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The world is truly getting smaller and that means that more and more jobs are on offer where you need to speak English.
That’s a good thing, isn’t it? After all, you speak English well and this gives you an advantage as a job-seeker.
But I bet you still get “butterflies in your tummy” when you have to do a job interview in English!
What’s more, most interviews these days are online. It’s a new format and it requires new strategies.
Let’s see what some of those strategies are.
Setting up for success at your interview
The first way to ensure success at an interview is to do your research!
You’ll want to research three things: the company in general, your position and the person who will be interviewing you.
Researching the company
All you need for this are a few tools, such as LinkedIn, Twitter/Facebook, Google and the company’s own website.
What can you find out about the company that can help you?
For example, if it is a smaller company, you are much more likely to need to do things which are outside of our job scope. Prepare examples of times you have done this in the past, in case you are asked about it.
It is in fashion these days for a large company to have a focus on social issues. Do they mention diversity on their website? Do they mention PRIDE events and environmentalism? If so, be prepared to show enthusiasm for these issues.
A multinational company might have a greater need for your language skills. You could expect questions on how comfortable you are using English. Or whether you have taken the IELTS. Be prepared to mention any other languages that you can speak.
Researching the position
What about the position you are interviewing for? Often, the information you are given is very limited.
It’s common to see a set of bullet points with requirements for the job. If these bullet points are the main information you have, you should examine each one carefully.
Are there any acronyms or words that are new to you? If so, it is important to research them, and prepare to discuss them in the interview.
Perhaps the bullet points mention qualifications that you do not have. For example, they may ask for five years of experience and you only have three.
This may not be a problem, but you can expect the interviewer to mention it, and you should have and an answer ready:
Interviewer: I notice you only have three years of experience in marketing.
Candidate: Yes, but two of those years were in a management position.
The job advertisement is not the only place to find information about the position. Why not use LinkedIn to find the person previously holding this position? What do they mention about their job responsibilities? How do their qualifications compare to yours?
Researching the interviewer
You could use a similar technique to find out information about your interviewer.
Are they with the Human Resources Department? If so, they are unlikely to ask you very technical questions.
Or are they your future manager? In this case, they probably will ask technical questions. And they’ll be looking to see if they would like working with you. In this case, it is important to be friendly and develop a rapport with the interviewer.
Remember, you can never do too much research. The more you know, the better prepared you are.
Answering interview questions in English
Answering questions is difficult, especially if English is not your first language. You might make a mistake or misunderstand the question. Worrying about this can cause a lot of stress.
So just how important is your English?
Here’s the thing – unless you are interviewing for a position as an English grammar teacher, an interviewer is not looking for perfect English. An interviewer is looking for confidence.
If you answer confidently, then what does it matter if you make a mistake or two?
In most jobs, it doesn’t. The important thing is to communicate effectively and to be understood.
Do you need to ask the interviewer to repeat a question? No problem, native speakers do this too!
Simply ask, “I’m sorry, Could you repeat that, please?”
It’s also perfectly acceptable to ask an interviewer for a minute to think about how you’d respond to a question. The interviewer will be looking for a well-constructed response, not an immediate response.
What sort of questions should you expect?
What sort of questions should you expect at an interview?
Let’s look at a couple of questions here, and see some model answers.
“Why do you want to work here?”
I suggest that you do NOT answer, “for the money” (too greedy) or “because it is a good company” (too simple).
Think about what the company is proud of and how you can fit into this. For example:
“I heard that the company just signed a major contract with the government. I feel it would be an exciting time to join with lots of new projects starting.”
“I like the fact that it is a small, boutique company with big name clients. That’s exactly the kind of environment that I want to work in.”
“Can you talk me through your relevant experience?”
Remember that the interviewer has already read your CV. The key word in this question is relevant.
You can pick out exactly the experience you wish to highlight. This is the experience that shows you in the best light or closely aligns with what the company does.
“Why do you think you are the best candidate for the position?”
Don’t panic! This is a great question, because it allows you to list out your good points. And don’t just give one answer. Have three or four ready.
You could talk about experience, technical expertise and aspects of your personality:
“As my CV shows, my experience is highly relevant to what you do. I have worked with different logistics management systems before, including the one that you use. On top of that, I believe you’ll find that I’m a good team player. I rarely have issues with the people I work with.”
“How comfortable are you doing work outside of your job scope?”
Now, it’s not enough just to answer the question, but you need to consider the reason behind the question. Let’s see if we can ‘read between the lines’.
Most probably, they need you to do things that aren’t “officially” part of your job. Perhaps you’re an accountant, but you might need to help out with administrative tasks.
So, the real question is: Are you okay with that? You know the answer that they want to hear (“Yes, of course. I’m happy to do anything that benefits my employer.”), but you should still answer honestly.
After all, if you’re not ok with that and you get the job, then you will have problems in the future.
“Are you able to work in a high-pressure environment?”
An interviewer won’t ask this question just for fun. This question signals to you that this company is NOT an easy place to work.
They’re specifically looking for people who can handle a lot of stress. Again, you know the answer they want (“Yes, I thrive in high-energy situations.”). But do you really want to work for a company like this?
“Give an example of a situation you faced where time management/teamwork/presentation skills were important.”
This is a behavioural question, designed to analyse your behaviour in a certain situation.
With questions like these, sometimes your mind just goes blank and you can’t think of anything to say.
What do you do?
Fortunately, your mind works much faster than your mouth. Studies show that you can think much faster than you can talk.
If you can stall for time for just a few moments and ‘buy time’, the answer will come to you:
You repeat the question. You say, “That’s a very good question!” You use a “filler” phrase, such as “Hmm…let me see”.
By the time you’ve done all this, you should have an answer ready.
Here are some other filler phrases:
In that case, I suppose that what I would do is…
This is a very interesting question.
Let me just think for a moment…
And remember, it’s perfectly okay to ask for a few moments to think before answering a question.
It’s time to practise interview questions… but how?
Now, you know where to find lists of common questions and read between the lines, but you still need a way to practise.
I want to suggest a three-step approach:
Step 1: practise writing out answers
Writing your answers first will help you to think carefully about the words that you want to use; there’s no time to do that during a real interview. It will also help you think about the length of your answers. How much detail do you need to give?
Step 2: practise speaking (and recording) your answers.
Recording yourself allows you to transition from your written responses to spoken responses. You can listen to yourself and check for mistakes, kind of like proofreading when you write.
Step 3: arrange live practice
Who can help you do this? I recommend using an English tuition website like iTalki or Preply. These sites offer Business English tutors who you can ask to give mock interviews and help you with your responses.
A one-hour lesson should be enough and it might cost twenty or thirty dollars. But this is money well-spent if it helps you to get that high-paying job you’re after!
Body language for online or offline interviews
Perhaps you are familiar with the basics of body language for interviews:
1 Maintain eye contact to show confidence
2 Lean forward slightly to show interest
3 Use gestures to show energy and enthusiasm when you speak
In an online interview, your body language should be the same as in an offline interview.
You should maintain eye contact - train yourself to look at your camera, not at the video of the other person.
You should learn forward and use gestures, even if your hands are not visible to the interviewer. Remember, the point of using gestures is to inject passion and energy into your speech, and this will happen whether your hands are visible or not.
Finally, remember that there can be a lag (a short time delay) in online meetings. This makes it easy to talk over the other speaker. To avoid this, wait an extra half second to be sure the interviewer has stopped speaking, before you respond.
After the interview
Immediately after the discussion, don’t forget to ask some questions of your own. If you don’t do this, it will look like you are not interested in the job.
Think of at least three questions to ask, and prepare them beforehand.
One or two should be specific to the role itself, and at least one should be a ‘big picture’ question, such as “What are the company’s goals over the coming five years?” This will show that you are a strategic thinker.
After discussing these questions, thank them for the interview. Here is an eloquent way to do this:
“I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to come today, and I’m really excited about the possibility of working for you.”
You can also follow up with a thank-you email. Not many interviewees do this, so this will really help you to stand out.
Here is a sample that you can use for this purpose:
Dear Ms. Smithers,
I would like to thank you for taking the time to interview me yesterday and I want to reiterate my interest in the position.
It would give me great pleasure to join ABC Co and become part of the team.
If there is any further information you need to make your decision, I will be glad to assist.
Thanks and regards,
You can do it!
To conclude, we’ve seen that it’s not your command of English that will get you the job, but your ability to communicate confidently and honestly.
But to be able to do this, you need the right preparation, and this includes knowing what questions to expect.
With the right prep and the right attitude, you CAN ace your interview.