Your palms are sweaty and your heart is racing.
But you’re not in a dangerous, life or death situation.
You’re at a job interview.
Recently, I came across a Bloomberg Business series titled “Cheat Sheet” which gives tips on having good interviews.
In fact, they ask hiring managers and interviewers (the people interviewing you) to give them details on how to succeed in interviews, no matter which position you want or which company is interviewing you.
So far, they’ve discovered what it takes (requirements) to win in interviews with top companies such as Microsoft and Bank of America.
I highly recommend that you check “Cheat Sheet” every two weeks to gain new insight (understanding) into the hiring process. Until the next one comes out, here’s an overview of the entire interview process.
We’ve got related vocabulary and phrases and tips to make a great impression. Let’s start learning so you can get your dream job!
8 Steps to a Successful English Interview
Sure, there are a lot of casual ways to greet others in English—but which one do you use at a job interview?
Always start with “Hello” or “Good morning.”
I love this post which teaches usual ways to greet others in English. It includes simple but important tips, such as saying “How are you doing this morning?” instead of just “How are you?” The small differences make the English very natural, just like the English that native speakers use.
When someone asks you how you are, be honest!
Boring: “I’m fine.”
Perfect: “I’m great! I’m at an interview for a company I admire,” or “I’m a little nervous. I’m at an interview for my dream job.”
This honesty and personality will connect with the interviewer. After all, they’re human too and they’re excited to learn about you.
2. Your Strengths
Interviewers have many ways to ask about your strengths. Your strengths are your best skills and competencies. They’re what make you a great employee. An interviewer wants to know what is best about you. They’ll ask about strengths with questions like:
- “Why are you suited for this company?”
Suited for means “right,” “matched,” “a good fit” or “suitable for.”
- “What can you bring to the table?”
Bring to the table means what benefits, skills or value will you bring to the company?
- “How will you be an asset to this company?”
An asset is something valuable. This question is really asking “How will you benefit this company?” or “How will you make this company more valuable?”
Now, how can you respond to these questions? You need to respond by telling them your strengths, your special value. In your answer, you should tell the interviewer something that you excel at.
- “I excel at multi-tasking.”
Something that you excel at is something that you’re amazing at doing.
When answering this question, you want to talk about how good you are. Many English learners get confused about using well or good in this situation. So, when do we use well and when do we use good?
Verbs are action words. Strengths are often verbs, for example: multitasking projects, completing assignments, inspiring others, etc. All those words that end in -ing are verbs.
You do (verb) well but you are good at (verb).
- “I am good at multitasking. I also write well and can complete reports well in a short time.”
In addition to “well” versus “good,” review ten other common grammar mistakes before going in for your interview.
Whatever your list of strengths is—add one more. Add your first language.
One major advantage you have is that you’re bilingual (or multilingual). You can easily connect this to corporate goals of globalization (international work), diversity and communication. Plus, you have experience working in multicultural environments.
Strengths are: key skills, talents, abilities, competencies, knowledge, things you do really well
Describing your strengths: excel in/at, asset to, bring to the table, good at, do well
Strength verbs: planning, organizing, monitoring, managing, evaluating, budgeting, inspiring, developing, encouraging, coaching, holding others accountable
Strength adjectives: multicultural, bilingual, multilingual, global, culturally diverse
3. Your Weaknesses
Be honest, you have a few weaknesses. Everyone has some. I have more than some.
Often, your weaknesses are related to your strengths. For instance, if your strength is that you always meet deadlines, your weakness may be that you miss some details along the way because you’re working so fast. On the other hand, if your strength is that you’re very detail-oriented, your weakness may be that you sometimes miss deadlines.
- “What would you say is your greatest weakness?”
- “What would your coworkers say they dislike about working with you?”
- “What would your former boss say your biggest opportunities are?”
The word opportunities means that you need to improve in these areas. You have the opportunity to get better. This is not a typical use of the word, but it’s a business term you should know.)
Let’s review some vocabulary that’ll help you market the not-so-good parts of your resume.
Always begin with frequency. Your weaknesses occur “sometimes,” “occasionally” or “at times.” You should use these words to show that your weaknesses aren’t happening and causing problems all the time. This lessens the severity (harshness, impact, seriousness) of your weakness.
Also, you should explain why these weaknesses only exist in certain situations. Instead of “I’m bossy,” say:
- “I delegate roles to the team quickly which sometimes makes my team feel I am not considering their feelings.”
This supports the fact that you’re aware of your weakness, when and why it occurs. It also shows that it’s just about how other people feel—you actually do care about their feelings. Therefore, you’re much more likely to be able to correct your weakness.
Being honest about your weaknesses shows self-awareness. That’s not enough though. Now you need to show that you plan to improve. Give them actionable steps that you’re doing to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Actionable steps are steps you’re taking to develop this area. Actionable means you’re taking action. In other words, you’re actively working towards a goal rather than waiting for something to happen to you. An actionable step to investing is saving money rather than hoping to win the lottery.
For instance, is your weakness your business English?
Tell your interviewer what you’re doing to learn, practice and reinforce business English. Include how often you do this and what your goals are. For example:
- “Every day, I read one article in The Financial Times and highlight the words I’m unfamiliar with. After that, I look up the definition and use each word in a sentence. Every Sunday, I quiz myself on all the new words I learned.”
This reinforces that these weaknesses are temporary. This is your opportunity to show that you’re focused on improving yourself.
Weakness are: things you don’t do well, problems, issues, opportunities for improvement
Weakness descriptions: makes my team feel…, makes others feel…
Weakness frequency: at times, sometimes, occasionally
4. Your Past
In the past, interviewers at companies used to ask people what they would do in a hypothetical (made up, imaginary) situation. This is not the way interviews are done anymore.
Now, your interviewers will want to hear what you’ve actually done in the past. This is the most accurate way to understand to what you can do in the future. Therefore, be sure to review your past tense knowledge to prepare for this part of the interview.
Possible interview question:
- “What were your responsibilities in your previous position? How did you tackle them?”
Your previous position refers to your most recent work experience (or the job you held before the interview). Your responsibilities (also called job, tasks or duties) were the kind of work you needed to do there.
Tackling your responsibilities refers to how you did your job. How did you manage your work? How did you handle daily tasks?
- “I was a sales associate in charge of the Northeast region. My responsibilities included meeting a sales quota every 4 months. I tackled my sales quota by setting small goals every month, learning about the product and building relationships in the local communities. I met my sales quota two months early.”
Not every question is so straightforward. Interviewers want to surprise you. They want to make you think and see if you’re good at solving problems. Other questions about your past might ask about your feelings. They might want to know when you felt the most proud or most disappointed at work.
- “When were you most disappointed at work? How did you feel? What did you do?”
A good way to answer this question is to use this common formula: PAR. P for problem, A for action, R for result.
What was the problem?
- “My colleague resigned and I was given all of her responsibilities, in addition to my existing work. I felt overwhelmed.”
Common problems or challenges are: working within tight deadlines,” (very limited time to complete work) and working with limited resources” (the resources might be time, money and/or staff).
What was the action?
- “I combined related responsibilities so I could complete them all together. I understood the job duties for this position, so I also assisted in hiring and training an appropriate replacement.”
What was the result?
- “I developed an effective replacement team member. She was even promoted within the year.”
PAR takes a negative situation, when you were most disappointed, and turns it into a challenge that you conquered (mastered). This shows that you can solve problems and be successful with responsibilities. Look here for great examples of PARs, listed by company department.
Past job description: responsibilities, duties, tasks, work, workload, role, assignments
Synonyms for “responsible”: in charge of, accountable for, answerable
Success and strength: Tackling your responsibilities (how you completed them)
Challenges: tight deadlines, strict deadlines, limited resources, few staff
5. Your Future
Show them that you’re goal-oriented. You have good goals, and you want to be successful.
First, you need to be able to talk about the future in English. Practice your future tense so you can master will, shall and going to.
When you want to talk about future goals, start your sentence with “I will” or “I am going to.” Then add a verb. You’re finished.
Let’s say my verb is practice. I will practice. I am going to practice. Add more descriptive information to keep your interviewers happy.
- I will practice business English every morning.
- I am going to practice business English with my colleagues every Sunday for three hours.
- “Where will you be in five years?”
Your interviewer wants you to be honest. They also want to hear that your goals align with the company’s long term goals. Use the above format (“will” or “is going to”) and make sure you describe your future in a way that will benefit the company.
- “I will be managing a large team of sales representations to achieve major sales goals.”
Grammar: Will, am going to
6. Tough Questions
As stated, interviewers want to surprise you. They want to see how you think. They want to know that you can solve problems, especially in stressful situations (such as an interview).
Lately, top companies are asking seemingly impossible questions such as “How many windows are there in Manhattan?” or “How many oranges are there in California?”
Step 1: Think out loud.
Step 2: Make a few assumptions and guesses.
Step 3: Answer.
Take for instance the first question: “How many windows are there in Manhattan?” How can we answer this?
Step 1: Think out loud.
“I would start by guessing how many windows are in each building.”
Step 2: Make a few assumptions and guesses.
“Assuming that the average building in Manhattan has 80 windows…Supposing that the average city block has 10 buildings…Let’s say that there are 1000 square blocks in Manhattan…That means there are 1000 x 10 x 80 windows.”
Step 3: Answer.
“There are 800,000 windows in Manhattan.”
Your assumptions are almost guaranteed to be wrong. That’s okay. That’s also why we have step 1. Tell your interviewer what you’re thinking about. Let them hear your assumptions. This way your interviewer can see that you’re intelligent, thoughtful and can solve problems.
Tough Questions Summary:
Assumption words: assuming that, supposing that, let’s assume that, let’s say that
7. Asking Questions
We’re coming to the end of the interview and it’s your turn to ask questions.
We know you have to ask a few questions. Interviewers will be waiting for your questions. They want to know that you’re thinking about the company, and that you’re very interested in this position.
Be sure to ask relevant questions, such as:
- “What would my daily responsibilities be like in this position?”
Highlight your desire for growth with questions related to in-house training or cross training. Ask about possibilities for advancement and improvement.
As Jon Youshaei, a contributor at Forbes, says that you should use this time to ask questions and share something about yourself. I love this example he provides:
Weak question: “Will this job provide opportunities to work in foreign countries?”
Strong question: “I’m passionate about languages and I studied Arabic in college. Will this job give me opportunities to work with markets in the Middle East?”
Rather than simply asking a question, you’re also sharing your interests and strengths at the same time.
Using English as a second language can be terrifying, particularly in an interview.
An interview is about more than language.
You need to know English well, yes. But you also need to use good body language. Act confident. Sure, you may be less confident in business English than in your native language. However, your ability to laugh about mistakes is positive. If you become nervous about making mistakes, then this will be more negative.
You’ll also feel more confident if you research the company and research the industry.
Applying for a finance position at Bank of America? Learn about the bank. Then learn about the current state of the financial industry in America and internationally.
You can easily learn about the company with the following resources:
- Financial statements — Formal reports of a company’s finances.
- Press releases — Official statements which share the latest news affecting the company.
- Earnings calls — Public calls discussing finances within a specific period.
Your interviewer might ask you specific questions about the company. Researching the above information will help you answer questions like:
- “What will be our company’s biggest opportunity in the next 5 years?”
Those are a few good ways to boost your confidence for your interview. Remember that practice makes perfect, so be sure to practice your answers with these common interview questions.
One more tip. Be yourself.
Are you matter of fact? Are you a joker?
No one knows exactly what your interviewer is looking for.
It’s important to truly show who you are so that the company knows who they’re hiring. This is a long-term strategy. If the company likes the real you, then you’ll be happier in your position and work environment.
Joyce Fang grew up all over the United States and currently lives in Yokohama, Japan working as a freelance business plan writer and graphic designer. She has earned a Japan-focused MBA and has worked across almost every industry including finance, hospitality, retail and event management. She loves traveling, food, rugby, hot yoga and her dog, Gator.
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