How to Nail an Interview in English as a Language Learner

How to Nail an Interview in English as a Language Learner

Whether it's your first interview or your millionth, an interview is a major step in acquiring a new job.

Interviews can be very stressful! You are being evaluated in a short time and asked many questions. That can be difficult--especially if it is in an entirely different language!

As an English language learner, it can be overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be.

Fear not--with this handy guide, you'll be able to practice some common interview vocabulary and questions so you can nail that interview (just as an FYI, "nailing an interview" means to do really well!).

Without further ado, let's go over some basics and learn about how to prepare for your English interview!

man pointing with a pen

Get the Basics Down First

First, let's talk about how to introduce yourself at the reception and say you are there for an interview.

This is a pretty simple introduction. Simply say your name, why you are there and what time your interview is. Here's an example:

"Hello, my name is Jane Doe. I'm here for an interview with the software manager at 2pm."

Now let's look at how to introduce yourself during an interview.

Interviews usually start the same. The interviewer (or interviewers) are wanting to get to know you better. They likely already have your resume, so they know the paper facts. Now they want to get a sense of who you are in person.

This is a great time to not only show off your experience but also to explain more about specific projects, courses, or any gaps in your resume. With that, let's look at some really basic interview questions in English.

Here is a list of common basic questions that will apply no matter what industry or field you are in:

  • Can you tell us a little about yourself?
  • Why do you want this position? What interests you about this role?
  • Can you tell us about your experience at X company or in Y field?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What qualities do you value most in a workplace/leader?
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?

These questions might seem simple, but they can be hard to answer on the spot--doubly so if English is not your first language!

Take for example "Can you tell us about yourself?" It can be hard to know what to actually say. Our recommendation is to come up with a short "bio" (biography) that can answer some of these right off the bat.

For example:

My name is John Doe, I'm from HappyTown, USA and I graduated from SmartPerson University in 2021. I am very interested in traveling, so I worked in Japan for three years as an English teacher. But now I am working at FancyRestaurant as a chef. I'm now looking for work opportunities as a software engineer.

The formula would go like this:

Who you are -> your education/career experience -> your future goals and interests (AKA why you want this position!).

Of course, don't be afraid to spice things up! Add your own flair and customize this to your liking. Depending on the sort of company you are applying to, you might want to make sure you answer using formal English. Speaking casually might come off poorly if you're interviewing for a more traditional workplace--like a law firm or consulting agency!

In the end, the big key is to answer major questions of what you have done and what you would like to do!

woman on a laptop outside

Let's Break Down Some Interview Vocabulary

Interviews are a very unique window of English. Because people don't use Business English in everyday life, you might not be familiar with some important interview vocabulary.

Here are some powerful words that will not only be good to use yourself, it will be vital to know in case your interviewer uses them.

Availability - when you are free/able to work or meet.

Candidate - someone who is interviewing/being considered for a job.

Cover Letter - a personal letter you write that describes who you are, why you want this job and what you can bring to the company. It is a one-page letter that is more detailed than a resume.

Credentials - your proven skills, i.e. a degree in Engineering or a certificate in Managerial Development.

Extracurricular - activities or hobbies done in your free time.

Expertise - what you are an expert in, what your skills and experience show.

Industry - a particular field or type of work: i.e. the software industry, the global trade industry.

Opportunity - a change; a new chance to grow or go in a different direction (usually very positive).

Qualifications - what experience or skills you have that prove you are a good fit for the role.

Reference - someone, usually a superior or boss, who can speak to your qualifications.

Reliable - someone who you can trust and who always does their job, helps others, etc.

Resign - to quit a job.

Responsible (for) - what is part of your duties, what you should do at your job.

Salary - how much you would earn in a year.

Suitability - how someone or something fits will fit a job.

Superior - someone who is in a higher-level position than you, such as your boss.

Supervisor - your boss.

Team Player - someone who works well with others.

If these words seem easy to you--great! Now you are one step closer to crushing the interview (another way to say "to do really, really well!").

Don't forget to look up some industry-specific words in English. Whether you work in customer service, healthcare, technology or something totally different, your own field will have its own unique questions and vocabulary to think about! Check the job description, use your credentials and go forth and conquer!

someone writing in a notebook

How to Answer with a Story

One tip is to be prepared if the interview is more "experiential". This is an interview practice that focuses on describing scenarios related to your past work experience. This means, the inrterviewers are looking for answers that are based on your own experiences. One way to tell is if their questions begin with: "Tell me about a time when you...". That is an indication they're looking for a story from your past work history.

Some common experiential questions could be:

  • Tell me about a time when you experienced a challenge at your workplace and how did you overcome it?
  • Can you tell us about a time when you had a tight deadline?
  • Can you describe a time when you had a conflict with another employee? How did you resolve it?

Think of some important examples. Maybe you helped a customer find the perfect product. Maybe you helped solve a problem with a creative solution. Maybe you needed to motivate an unresponsive employee.

A common approach is to use the STAR Method. This approach means to answer the questions using four steps:

  1. Situation - What is happening? What problem needs to be fixed?
  2. Task - What was your responsibility in the situation? Were you in a group project with other coworkers? Were you in a leadership position? Describe your role.
  3. Action - How did you take action? What did you do to help find a solution? Focus on what you did, not what another coworker or boss did.
  4. Result - How was the situation resolved? Most importantly, what did you learn from it?

For the story, it is important to use past-tense. For example:

As a director, I was responsible for training course development. After some course feedback from my employees, I realized that they needed more support. I decided to create a new training program that would pair them with an executive. This was a huge success because it gave the employees a chance to learn from their leadership. The program is still in place today and has improved our company culture greatly. It taught me to think creatively and invest more resources in employee development.

See how much past tense there is? Even if using past tense in English is easy for you, this example is a good reminder that past tense helps build the story. Walk your interviewers through what happened!

But the most important thing about these experiential questions is they want not only the story, but what you learned from it. How did you handle it and how did that help you in the future? How did it prepare you for this current role?

Remember, don't ramble! Keep it short and sweet.

a man at a rehearsal

Practice, but Don't Rehearse!

Our last piece of advice for today is to practice--but don't rehearse.

It is so important to think of the experiences you want to talk about. As a language learner, it can be difficult to think on the spot in English. You want to prepare enough to be relaxed and confident in your interview.

Prepare some stories you can tell. Practice some words that might be difficult to pronounce. One great strategy is to mirror their language! Read through the job description and pay attention to the keywords they use, like "innovative," "strong communication skills" or "creative." Then use those words in your answers in the interview.

For example: "One of my biggest strengths is that I am a strong communicator. I want to work for a company that is innovative and forward-thinking." Don't just repeat what the job description says exactly--but mirroring helps with nailing the interview!

Then, find a friend (maybe someone who speaks English natively!) and have them read you some questions in a mock-interview.

Last, but not least--watch videos! Watch how people answer questions and present themselves during an interview. You can pick up a lot of vocabulary not mentioned here, as well.

However--and this is important--you don't want to practice so much that you sound like you're reading from a script! It is okay if your grammar isn't perfect or you slip up pronouncing a difficult word. The most important thing is that you show your expertise and suitability for the role--and that starts with confidence.

two people shaking hands

You Can Do It!

Interviews can be anxiety-inducing. There is so much pressure to present yourself well in such a short time--and it's even harder if it's not in your native language!

But fear not. If you have the opportunity for an interview, that means your resume and application have proven you are qualified for the role. All you need to do is practice your vocabulary and answers and show up with some confidence.

You got this! Best of luck.