but two) native Spanish-speakers waiting for me in the interview room. I told them, in Spanish, that I speak better Spanish with those who cannot speak English, and added that bilingual people make me so nervous to the point that I forget simple words. They were so pleased that my response had such a good accent with proper grammar that they let me off the hook by conducting the rest of the interview was in English.

Each year, I spend my vacations (three weeks at a time) in one or more Latin-American countries; mostly in Perú, my home away from home. My primary reason for Latin-American travel, other than exposing myself to black Latino culture, is to be totally immersed in the Spanish language so I can get better at it. Although I’m far from fluent. I’m still learning. In fact, the more Spanish I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. I’m a subscriber to Transparent Language and where I get daily e-mails containing the word-of-the-day and have found them very helpful. In addition, I listen to a lot of Spanish music, mostly salsa and bachata, some Afro-Cuban, some Afro-Peruvian, and sing along when I can.


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From the Homeless Shelter to the Executive Suite

If you’ve seen the movie, The Pursuit of Happiness starring Will Smith, you know it is based  on a true story. I have never met Will or the character he portrayed personally, but I have been fortunate enough to meet someone in a similar situation in my own line of work as a workforce development specialist.

A case manager at the agency where I was working, referred Ruben T to my office for career services in our Opportunities Project. I picked up the phone and called his number, and as I heard his outgoing voice-mail message, I asked myself, what the heck does he need with my services? He sounded extremely professional and upper-class. When we finally met, I learned that he was a former executive who simply fell on hard times and ended up on the street before a well-organizing shelter took him in and gave him the chance to put his life back together.

All he needed from me were objective points of views from a fellow professional to help him determine how to pursue his professional goals. It was only after a couple of months of weekly consultations when he began to find his way. Ruben marketed himself into business management position of an educational institution in San Francisco. After more than two years with this institution, and as of this writing, he is negotiating for an executive position that will put him well into the six-figure category.

Although I felt good about the letters Ruben wrote to my superiors giving me the glory for his success, I want to tell it like it is; it was his motivation, self-determination, and our teamwork that did the trick. It is this type of teamwork that I seek with all of my clients.

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Get With it & Get Connected!

Just six months after I was hired by my last company, I received a high-performance recognition award at a departmental staff meeting. For the next three to four years since that pleasant surprise, my performance level continued to rise and expand to the point where I began feeling that my job, perhaps, was more secure than the next employee. Big mistake! One day, without warning, and no prior disciplinary issues, I was called into the director’s office, and it was hasta la vista, baby! I was literally taken out with my final check and severance pay-agreement in my pocket.

I’m sure that you all know that this is not an unusual occurrence these days. It can certainly happen to just about anyone at any time. A friend said to me over the phone, “gee Bill, you seem pretty calm about it!” That’s because I’m confident of finding an even better job because there are three things working in my favor:

1) I’m a certified professional résumé writer, which will help me get my foot in the door more so than the average job seeker.
2) I consider my interviewing skills to be on the same level as Muhammad Ali’s boxing skills; I can “stick and move” against the toughest of interview questions. I’ve been teaching job search techniques to clients in various agencies and career centers for more than 10 years. Now, it is time for me to practice what I preach. I’ve done it before, and it only made me an even better counselor because there is never a more powerful message than a personal testimony.
3) There is a major tool that I’ve been shaping and sharpening for the last four years just in case a day, like fateful one I encountered in should inadvertently arise. That tool is LinkedIn.

To date, I have close to 700 connections who themselves have connections of their own, ranging from 10 to over 1000, which automatically puts me into a network consisting of 12,730,694 professionals as of the date of this writing, April 19, 2012.

I remember discussing LinkedIn with my hometown friend Anthony, an MBA, who is not the least bit convinced that LinkedIn is worth his while. After all, he already has a large personal network of friends and business associates in his industry. This, I feel, is commendable because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (or the BLS) tells us that 85% of all jobs are found through some form of personal contact. What the BLS doesn’t tell us is that that number, 85%, swells into the 90s during tough economic times. With a LinkedIn account, Anthony’s large, personal network of friends and business associates in his industry can be magnified 10-20 times because LinkedIn is a 24/7 operation. It works while you are asleep. My advice to Anthony is to get with it and get connected.

Over the last few years, employers have been flocking to LinkedIn in droves observing and seeking potential job candidates. According to a 2008 CNN report, people with complete LinkedIn profiles are getting the highest response rate when applying for jobs through traditional channels.

I myself am using LinkedIn to sort out companies who can best use the skills I do well and enjoy most as I gather information about them that can potentially make me a more a credible and convincing candidate when a position does comes open. When I’m called for an interview, I make it a practice to try to get the names of the people who are going to be interviewing me, and look up their LinkedIn profiles to get clues on how I might be able to better establish rapport. I attempt to find the profiles of people who once held the position for which I will be interviewing to get a better picture of the background they are looking for, and weave that information in my interview strategy.

It amazes me when I meet job seekers with LinkedIn accounts who are totally inactive. A fellow workforce development professional was telling me about a client who has not used her LinkedIn account in months. When this client finally logged back on, through encouragement from her counselor, there were six recruiters who have been trying to get hold of her through a LinkedIn feature called InMail. Now this client had the embarrassing and useless task, I may add, of trying to turn back the clock and connect with those recruiters.

It behooves all of us, who are LinkedIn users, to keep abreast of what is going on with our accounts as we continue to build and expand on our networks because we never know where that may lead down the road. Even if you are gainfully employed and are not in the job-search mode right now, I can tell you from personal experience, right now is the best the time to start shaping and sharpening your LinkedIn tool because when the time does come when you need to look for another job, or seek a better one, you will be ready for action. So, get with it and get connected!

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What a Powerful Résumé Does

Your résumé has less than 30 seconds to make an impression once it is in an employer’s hands. You want your résumé to quickly communicate how your background matches the position that he/she is trying to fill. The easier you make it for employers to see what you bring to the position, the more interviews you will get in a shorter period of time.

Let’s not forget that job hunting is a matchmaking game. The more you articulate a match, orally and in writing, the better your chances of getting a job offer. Until you get that offer, you want to focus your communication on how you employers’ needs; not yours.

I’ve found from personal experience, and that of my clients, that it is best to avoid generic résumé and tailor your résumé (and cover letter) directly to each specific position of which you are interested. This means studying the job description and matching your background with that job description. This is a lot of work but you will get a lot more interviews.

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Parolee Takes Bite Out of Crime: He Finds Work!

One of my proudest success stories in workforce development was when the Oakland Private Industry Council, where I was working as a counselor, received a letter from *Simon, an inmate in Solano State Prison. He was soon to be released and was anxious to get his life back together with a career that would enhance his talents and prior work experience. Upon release from prison, Simon vigorously followed up on the initiative and motivation he articulated in his letter.

After attending the Parolee Project orientation and assessment, he completed anger management and an accounting training program earning a GPA of 3.75. I used my professional résumé writing experience to beef up his résumé with some life experience that was directly related to his career. After only one month, Simon obtained employment in his field. Within only three months, he received another offer to work as an assistant accountant with a reputable utility company earning a considerably higher salary; an offer he cheerfully accepted.

As a counselor, I never ask ex-offenders the nature of their crime for I believe that is between them and their parole officers. My role is to build client confidence, help overcome barriers to employment, and compete successfully in a competitive job market. As a result of Simon’s success, he is one less criminal on the streets as he himself took a bite out of crime by improving his life and finding work.

*The name was changed for the purpose of confidentiality

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My Career & The Spanish Language

I was being interviewed for an employment specialist position at a prominent agency in San Francisco, and passed the interview with flying colors. Being that I’m so passionate about the Spanish language and proud of the fact that I’m self taught, I made it a point to emphasize my experience working with Spanish speakers and my travels to nine Latin American countries. The job announcement itself stated that the ability to speak Spanish is a plus. Sure, I had Spanish in school, but like anything in life, the classroom is no match for the real world. I once had a supervisor who minored in Spanish in college, and was so surprised when she asked me to help her with her Spanish. The difference between her progress and mine was that I made it a point to seize every opportunity to converse with monolingual Spanish speakers outside the classroom.

Just How Fluent Am I?

When I returned for my second interview, I was very confident like I am in every interview. However, this time, there were two Latino managers waiting for me. That made me unusually nervous because I knew my Spanish was going to be tested. Fortunately, the two interviewers spent almost the whole interview in English until they were satisfied that I was a good match for the open position. Then one asked me a question in Spanish. For the first time in my working life, I started stumbling over my words as I attempted to respond in Spanish. Finally, I just let it all hang out and said the following:

Hay un problema. Yo hablo mejor español con la gente que habla solo español y nada de inglés, cuando yo hablo con la gente como tú, yo me pongo muy nervioso.

There is a problem. I speak better Spanish with people who speak only Spanish and no English. When I talk to people like you (who are bilingual), I get very nervous.

They both laughed and commented how fine my Spanish sounded, and not to worry. What I said to them was very true. I do find it difficult to speak Spanish to bilingual Spanish/English people even after having several years of experience working with those who speak only Spanish or very little English, including writing résumés and teaching workshops. I’ve even received warm comments from Spanish-speaking colleagues, orally and in writing, on how pleased the Spanish-speaking clients were with my services. Most people I work with, including clients, think that I’m more fluent in Spanish than I really am.

To date, I’ve traveled to nine Latin-American
countries to improve my Spanish.

Does this mean that I’m fluent? This is a question I’m often asked in job interviews. In all honesty, I am far from fluent. I always put on my résumé, English-Spanish communication, and never bi-lingual. In  regards to the Spanish-speaking workshops I taught, I simply wrote the material in Spanish, had it edited by a Colombian immigrant, and rehearsed it many times before actually giving the presentations.

When I apply for positions where the use of Spanish will be an asset, I want the employer to know that I’m functional enough in the language to make conversation, conduct some business in banks and shopping centers, but most importantly, do my job as an employment specialist.

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Employers Hire People Not Paper!

It was a Thursday afternoon when I volunteered to cover the front for our receptionist who happened to be away. Samantha (not her real name) came in to see her case manager. When I finished notifying the case manager that her client has arrived, Samantha asked me, “You’re Bill Smith, right?” With a smile, I said, “yes and you are…? Because I see hundreds of clients during the course of a year, unfortunately, I don’t remember everyone. She said, “you did my résumé last year and it got me a job in the financial district.

Although, I was excited to hear the good news about her success, and expressed my gratitude for the reminder, I had to give credit where credit is due. The résumé I wrote for her simply got her foot in the door. It made employers want to meet her in person. I reminded her that it was her that it was she and her overall presentation that got her the job and that she should be very proud.

As a workforce development professional, it is my duty to build confidence in job seekers them how to market themselves in a competitive job market without overlooking those transferable skills and experience developed from simply living and surviving in this world.

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