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How to prepare for an interview in English
How you present yourself in an interview, regardless of language, is an important life skill that should be practiced. Your personal presentation, body language, composure and ability to articulate your experience are all key components of making a good impression at an interview. But what if you have to do the interview in English? Interviews can be a stressful experience and conducting them in a second language can bring its own challenges. In this article we will look at numerous different interview styles and how best to prepare for them in English.Phone InterviewChallenges
: Interviewing over the phone can present many challenges! Generally, the content of these interviews is not too deep; it is usually more of an introduction and a quick conversation to outline the next steps of the process. The main difficulty you could face with a phone interview is comprehension. Understanding accents over the phone is extremely important here. If the person conducting the interview is a native speaker it is very likely that they will speak quite quickly and not always that clearly. If English is not your first language you will inevitably at some point have come across a native speaker you found it hard to fully comprehend but generally in face to face conversations you can handle it. Over the phone there are no visual cues and the pressure is on to understand what has been asked - nothing is worse than that pause when someone is waiting for you to respond and you realise you are lost in the conversation! Non-native speakers are not necessarily easier to understand either. Whilst it is true that non-native speakers are more likely to speak slower, more clearly and use more accessible vocabulary, the variation in accent means they may pronounce something slightly differently to what you're used to.How to prepare
: Listen, listen, listen! The more you are regularly listening to a variation of accents in English the more likely you are to fully develop your ear. Movies, series, youtube, news channels, radio, podcasts...the more you listen the easier it will become. If you are lacking confidence in your comprehension skills aim for at least an hour a day of listening practice. Do some research - Where is the company based? If it's a large international company it may be harder to anticipate what nationality the interviewer will be but if you're applying for a local branch or a smaller company the chances are you will be able to find some indication of the nationality of the staff. If the company you're applying for is based in Texas for example there is no point in practicing with BBC English resources. If the company's head office is in Dublin try listening to some Irish accent videos. Check out the staff pages, is the HR department mostly American? Indian? French? It's not a perfect science to try and prepare for what accent you might hear over the phone but any indication is helpful.Video interviewChallenges
: Easier than a phone interview as now you can see the interviewer, however it is possible to have more than one interviewer present. Connection with video can perhaps be a little more unreliable and although you can now see each other it doesn't have the more companionable feel of an interview in person. Video interviews can also take the place of traditional in-house interviews so you may be preparing for a range of different interview styles - don't bet on it being a general or non-intensive interview. How to prepare
: As with any video interview in any language make sure your surroundings are clear and minimal, your technology is working efficiently and you are presentable. You don't need the added stress of trying to figure out technological problems while trying to appear composed and confident. You should be aware of what type of interview you are attending even if it's via video link. If you have done a lot of preparation for the interview treat it like a formal face-to-face interview and don't be tempted to have notes or prompts around you - they can still see you! HR interview Challenges
: A general HR interview should involve a member of human resources asking you typical interview questions designed to get an idea of your working style, problem solving skills, team work ability and overall experience. Typical HR interview style questions may include:
- introduce yourself
- what is your greatest strength / weakness?
- talk about a time you identified a problem and how did you solve it?
- talk about a time you worked in a team
- what is your greatest achievement?
The main challenge is to be able to present yourself and your experience in the best way possible. There can also be a strong cultural influence to these interviews - how personal you are expected to be and how much detail is expected in your answer can vary depending on the country. In the UK it is typical for the interviewer to expect a detailed account. If they ask you about "a time you solved a problem"
for example, they will be looking for the detail of the problem and an account of the process you took to identify it and rectify it. A generic answer such as "a lot of my day involves solving problems so I constantly have to identify new issues and fix them, it's all part of my role"
is not giving any indication of your working style, way of thinking or ability to notice details. You should also be prepared for personal questions that can be asked. For example, to ask a female candidate if she is thinking of having children in the near future is not permitted in the UK but may be a common question in other countries. On the other side a UK interviewer may ask about personal interests and hobbies to get to know your personality a little bit more whereas other cultures don't really ask those sorts of questions. It can be important to be aware of the company culture so check out their mission statement or company history / description online. Some companies foster a family-style atmosphere and so you may expect questions related to your personality and how you will fit into the team. It's also not uncommon for interviewers to "test" candidates by being rude or difficult to gauge their reaction so the more you know about the company and their corporate culture the better prepared you will be. How to prepare
: A HR style interview will focus more on soft skills so take your cue from the job description and prepare examples of your character and working style that highlight the qualities they are looking for. Practising this style of interview with an ESL teacher is very useful to identify any incongruous vocabulary. How you may talk about an experience in your own language doesn't necessarily translate well into English. Practice describing situations and events at work, you don't want to get stuck thinking about your grammar and what past tense you should be using while you're trying to give details about an important moment in your career. Anticipate some general areas and questions you will be asked and run through them with a business English teacher. Make sure you're confident in introducing yourself and think of a few adjectives to describe yourself, your strongest skills and your working style, but remember there is a fine line between well prepared and too rehearsed - be natural in your delivery. If you are interviewing for a job in another country speak to someone of that nationality and ask about interview styles. It may be true that individual companies have their own corporate culture (and international companies their own style again) but you should anticipate any line of questioning that you are not so familiar with so you don't get caught out. Competency interview Challenges
: In many ways this style is easier than the general HR style. You can expect specific questions relating to any and all aspects of your job, both previous and what you are applying for. Be prepared to explain technical procedures, talk in depth about projects and demonstrate strong practical working competencies. A proficient technical vocabulary is extremely necessary.How to prepare
: If you're not already confident speaking about your profession in English then Business English classes are a must. Nothing will stand out more to a potential employer than someone who can't talk about their profession in depth. Make sure you're well prepared in technical vocabulary, expressions and phrases. Check out the job description for the hard skills they're looking for and practice talking about your experience in these areas. Depending on the company you may be able to find sample interview questions or other online resources that talk about their interview style or give examples of previous candidates or interview techniques. Many top international companies have a specific structure to their interviews and offer training and preparation courses but be aware these can be very expensive and are unlikely to be one-to-one.PresentationsChallenges
: Presentations can be nerve-wracking at the best of times! Practice A LOT and make sure you're well prepared (with or without notes) and anticipate questions you may be asked afterwards. Not all presentations are created equally - before the presentation you should know whether you have to prepare and present something, be given something at the interview to prepare, role play a situation or be expected to make a presentation on the spot. Top consultancy firms usually conduct a case study during the interview process.How to prepare
: Do your research! When you're invited to the interview they should outline what each stage of the interview process is so you should know what to expect if you are required to present something. You can also do some research on internet forums or, if possible, ask previous or current employees. A presentation really combines a demonstration of soft skills, hard skills, English ability and composure. Practice and prepare as much as possible so you feel confident in your delivery. Getting to know you
One of the hardest aspects of an interview can be talking informally about yourself; you want to demonstrate that you are a good fit for the company but also be authentic. Don't try and create impressive interests or hobbies in an attempt to cultivate an image of yourself - if you are inventing at the same time as you are speaking, especially in a second language, you are more likely to be caught out. A typical British CV will have a short section detailing personal interests outside of work. If you are not used to talking about yourself in this way, or if you don't normally include something similar on your own CV, then think about how you could talk about yourself in a non-professional capacity. Questions to get to know more about you could include:
- what are your hobbies?
- what do you like to do on the weekend?
- tell me something that's not on your CV
- talk about something in the News lately that has interested you