Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My latest protégé

I was recently put in touch with a young Chinese lawyer who is - TODAY - undergoing a selection panel interview for a rather prestigious study-abroad scholarship. So, for the past 10 days I've been giving him a crash course in interview technique.

He's quite a nice chap, and I feel somewhat entwined with his fate after my efforts to improve him.

However, I did find his ignorance and naivety on so many points disheartening.

Admittedly, he did take the step of finding himself a tutor to help him with his oral English - something which probably differentiates him from a majority of his rival candidates. However, he only did so 2 weeks before his interview was due (and only after the salutary experience of crashing & burning in an interview for a similar scholarship programme a month or so ago). And he did think that I might perhaps be able to make his spoken English miles better in just a handful of lessons - I disabused him of that notion right at the start.

No, my more realistic aim was to give him some tips on what topics to expect, and how to present himself (he had been thinking of brown shoes with a blue suit... and maybe an open-necked shirt!) - while trying to lift rather than undermine his confidence. If I'd had a month or two, we might actually have been able to raise his English level a little; but in 10 days, NO. And it would have been nice if he'd thought to seek a native speaker's help in polishing his application form a couple of months back (it was, to be frank, pretty horrendous).

The poverty of his preparation prior to meeting me was quite staggering. He did not know anything about English law at all - he didn't even know the terms 'common law' and 'civil law'. He had never looked at an English law report, and apparently had no idea how to go about finding any online. He hadn't even checked the websites of the institutions organising the scholarship. He had no idea we didn't have the death penalty any more in the UK. He had no idea that legal documents in the West are authorised by means of a signature rather than a company stamp.

These seem to me to be egregious deficiencies, but.... well, I rather fear that everyone else who applied will be just as bad. He did well to make it on to the shortlist for interviews, and he now has a slightly better than 50% chance of being accepted on to the training programme. So, I'm keeping everything crossed for the poor lamb.


Tulsa said...

weird. i wrote out a comment on this one hours ago. did I forget to hit submit? or the mysterious net nanny is to blame?

Froog said...

Beats me! Did you say anything censor-worthy?

Mothman said...

The biggest problem that we have with our Chinese students is when it comes to filling out their UCAS forms for admission to universities and we come to the bit about 'outside interests and hobbies'. They just stare blankly at you and when pressed as to how they fill their copious leisure hours they invariably say "Er...talk to my friends and go shopping and listen to my iPod". Hardly the stuff to stir an interviewer to raptures. A western interviewer at least...

The concept of "it looks good on the CV" which is drummed into we westerners from kindergarten appears to be completely absent from the Chinese that we at least get at the college.

In fact I had to institute a compulsory programme of 'outside activities' specifically for our Chinese students, who are supposed to be interviewed within a few weeks of arrival and (if their linguistic skills are up to it) get packed off to do Saturday jobs in local shops and/or voluntary work at the local hospital. Curiously, most of then think that it's great fun! These do tend to be the ones who DON'T have dyed red floppy hair; baggy cargo pants and electronic consumer goods trailing from every orifice...generally the latter simply disappear up to London and never attend a class unless threatened with imminent deportation and we tend not to bother UCAS with them very much.

So how does it work in the inscrutable orient, Froog? What nuances of character and interest do Chinese interviewers look for in candidates? Or is it all 100% ruthlessly based around traditional Confucian values such as who your daddy is?

Froog said...

I try not to get into the 'education' system here too much - because I could go ON AND ON. It would get too boring for everybody else and too depressing for me.

I suspect the 'having no leisure activities away from the computer' syndrome is more and more of a problem in the West too. Here there is such a heavy workload in the school years (wealthy parents fill their child's every spare hour with additional classes, and the homework load is pretty horrendous enough anyway) that I fear there really isn't any time for genuinely independent self-development. And if they get to University, there's little scope for group activities other than sports and 'social activities' (officially engineered and politically oriented) based around the class or year group. College magazine? Debating society? Dining club?? These things just don't exist here. It seems only a few of the top-flight universities even have a theatre.

You see - I'm off. I could go ON And ON.

Mothman said...

Actually 'CV-building' is less and less of a problem here nowadays...apart from keeping it below seven pages by the age of 18 that is:-) Being a parent in the 21st century UK basically involves being an unpaid chauffeur/euse between a non-stop merry-go-round of after-school 'activities' (Karate on Monday; Basketball on Tuesday; Origami tutor on Wednesday; sheepdog trials on Thursday; marijuana cultivation classes on Friday; working in 'Next' on Saturday...) It beats me where the little darlings get the time to do any academic work - and it's immensely frustrating trying to fit in any extra lessons into their hectic little timetables.

How very different from when we were in the VIth form, eh Froog? The concept of having a Saturday job would have been regarded with complete horror as being a major intrusion into TV-watching time :-) But at least we knew that turning out for corps every Tuesday night 'looked good on the CV'...

Froog said...

Long, long ago I contributed a 'Devil's Dictionary' feature to one of the Oxford college magazines (not my own, for heaven's sake - I think it might have been Queens). I defined 'CV filler' as: "A weasling attempt to convince potential employers of your superior social and organisational skills by claiming the Presidency of a Club of which you were, in truth, the only member."