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Internationals: Check this out [#permalink]
19 Nov 2007, 15:26
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Despite the current high demand for M.B.A. graduates, many international students still struggle to get a job offer -- or even an interview. At [UNC] Kenan-Flagler, for instance, only about 40% of the recruiters will meet with foreign nationals. The chief reasons for such resistance: the limited number of U.S. work visas and language deficiencies." --Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2007.
After 2 years living in US? The visa problem is a reality but I disagree with the language stuff. First the students must take tests to prove their language skills, and after that time I don't believe it will be a problem.
Anyway, one more problem for "us" internationals...
No offense to any nationality intended - but this makes some sense to me.
When I interacted with a 2nd year student at Columbia over email, he answered all my questions well, but, to my surprise, he had many grammatical errors ..and it was not because he was writing casually; his message had basic tense/voice errors. I would not go on to mention the nationality, but I'd assume schools do lower the bar for applicants from countries that have a low application volume. (and I do agree with the fact that they add value to the school's environment and the education- but it seems kinda unfair to me...)
Anyway, relevant to the subject, such students, despite all the exposure might find it difficult to develop speaking skills at par with native english speakers - and hence the recruiter bias. For most of us though, if we cannot speak properly, I think we'd be shown the door at the interview, if our essays didn't bring it out already.
There are definitely language issues with students, and I would guess students at all schools have these issues. Going to school somewhere for two years only helps if you actually speak English. I know a number of students who tend to spend most of their time with others who speak the same mother tongue.
Before anyone freaks out at me, let me offer my necessary PC-amendments:
I was an exchange student in high school; spent an entire year living in France, living with a French family, and attending French high school. I spoke French 24/7 and had no choice in the matter. But whenever I did run into other Americans (or other anglos), it was such a wonderful break from the hard work that is immersion. I don't blame these students for doing what feels natural, comfortable, comforting, and normal and spending their free time with their compatriots. Culture shock is a bear, and I can only imagine how rough it must be in the middle of the madness that is an MBA program.
However, sitting through a few hours of class a week simply isn't immersion. And it shows in the language skills of my classmates. The ones who have gotten a lot better spend more time outside their linguistic cohort.
PS On my limited experience, I wouldn't say that well-represented language groups have the best language skills. I would say it has more to do with prevalence of English in your homeland, plus other kinds of exposure - previous work experience, etc.
Some accents are difficult for people to understand at times, European, Asian, South American. I could see why some industries such as consulting where you need to converse with people it would be important. Also different people have thicker accents than others and it probably is easier for companies to not have to pick through. They only have so many slots available so every spot taken by someone who doesn't meet their desired level of fluency is taking one from another potential candidate.
I think the visa issue is only going to get worse this year. Too many tech companies are importing people and keep applying for more...these are taking visas from students graduating from US programs. It would be nice if they gave preference to students from the US.
The ones who have gotten a lot better spend more time outside their linguistic cohort.
I agree with that. I find it natural to operate in either language so I don't necessarily tailor my interactions based on language, but I have a friend who's told me that at times "he needs to just not speak English for a few hours because his head aches". I haven't heard him speak English, so he might be completely flawless despite his comment and I wouldn't know, but if he's not then he won't improve as much as he could.
About accents: I have asked an etiquette specialist who gave a presentation here whether I should invest the effort in trying to get rid of my accent. She said that while it might matter at a few very specific companies, with most companies I should be fine as long as it's only accent and not inability to communicate. She event went further and suggested that the fact that I do speak 2 other languages fluently would more than outweigh any potential negative effect that my accent might have.
I believe that most companies will not view an accent negatively as long as it does not impede a person's ability to communicate. Just remember that accents differ not only between countries but also within the US. Personally, I have a hard time understanding a thick Southern accent but have no problems understanding strong Bostonian accents. So it just goes to show that everything is relative. The biggest factor is still visas, although I thought that all MBA students have a one year grace period after graduation.
Looking at it from different angle, I visited a top 10 school and the quality of people, specially interpersonal skills, from the country where I am from was way below my expectations.
I have been brainstorming with some other friends of mine, specially one friend in EMBA, and we agreed that one probable cause is schools trying to reduce their students' average age, without considering the fact that people get socially mature at different ages in different countries.
She event went further and suggested that the fact that I do speak 2 other languages fluently would more than outweigh any potential negative effect that my accent might have.
I was about to talk about that. I know many French people who have their strong accent, Spaniards who also have their strong characteristic accent, Portuguese speakers too; however, many of these South European citizens speak at least 3 languages.
Also, with the new Toefl iBT and the IELTS testing the speaking, the results (almost always I pronounce result incorrectly) have even refraining students from applying to some schools. HBS is the strictest asking for a minimum 109 score; the UC’s do not approve test takers with less than a minimum score on the speaking part. Unfortunately as the ETS couldn’t handle properly the test dates, schools are still accepting the PBT version, which doesn’t test the speaking. Off course, that as they are standardized tests some techniques will improve the results of the taker, just like the GMAT.
From what I’ve seen with my Brazilian buddies, it wasn’t an issue to get jobs in US or London their language skills. I’m not saying that they do not make mistakes, I even make mistakes in Portuguese (believe me English grammar is Very easy compared to Latin languages) .
Perhaps, this problem has 2 main sources: the person's natural language abilities and one's own efforts.
Honestly, I think accent is not really too much of an issue. From my experience, the most difficult part about communicating with Europeans (other than the English) and to a certain extent Americans is the ROS (Rate of Speech) difference. We Indians tend to speak much faster and this can be a barrier to effective communication. But on the grammar and accent front, I think most of us Indians do OK.
The TOEFL point is a good one...in a few years companies may just institute required scores for interviews. Banks and MC firms tend to ask about GMAT and nothing is going to prevent them from setting a language bar for students to get over. It may very well be that they want an even higher score than schools are requiring though.
This might actually benefit them because they will have more talented people to choose from, but without the language worries.
I experienced this last night - both parts of it (someone getting shut out because of visa issues and that person also having weak english/social skills)...
An hour into a corporate presentation someone asks "Do you hire internationals" and the presenter responds "Can you work in the US?" and the guy answers "Yes I can see me working in the US". From there, the presenter lays out a pretty clear cut answer of no, unfortunately, without authorization you cannot be hired.
Despite this rather unequivocal response, during the networking session, he comes up to the senior director and asks him again. The director replies one more time but suggests that he can put the candidate in touch with HR directly and they can have this conversation. It's an awkward exchange to watch, mostly because the foreign kid is trying so hard to impress but just isn't getting it. Once offered to punt to HR, the student replies "Ok, because I like XXX very much and I want to work for you. I like you firm a lot." Its hard to describe the experience online - much of what made it sound so poor was the disjointed slow way he spoke, almost like if you memorized a chinese phrase and then recited it, compounded with an awfully thick accent. It was clear the guy was nice as can be, but his language skills were sub par and his "social" capital was next to zero. The conversation ends rather uncomfortably when the presenter extends his arm and says goodbye and the student offers some semi limp response. The guy didn't "fit" with the culture of the firm in so many ways, whether or not he had a VISA was largely irrelevant.
More generally: There are a good number of internationals at the GSB who aren't the most capable English speakers in the world. There are even more people who can't write for !(@# even if they can speak English perfectly. This is a problem that I deal with - one of my study groups has a Brazilian guy who writes things as if he was talking to a friend over beers. Except he's had five beers and I've had none. Sometimes, I don't even know what he's trying to say. I'd say he writes at a 8th grade level, maybe lower. Instead of saying "The firm's strategies positively impacted consumer demand", classic Brazilian guy's attempt would read something like: "The firm that had the strategies that change the market would have to have a strategy that made the demand to go up by a little if the strategy was OK but a lot if the strategy was good, so and we saw that the strategy is maybe a bit better than GOOD so then people need more things more."
(If I sound irritated... its cause I am ... I was up until 2am cleaning up Brazilian guy's work)
There are a lot of international employees who work with my wife (none with me for obvious reasons) and there is a huge difference between some. There are those that speak near flawless english and then others that are brutal to talk to. Literally some you would think were born and raised here and others that I struggle to understand. They are all equally capable and very bright people but the language skills will really handicap some peoples career. It would be tough to manage people if they have a hard time understanding you.
In any big city there are language classes if someone is uncomfortable with speaking conversational english or feels it will hold them back then it would be a wise investment to take a class or two. Think of how much time and energy that is invested in B-school...if taking an english class will help get that job you want then it makes as much sense to take that as it does to take finance 101.
I am impressed by anyone that can speak multiple languages and I know from experience my extremely horrible spanish and italian bring more laughs than understanding. Most international applicants and students I have met during this process have amazing communication skills for this being their second or third language. It wont be a problem for a lot of people but if people ask you to repeat things multiple times then you may want to consider an english class because they are having a hardtime understanding you.
In fact I used to work for a company in Switzerland that had hired an English Tutor to teach International Employees.
It didn't help me much though, My tutor thought my English skills were good enough.
But a lot of my other international colleagues found it really useful.
In fact, the method he used was quite interesting. He used to give People a book to read and then discuss with him every week.After that he'd watch some American/British Sitcoms just to let the Internationals get used to the speech patterns of the Americans/British.
I wonder why more companies dont use tutors like the one I just mentioned.
I mean If I had to hire an International Employee who is extremely bright but has below average conversational skills, i'd rather hire him and train him on the language. But thats just me..........
As for social skills, Its something you just learn over the years.
I come from a country where asking questions like: How many Kids do u have??
Where did u go for honeymoon? what did u do on ur honeymoon? aren't uncommon.
If I have a colleague at work that I am friendly with, I'd invite him over for dinner every once in a while.....
In certain parts of Europe, Inviting someone over to have dinner with your family isnt common. Only after you've gotten to know the person really well does it happen.
So, social skills are in a way culture specific too........ and you dont really learn the culture unless you live in the country................
As an American who's lived abroad for ~4 years, I think this is B.S. Yes there are some foreign students at top 10 U.S. universities who speak sub-par English. That said, I know lots of people from Germany, France, etc. who speak impeccable English - I think many of them would outscore me on the TOEFL.
The fact that some companies won't even interview students based on language concerns smacks of prejudice.