My Language Barrier Almost Put Me In Harm’s Way

amsterdamASG was recently retained by a European client to help with their staffing needs in Europe.  During my interview process with the European applicants, I started to notice some of the same issues I had myself when I first moved from the Netherlands to the US.  When English is your second language you tend to translate in your head from your native language (or native tongue as they say in Europe) to English.   But some things won’t make sense, some things don’t translate at all and some things subtly change the meaning of what you are trying to say. I have lived in the US for many years now so I think in English, unless I am cursing or counting for some reason.  I have had some of those “lost in translation” moments myself though so I think I’m more sensitive to it.  I enrolled at the University of Oregon to play football after living in the US for only one year.  After reporting to football camp with my fellow freshman, I met a ginormous offensive lineman named Todd Kaanapu.  During my first conversation with Todd in my mind I was telling him this:  “In order for me to be able to compete Toddwith a guy your size I have to work really hard and step up my game.”  In “real” English and as Todd (and all my friends) heard it I said “You are big but I am still pretty much going to kick your ass anyway.”  His response was “who is this little Dutch boy?”  Lucky for me Todd didn’t make an example out of this “little Dutch boy” and all I had to endure was the usual freshman initiation, the record race.  And yes, it is exactly how it sounds.  A relay race at 2 am in front of Spiller and Robbins Hall with a record instead of a baton, but you could not use your hands. But I digress. The non-native English speaking applicants were having some of the same issues I had.  Their command of the English language was good so when they were answering my questions they were fine.  They also completed the HireVue video interview questions with no problems, although you could definitely see them think and translate in their head. It was when I asked them what questions they had prepared for the hiring manager that, I was really able to pick up on the subtle difference.  For example, one applicant wanted to ask   “what kind of training do you provide to bring new hires up to speed on the products and value proposition?”  The way she actually said it was “What will YOU do to train me?”  It came across very demanding and it seem to shift the focus away from the value she could bring to our client.  With a few translation tweaks we were able to re-word her questions and she was able the get the answers she was looking for while leaving a good impression. When recruiting applicants whose first language is not English, domestic or foreign, help them with translations and the nuances of the English language.  We do not want to lose out on placing a qualified applicant in a great position because of a preventable miscommunication.  Prepping our candidates is crucial.  Also if you have European clients establish what kind of personal information they require from applicants.  In some countries it is not uncommon to include the full address on the resume as well as the age, race or marital status. I will be glad to share my European recruiting experiences with you if you have any further questions.


Keenan is A Sales Guy Inc’s CEO/President and Chief Antagonist. He’s been selling something to someone for his entire life. He’s been teaching and coaching almost as long. With over 20 years of sales experience, which he’ll tell you he doesn’t give a shit about, Keenan has been influencing, learning from and shaping the world of sales for a long time. Finder of the elephant in the room, Keenan calls it as he sees it and lets nothing or no one go unnoticed.