Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Book Review: 'Cambridge English for Job-hunting'

Cambridge English for Job-hunting
by Colm Downes
Cambridge University Press 2008
ISBN 9780521722155
From the blurb: "Cambridge English for Job-hunting is for upper-intermediate to advanced level (B2-C1) learners of English who need to use English during the job application process. The course can be used in the classroom or for self-study.

Ideal for working professionals and those new to the world of employment, the course develops the specialist language knowledge and communication skills that job-seekers need to apply for and secure jobs."
In the relentless specialisationising of the ELT publishing world, the arrival of titles like Cambridge English for Job-hunting is as inevitable as it is intriguing. I'm always fascinated to see what new tricks and twists the big names come up with to keep the money machine ticking over. Cambridge has, of course, been at the leading edge of ELT publishing for many years, and are experts at sniffing out new markets and teaching trends, if they are not actually helping create them themselves.

Cambridge English for Job-hunting is, therefore, worth putting on any non-native speaker's short list, as it were. It's also rather unusual in the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) branch of ELT, in that it doesn't address a certain profession but rather a professional skill which isn't even related to being in work, but rather to getting (back) into work. And in these doom-laden, crisis-ridden days, with companies multinationalising all over the place, goodness knows that this is a valid enough reason for many people to be brushing up their English skills.

So, after the plethora of titles coming out in Cambridge's Professional English in Use series (Marketing, Law, ICT, Finance etc.), we might be tempted to think that English for Job-hunting is just another permutation of the good old Murphy formula of examples and explanations on the left-hand page, and exercises on the right. In fact that would be far from accurate.

What we have here, in fact, is a fully-fledged little one volume course/self-study book, complete with two audio CDs of extensive listening material, exercises, answer key, audioscripts, appendices, the lot! I haven't yet heard of a school using this as a course book, but for the dedicated job-hunter the six very comprehensive units could prove invaluable in the thankless search for the ideal position in an English-speaking world.

The six units are stand-alone - they can be studied in any order, or just skipped over - and cover core aspects of the job-search process, namely: Research and preparation; Writing an impressive CV; Effective cover letters; Successful interviews; Advanced interview techniques; Follow up.

In terms of meatiness, the calibre of the book is unquestionable. It's almost frighteningly complete, with each exercise as thorough and well thought out as we would expect from the Cambridge University Press stable. The appendices have five pages of extremely useful language for writing covering letters and CVs, dealing with pre-interview small talk and the actual event itself of course, and more help with follow-up letters and so on. There's also a list of 50 common interview questions and a typical covering letter which I can imagine being photocopied for a useful handout by many a teacher in the average language school.

And there's the crunch. This book is so stuffed with material - each unit consisting of up to 15 pages of unrelenting, tightly-packed exercises - that I can't imagine anyone, neither teacher nor student, actually doing it all from beginning to end. The audioscripts alone (we don't say 'tapescripts' any more, I've just noticed) take up eleven and a half pages with three columns of tiny dense text in an endless stream of long interviews (nearly two hours'-worth) which would test the best teacher's inventiveness to make them listenable.

Let me stress again that on paper there's nothing wrong with this book, and the content is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive collections of relevant job-hunting preparation material for non-native speakers on the market.

It's more the claim that this can be used as a course book that needs to be clarified. I'm more inclined to see this as a valuable resource which teachers will use for specific requirements with certain classes, such as those needing to produce a presentable CV or brush up on their interview techniques. Teachers may well adopt favourite exercises or recordings as the ones they always use for a given topic and just for this the book is a worthy addition to the professional English teacher's toolbox.

For self-studiers, the other stated target audience, I feel that attempting the whole book would again be a bit of a slog. There isn't much respite from the heavy content, there are very few pictures to liven things up, and no 'lighter moments' to speak of. Indeed, there's no real English teaching as such - it's all strictly straight-faced functional language and vocabulary building aimed at professionals who are already competent users of English.

Cambridge will no doubt say that this is as it should be, but we here at Hotch Potch English like to smile and snigger from time to time, so while recognising the worthiness of Cambridge English for Job-hunting, and understanding why it is the way it is, we suggest it will be best employed as a valuable addition to the teacher's resource book shelf of well-equipped language schools and discerning teaching professionals will know what to do with it.

Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Cambridge English for Job-hunting'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2009 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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Colm Downes said...

Dear Sab,

I've just stumbled across your review of my book. What can I say - thank you for the positive comments and also to say that I agree with your astute observations of the title's limitations. You hit the nail on the head. Watch out for a second edition in a few years time where I hope many of the issues you have rightly raised will be addressed.

Cheers, Colm

Sab Will said...

Hi Coln,
Thanks for the message - I'm delighted that you've read and appreciate my review. Looking back I'm quite surprised I was able to come up with a few reservations as I normally try to make everything totally positive, but I hope that you take all my comments in right spirit. In any case, it's a wealth of useful information and exercises, that's for sure!

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