As a junior about to partake on the all-important-junior-year-summer-internship-hunt, starting the fall semester involved quite a bit of panic; spending the summer exploring Europe and taking interesting courses didn’t exactly pad my resume like an internship in a sky rise would have. Though it doesn’t look as good on paper, my abroad experience gave me some unconventional interview opportunities I never would have experienced had I stayed local.
The first half of my summer, spent living in Madrid and traveling throughout Spain, gave me experience in a type of interview I never thought existed: the language-barrier interview. The setting for this informal interview was a typical Spanish tapas bar. An impromptu drink purchase replaced the more traditional contact info-referral from an HR representative. My first language English, and his Danish, we were both restricted to a foreign tongue: Spanish. Learning that he was a lawyer-turned-banker, I was curious as to his reasoning for the switch. Myself torn between law and finance, I gravitate towards those who have navigated both fields, and can offer guidance.
Utilizing grammatically incorrect Spanish, grand hand-gestures, Google translate, and lots of “ums,” I’m quite sure that in a conventional interview setting I would have appeared to be a less-than-stellar prospect. But in this setting, the conversation seemed more bilateral than the typical informational interview, with an experienced executive espousing tons of information to an eager-yet-green student. Here, we both navigated the linguistic barrier together. And given the different cultures, he was just as interested to learn about life in America as I was about law school in Denmark. The fear of impressing the impressive executive vanished, as both of us were focused on learning as much as possible about the other.
Though I was invited to visit the Danish firm, unfortunately my travels did not bring me in that direction. But I value the experience both for the information I learned from my Danish friend as well as a lesson I can take into any informational interview; a lack of work experience does not mean the conversation must be one-sided. Just as I’m interested to learn about an executive’s day-to-day, (s)he too may want to know what university is like today, and if it’s changed at all. All it took was a language barrier and a culture shock for me to see what I can bring to the table, as an inexperienced junior in college. This revelation has given me a sense of confidence in my approach to informational interviews.
There’s no need to stress about reading the right books and articles, to seem knowledgeable in the field you haven’t entered yet so as to impress the unapproachable executive; the point is to learn from your counterpart, keeping in mind that you bring valuable information to the table as well—your own experiences, as a college-student exploring career options.