Visions of Career Success for the ESP Unemployed

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this TESOL Blog post, I focus on the ESP work that I have been doing in Japan with unemployed adult learners who are being trained to reenter the workforce. Although my primary responsibility is to teach business English to these students, I am also required to prepare them for job interviews.  I consider such job interview preparation to be the ESP strand of my teaching. Accordingly, the ESP project leader profiles, which have appeared in the TESOL Blog since May 2015, have caused me to reflect on how leadership is connected to interview success. With “leadership” in my mind, I give the following advice to my students as they prepare for their job interviews.

  1. Be the leader of your own life – One leader that I interviewed in my doctoral research said that you can be the leader of your own life as well as the leader of others. In my mind, leadership involves communicating to create and to achieve visions; therefore, leadership of yourself would mean “to set a goal” (such as a high English language test score) and then “to take steps to achieve that goal.” I want my students to be the leaders of their own lives when it comes to career success.
  1. Learn to see your past accomplishments – It is very important for my students to become aware of their past accomplishments and then to be able to effectively share success stories about those accomplishments. The ESP project leaders in the profiles are obviously aware of their past accomplishments and able to communicate such success stories to a global audience.

    In order to help my students in their self-reflective search for their own success stories, I tell them of a past (unemployed) student who had worked as a ground staff member of an airline at a large airport in Japan. That student did not think that she had a leadership story. However, after asking her questions in class, I learned that during one extremely cold winter day, while she was working at the airline counter, all of the airplanes were grounded. My student, who was not a manager, took the initiative to organize and lead her colleagues to acquire food and blankets for the 150 passengers in front of her airline’s check-in counter.

  1. Learn to tell your success stories – I am a fan of the STAR and CAR frameworks for responding to behavioral questions in job interviews. The first step in a STAR/CAR response is to talk about a problem or a goal (i.e., Situation and Task in a STAR or Challenge in CAR). The next step is to talk about the Action you took independently to solve the problem or reach the goal. The third step is to share the impressive Results that your Action achieved. You can also reflect on what you learned from that experience and connect that experience to your future career goals.
  1. Have visions of future career success – My students also need to learn to communicate their career goals: mission, short-term, midterm, long-term. In addition, they need to frame their past accomplishments to highlight how their skills are transferable from their past careers to their future careers. In other words, their past experiences become the stepping stones leading to their future goals. Finally, they need to be able to explain how they can take initiative to change their future organizations for the better.

I also remind my students to practice! In this connection, I show to my students a short section of a TED Talk by Benjamin Zander. About 1 minute into the talk, Zander gives a demonstration of a 7-year-old child learning to play the piano, and he shows how that child’s ability improves over time if the child continues to take lessons. After my students have watched the short section (about 1 minute) of the TED Talk about the 7-year-old child’s improvement, I ask my students if the child would have made very much progress if he had not practiced outside of class. My students quickly realize that they need to study and practice in class and outside of class until they become proficient.

Helping my students to have visions of career success as leaders of their own lives has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job as an ESP practitioner! What do you enjoy about your job in ESP?

All the best,


About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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2 Responses to Visions of Career Success for the ESP Unemployed

  1. Nahida El Assi says:

    Dear Kevin,
    Like all your other publications, this is an interesting topic. In fact, I am evaluating the Continuous Education Program at the University of Montreal, and the idea of offering some International Professional English courses crossed my mind. Could you just suggest a list of names of textbooks that are good for teaching ESP courses to international students?

    • Kevin Knight Kevin Knight says:

      Dear Nahida,

      When I look for textbooks for my adult learners in Japan, I tend to check out the catalogues of the major ELT publishers. For example, under the Professional and Vocational heading in the Pearson ELT catalogue ( you can find:
      English for International Tourism
      Intelligent Business
      Market Leader
      Ready to Go
      Technical English
      Vocational English
      Workplace Plus
      There are 51 titles listed under Business, Professional, and Vocational at Cambridge English. (
      Oxford University Press ELT ( lists:
      Business English (206 items)
      ESP (124 items).

      When I was teaching in California in the U.S. years ago, I was working with primarily two different types of students. Some of my students were preparing themselves for classes in a business major, and my textbooks focused on economics or marketing. Other students were visiting professionals (advanced students) in 4-week programs who wanted to experience U.S. business culture, so I was using business case studies in class and taking the students on field trips to different companies, etc.

      I think that the important thing is to figure out your target market. Then you can conduct your needs analysis, choose your materials, etc.

      Good luck with this exciting project!


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