Within the field of English Language Teaching, the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is increasingly popular. Students around the world are seeking the English language skills they need to succeed in their areas of study and work. English for Medical Professionals, English for Tourism, English for Science Teachers, and English for Business and Entrepreneurship are just a few of the many ESP topics out there. The last topic, English for Business and Entrepreneurship, is one of the founding topics for ESP. Students all over the world study English for Business and Entrepreneurship, and like other ESP areas of focus, Business English serves as a gateway to English language learning beyond ESP.
As local economies become more globalized, more and more students are looking for Business English classes. As a result, more and more teachers are assigned to Business English classes. Business English teachers face the challenge of finding resources, materials, and assessment methods to best prepare students with the language skills necessary for their careers.
This month’s Teacher’s Corner presents four activities that teachers of English for Business and Entrepreneurship can use to highlight common tools, strategies, and techniques commonly used in business circles. Each activity works best with advanced learners yet presents new and challenging English business vocabulary for students. The activity for Week 1 familiarizes students with common interview questions and provides practice in responding. The activity for Week 2 introduces the elevator pitch to teach students how to quickly and effectively present a product or idea to a group of investors or colleagues. In Week 3, students learn about the art of cold calling when looking for new employment opportunities. Finally, Week 4 gives students a chance to practice company and business evaluations with the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis tool, which has been used for years in business to quickly analyze a company’s strengths and weaknesses.
For additional information about teaching Business English, check out these resources and many others available on the American English website:
Responding to Common Interview Questions
For many job seekers, the interview is one of many challenges to face before landing the perfect job. The interview process can vary greatly depending on the company and job position. Some interviews are brief, but others can be lengthy and intensive. Sometimes job seekers must attend a series of interviews for one company, while at another company they may need to attend only one interview. Sometimes a panel of managers and employees may conduct the interview, and sometimes only one person from the company conducts the interview. Regardless of the interview process, the questions in an interview can be somewhat predictable and similar across employers.
In this week’s activity, students will learn how to prepare for the most common interview questions. In addition, students will prepare for the unexpected in interviews.
Secondary level or adult learners
During this activity, students will be able to
- Prepare confident, firm answers to the most common interview questions in business.
- Plan strategies for dealing with unexpected questions in interviews.
- Common Interview Questions and Worksheet (see Appendix A)
- Pencils and paper
- Print enough copies for all students of the handout Common Interview Questions and Worksheet.
1. As students take their seats, assign each student a number (1-20). Tell them they must remember their number for the first activity.
2. Give each student a copy of the handout, and explain that today they will focus on learning strategies for participating in successful job interviews.
3. Tell students to find the question on the handout that matches the number you gave them at the beginning of class.
4. Have each student turn to a neighbor and ask the question they’ve been assigned.
5. After each person in the pair has asked their questions and answered, they should review the list of questions quietly on their own.
6. Once all students have finished talking and everyone is reviewing the questions, bring the class back together.
- Ask students if the question was familiar. How did they respond? What was difficult about answering the question? How well and confidently do they think they answered the question?
- Explain that these interview questions are common, and job seekers can take time to prepare answers in advance.
7. As a class, brainstorm a list of what makes impressive answers to interview questions.
- Write the ideas students have on the board.
- Here are some possible ideas: brief but clear answers; answers that show the applicant is well-informed; answers that show the applicant knows about the employer; answers that show the applicant is competent and would be an asset to the company.
8. Once the students have brainstormed a complete list, ask them to apply their ideas to answering the first question on the handout. Tell students that their answer to the first question, “Tell me about yourself,” should focus on strengths and experience that are relevant to the job that they are interviewing for.
- Give each person a few minutes to write an answer.
9. As the students write their answers, put this sample answer on the board:
I’ve been working in _______________ for the last 10 years in _______________. In my most recent project, I focused on ______________________________. That project required that I do ________________________. I was successful when _______________________. My real strength is in___________________. I am now interested in ___________________________.
10. Once students have completed writing an answer, ask them to look at the template you put on the board.
- Does their answer explain what they have done and offer their strengths and abilities?
- Based on the information in the template, what would they add to their answer?
- Is there any information they would remove from their original answer?
- Ask them to revise their answer and then share it with their partner from earlier in the class.
11. Turn their attention to the rest of the sample interview questions. Ask each student to choose 5 questions on the list that interest him or her and then prepare an answer for each.
- Remind students that answers should be clear, concise, positive, and relevant to the job for which they’re applying.
12. After students complete their answers, ask them to share the answers with their partners.
- Encourage partners to offer feedback that reflects the standards brainstormed early in the class (see step 7) and emphasized when discussing the first question.
13. Turn students’ attention to page 2 of Appendix A.
14. Ask the class what they have done or might do when asked a question they don’t know the answer to.
- Some might say they lied or made something up, while others might say they were honest and used the line, “I don’t know much about that.”
15. Offer some suggestions for handling such questions, such as the following:
- Take some time to answer the question.
- Redirect the question to relate to experience you do have.
- Ask for clarification.
- If you really don’t know the answer, confidently say, “That is not a concept I’m familiar with, but it is an area where I hope to develop professionally.”
16. Have students write down two strategies that feel comfortable to them. For example, a student could write that he or she plans to relate an answer to personal and relevant experience.
17. Take a little extra time at the end of class to have students work with a new partner to practice the questions they have prepared answers to.
- If students are feeling confident, encourage them to ask questions for which partners have not prepared answers so that students can practice responding spontaneously.
Extend the activity by asking students to choose their dream job and dream company. Have them brainstorm some questions specific to that company. Have them then write responses to these questions in a way that highlights their knowledge of the company.
Appendix A: Common Interview Questions and Worksheet
1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What are your strengths?
3. What are your weaknesses?
4. Tell me about a conflict you experienced at work. How did you handle it?
5. Why should we hire you?
6. What is an accomplishment you are proud of in your career?
7. What motivates you?
8. If I called your former boss today, in what area would he or she say you need to improve?
9. What are your career goals?
10. How do you handle pressure?
11. How did you hear about this position?
12. Why do you want to work with us?
13. What are some of your leadership experiences?
14. What questions do you have for me?
15. How would you deal with an angry customer?
16. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
17. Where would you like to focus your professional development opportunities?
18. What is your dream job?
19. Who is a role model to you?
20. What do you need from a manager to be successful?
Plans for the Unexpected Question
1. What are two things you can say if you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to?
Cold calling for Possible Job Opportunities
Instead of waiting for jobs to be advertised before contacting an employer, job seekers are using creative ways to make connections with potential employers. Social networking sites give both employees and employers opportunities to find potential employment matches. Job seekers also may write emails or letters to Human Resource departments at large companies to inquire about future openings. One tried-and-true strategy is the cold call. The cold call is when a job seeker calls a company to introduce himself or herself and to ask about potential employment opportunities.
Before making a cold call, job seekers should research the values and mission of a company and then write a brief introduction about themselves and several questions specific to the company’s interests. By doing a little bit of research and then taking time to make the call, a job seeker shows a high level of interest and ambition, which are often valued by employers.
In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, students write scripts for a cold call that include brief introductions and possible questions relevant to potential employment. Students then practice making cold calls and discuss potential responses to a call.
During this activity, students will be able to do the following:
- Speak briefly on the phone to introduce themselves and to ask 1-2 relevant questions about internship or job opportunities.
- Recognize and prepare for potential responses.
- Cold-Calling Dialogue Chain (Appendix A)
- Cold-Calling Tips and Sample Scripts (Appendix B)
- Print enough copies of Cold-Calling Tips and Sample Scripts (Appendix B) and Cold-Calling Dialogue Chain (Appendix A) so that each student has a copy.
- Review Cold Calling Tips and Sample Scripts for information on cold calls.
1. At the beginning of class, ask students if they know the term cold call. What is a cold call? When would you make a cold call?
a. Explain that a cold call is calling a person you don’t know. People often make cold calls when conducting job searches. They call companies they are interested in working for and introduce themselves while also inquiring about employment or internship opportunities.
b. Ask students if they have ever made a cold call before. If some have, ask them to share their experiences.
i. Encourage students to tell what kinds of information they gave while on the call.
ii. As students share their experiences, write on the board the information that students said they included in the call.
2. After students have shared their experiences, explain that cold calls can follow a script. In fact, having a script can help callers prepare to make the phone call and to sound confident.
a. Hand out a copy of the Cold Calling Dialogue Chain to each student.
b. Give students time to review the script and compare the script to the information written on the board.
i. What information is similar? What information is not included on the script?
3. Work with the class to brainstorm possibilities for each step on the dialogue chain. For example, start by asking students to write down a one-sentence introduction of themselves. Have them share some of their sentences. Then ask them to brainstorm possible responses the receiver might have to this introduction.
a. Carry on with this brainstorm until the dialogue has a number of possibilities for each step.
4. After the class comes up with ideas for a dialogue chain, have students work individually to write their own scripts using the dialogue chain.
a. Ask them to envision they are contacting someone about their dream job at a company where they would like to work.
b. Give them time (10-15 minutes) to write and complete their scripts.
5. Pair students with the person sitting next to them and ask them to share their dialogues.
a. After sharing dialogues, partners offer two alternative questions for each other to use in their dialogues.
6. Bring the class back together as a group and explain that now you are going to discuss possible responses to a cold call.
a. Hand out copies of Cold Calling Tips and Sample Scripts and have students review the sample scripts with their partners.
7. Once students have reviewed the handout, have them practice their dialogues in pairs with one student acting as the caller and the other as a secretary or Human Resources staff member.
a. Remind students to adjust their script to fit the person that answers the phone.
8. Finally, ask students to practice the cold call imagining that the person who answers the phone is a potential employer.
9. Tell students that the more they practice, the more confident they will feel when they make real phone calls. Tell them that cold calling takes time and persistence.
A variation on this activity could have students practicing complete scripts rather than using a dialogue chain. Before class, use the dialogue chain to write a script that students can follow and practice in class before creating their own.
Extend the activity by changing the possible scenarios so that students must adjust their scripts to fit new situations. For example, in addition to thinking that a receptionist or a human resources person might answer the phone, have students consider other potential scenarios: What would happen if they get a person’s voicemail? What happens if the potential boss is not interested in talking? What happens if the person answering directs the caller to a website? All of these are realistic possibilities that students would need to consider before making a phone call.
Appendix A: Cold-Calling Dialogue Chain
Introduce self: name, where you’re calling from, how you found name of person you are calling
Request to discuss internship or job opportunities; explain that you have specific questions
Thanks and Goodbye
Appendix B: Cold-Calling Tips and Sample Scripts
Cold Calling Tips
- Smile while calling. Listeners can “hear” a smile.
- Practice, practice, practice. Practicing will give you confidence for the actual call.
- Start by calling employers or company employees whom you know through friends, family, or colleagues. For example, a friend of a friend who is a receptionist can help you.
- During the call, try to set up a time to meet in person. Some employers are willing and available to do this. Be flexible with your schedule as you plan a time.
- Plan for voicemail or for the receiver to take a message.
University of Minnesota Career and Internship Services. “Cold Calling.” www.careerhelp.umn.edu
Sample Script: Receptionist Answers Call
Receptionist: Good morning. HG Group. How many I direct your call?
Caller: Good morning. I’m looking to speak with someone about work and internship opportunities. Is there someone you can recommend or a person you can connect me with?
Receptionist: Certainly. You would probably want to speak with our recruiting team. I’m going to send your call to Jane’s desk. If she doesn’t answer, please leave a message.
Caller: That’s wonderful. Thank you. Could you give me her full name and number in case I get disconnected?
Receptionist: Sure. Jane Mack is at 712-555-9000, ext. 24. Anything else I can help you with today?
Caller: No, thank you so much.
Receptionist: You’re welcome. Connecting you now.
Sample Script: Human Resources Employee Answers Call
Human Resources (HR) Staff Member: Good morning. HG Group, Human Resources, this is John.
Caller: Good morning, John. My name is Claire , and I’m looking to speak with someone about work and internship opportunities in the Finance Department at HG Group. Would you be able to direct me to someone for an informational interview?
HR Staff Member: Unfortunately, there aren’t any positions available right now, but if you are looking to learn more about our company I would be happy to speak with you.
Caller: Yes, that would be great. Thank you. Would you be willing to meet with me in person?
HR Staff Member: My schedule is fairly full this week, but I could schedule 30 minutes on the phone sometime Thursday afternoon. Would that work for you?
Caller: Yes, I could call at 2:30 p.m.
HR Staff Member: What is your name and phone number in case we need to reschedule?
Caller: Claire Tatum and I’m at 555-555-7098. And John, what is your last name?
HR Staff Member: John Fletcher.
Caller: Thank you. I look forward to speaking with you on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at this number.
HR Staff Member: I’ll be here. Have a great day.
Caller: You as well. Thank you and good bye.
HR Staff Member: Bye.
Conducting a swot analysis
Investors, entrepreneurs, and businesses regularly need to evaluate themselves, their peer companies, or competitors. A SWOT analysis offers an efficient way to evaluate and consider a company’s strengths and weaknesses. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. After completing a SWOT analysis, business owners can make more effective decisions that encourage their growth and development of their business.
A SWOT analysis focuses on both the internal and external aspects of a business. The internal aspects are a company’s Strengths and Weaknesses; these include market share, the experience of the team, image, finances, distribution, and technology. The external components are the Opportunities and Threats from outside the company, which can include other markets, the larger economy, competitors, consumer tastes, technology development, and needs (Appendix A has a glossary of these terms.). After completing a SWOT analysis, a company has a much clearer picture of where they fit in the market.
In this activity, students work in small groups to conduct a SWOT analysis of a major company. The activity begins with the teacher reviewing what considerations are made when evaluating a company and then introduces the process of a SWOT analysis. By the end of the activity, students have worked through their first SWOT analysis and are ready to apply the process to businesses that interest them.
This activity is intended for advanced adult learners working in the business sector with some level of familiarity in evaluating businesses. If you and your students need additional support, please review Appendix A for definitions of terminology used in a SWOT Analysis.
Advanced, Adult Learners
During this activity, students will be able to
- Identify the components of a SWOT analysis.
- Apply the process of SWOT analysis to evaluate a company.
- Computers with Internet access
- The link to or copies of a company profile (There are many available online).
- Pencils and paper
- Organize students into groups of three using students’ business interests. For example, students interested in technology businesses could be grouped together, students interested in science-related businesses could be grouped together, and so on.
- Print copies of the company profile you chose, or make sure that each group has access to the Internet to visit the link.
- Write the SWOT Analysis chart on the board for all students to see.
1. Open class by asking students this question: How would you evaluate your company in order to make good decisions for its growth and development?
a. Take some time for students to share their ideas and experiences.
b. Some students, especially those working in business, might already be familiar with SWOT analysis and may bring up the topic.
2. Explain to the class that there is a tool commonly used in business to evaluate a company, and it is called a SWOT analysis.
3. Point to the SWOT chart on the board and to each category. Ask students what each category might evaluate. What is included in strengths and weaknesses? What is considered in threats and opportunities?
a. As students share some of their answers, write their ideas in the corresponding areas of the chart.
b. Once students have shared their ideas, fill in the blanks with the following:
i. Strengths and weaknesses examine market share, the level of experience of the team, the company’s image, finances, product distribution, and technology.
ii. Opportunities and threats focus on other markets, the economy, competitors, consumer tastes, technology development, and needs.
c. Take time to review any new vocabulary possibly unfamiliar to students by offering clear examples or eliciting definitions from students. See Appendix A for a glossary of these terms.
4. Put students into the prepared groups and explain that they will now conduct a SWOT analysis of the company you chose.
a. On the board, write the web address of the company profile.
i. Note that the company profile may include a lot of detail, and students may need some instruction on navigating it.
b. Have students copy the SWOT analysis chart onto a piece of paper.
5. Using the information from the company profile, the groups will complete an analysis (one piece of paper per group is sufficient).
a. Give students about 20 minutes to complete the task (longer if needed).
6. After each group has finished their analysis, combine each group with another group.
7. Tell them the two groups will now discuss and compare their analyses.
8. In order to follow up on the activity, bring the class back together and work as a class to complete the SWOT analysis on the board for all to see.
a. Encourage debate about what should or should not be included.
Extend the activity by asking students to do a SWOT analysis on a company of their choosing. In a future class or for homework, students can apply the skills they learned in the group analysis to complete an analysis on their own. If your students are working professionals, they could complete an analysis on their own company or business.
Glossary of Relevant Vocabulary
Company image: How positively or negatively the company is viewed by customers, other companies, and economists.
Competition: Other companies that work in the same industry and that compete for customers and suppliers.
Customer base: The number of people who might buy a company’s product; the number of potential customers.
Experience of the team: The experience of those running a company, including their education, their experience and number of years in business, and their achievements.
Finances: Include the debts and assets owned by a company in addition to costs and revenue.
Market share: The amount of a company’s sales when compared to other companies in the same industry.
Product distribution: The number of stores or areas their product or idea is available. Also, the cost and effort of getting its products to stores.
Product line: The list of products a company sells.
Technology: A broad term; examines how technology (both digital and mechanical) is used in all areas of the company and the technology that the company is developing.
Imagine you need money to launch your new teaching tool: a software program that helps teachers grade papers quickly. One day, you find yourself in an elevator with one of the wealthiest investors in your hometown. You have only the time in the elevator to share your idea and catch the interest of the investor. What do you tell the investor about your idea in 30 seconds?
As a Business English teacher, you help your students acquire the language skills necessary to function in the business world. It is equally important to help your students recognize the cultural norms and standards of communication they may encounter in the business world. The activity for this week gives students an opportunity to write and practice an elevator pitch, a technique frequently used in business and entrepreneurship situations. The elevator pitch is used to briefly introduce a business, a product, or an idea to a group of colleagues or potential investors. Elevator pitches are very short, and must present important information quickly and effectively.
During this activity, students will be able to do the following:
- Identify the key components of an elevator pitch.
- Apply the specifics of an elevator pitch to a product or idea.
- Paper and pencils
- Elevator Pitch Example (see Appendix A)
- Elevator Pitch Activity (see Appendix B)
- Make copies for all students of the Elevator Pitch Example in Appendix A.
- Print and make copies for each student of the Elevator Pitch Activity in Appendix B.
1. Begin class by telling students, “Today we are going to discuss one of the most effective ways to present a new business idea or product to colleagues or investors. This technique is called the elevator pitch.”
2. Ask students what an elevator pitch might be and why it is called an elevator pitch. Give them 2-3 minutes to think and to discuss with classmates sitting nearby. After they discuss, ask students to share their ideas.
3. Next, hand out copies of the of the Elevator Pitch Example. Give students a few minutes to read through the example pitch.
4. While students read, write the following components of an elevator pitch on the board:
- Who I am
- Why I am here
- What problem I am solving
- What solution I offer
- Why my solution is competitive
5. Present the components of the elevator pitch you wrote on the board. Explain that the components are not in any particular order because elevator pitches can be organized in different ways based on the purpose of the pitch and the audience (who is hearing the message).
6. Put students into groups of three based on the alphabetical order of their last names. For example, the first three students in alphabetical order will work together, the next three will work together, etc.
7. Ask groups to review the example elevator pitch together. Ask them to find the elevator pitch components from the board in the example. For example, where does the speaker explain who he or she is? What is the problem being addressed? Give students about 5-10 minutes for this part of the activity.
8. After groups have identified the components of the sample elevator pitch, review the answers as a large group.
9. Explain that now students will work in groups to write an elevator pitch for a new product their company is promoting.
- Hand out a copy of the Elevator Pitch Activity to each group.
- Review the activity as a class, and answer any questions students might have before beginning.
- Tell students they have 20 minutes to work in groups to write their elevator pitch.
10. Have students submit their elevator pitches before leaving class, and then assess the pitches based on components of an elevator pitch.
An alternative to this activity is to have students work individually to write an elevator pitch on a product or idea they have researched in class. Students could then present their elevator pitch to classmates.
The activity could be extended so that the groups work together to present their elevator pitches to the class. Each group could practice by having each member present the pitch to the other two group members. After practicing, the group decides which member will present the pitch to the entire class.
Extend the activity into another lesson where the focus is on presenting elevator pitches. Students could begin by practicing their own pitches or the example pitch used at the beginning of the activity.
The Smith Patient Lift - Elevator Pitch Example
Good morning. My name is John Smith, and I’m here to discuss a new investment opportunity with you.
Did you know that each year, 20,000 patient-care workers such as nurses and health aides experience back injuries while working? We solve that problem with the Smith Patient Lift.
Hospitals have several options to move bed-ridden patients – from automatic lifts attached to ceilings to teams of caregivers that lift and move patients manually. But caregivers helping patients in their own homes don't have those options. The options available to hospitals are difficult to use, expensive to install, and don’t fit inside most homes.
Don and Kelly Smith care for elderly patients in their homes in Jackson, and they needed a better solution for moving patients, so they built and patented the Smith Patient Lift. It’s an automated lift device that attaches directly to a patient’s bed. This lift allows a single caregiver to lift and move a patient safely without causing further injuries to the patients or caregivers.
With over 12 million Americans receiving home care, we plan to generate over $10 million in sales by year 5. We have an experienced team that includes experts in medical equipment sales. We are seeking a $500,000 investment and would like to meet with you to discuss this opportunity. Can we get on your schedule?
Elevator Pitch Activity
Imagine that you are looking for investors for a new product that your company has just developed. The product is called a Cronut, and the specifics are listed below. Read through the specifics, and working with your group, write an elevator pitch to present this product to investors. Remember to include the main components of a well-written elevator pitch and keep the pitch to fewer than 200 words.
New Product: Cronut
- Pastry that combines a donut and a croissant
- Low cost to-go breakfast/snack product
- Combines the lightness of a croissant pastry with the sweetness of a donut
- Can be purchased fresh at local bakeries or packaged in supermarkets
- Fits in with existing culture of buying food and taking it to go
- Well-made pastries using high-quality ingredients are difficult to find on most supermarket shelves
- Brings together a classic American pastry with a classic French pastry into an innovative new product loved by a large swath of potential customers
Elevator Pitch Components
- Who I am
- Why I am here
- What problem I am solving
- What solution I offer
- Why my solution is competitive