Job interviews can be scary at the best of times. Even more so, if you’re a non-native speaker still learning English, it can be a truly terrifying experience. What if the interviewer uses vocabulary you’re not familiar with? How will you respond if you are asked something you haven’t practiced for with your teacher beforehand? Knowing what to say, and perhaps more importantly, what NOT to say, can work miracles for your confidence levels and allow you to show your best side when it really matters.
This article explores the most common English interview questions that you are likely to encounter while job-hunting. Underneath each question, I also include a short explanation of what the question really means and how to give the best possible answer. There are also some useful examples to show what grammatical forms you can use for each answer.
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1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
This is the most common question and it is often asked at the very beginning. It’s very important to ask this question well. You need to express your profile information shortly and show your skills, work experience as well as results you got before.
So, you’ve got a goldfish called Pebbles and you once met Serena Williams? Interesting stuff, but not really what they’re looking for. This is where you want to give a concise, factual overview of your educational and professional history.
Where did you go to college/university? What did you study? Have you taken any relevant postgraduate qualifications? How long have you been working in this field? What is your job role? Keep it short and stick to the facts. You’ll have an opportunity to tell them how wonderful you are later.
- Past simple: I completed a postgraduate diploma in journalism.
- Present perfect continuous: I’ve been working professionally as an engineer for six years.
2. Why are you interested in working for this company?
Of course, the honest answer may be, “I need to pay my rent and I’m hoping to buy a 72″ plasma TV.” But this is no time for honesty. The interviewer wants to hear that you’re an ambitious go-getter who is enthusiastic about learning new things and genuinely passionate about this field of work.
The key phrase here is a new challenge. You should let the interviewer know that you’re so good at your current job that you’re looking for something that will give you a chance to really push yourself. But, remember not to sound too boastful. It’s also a good idea to do plenty of research about the company before the interview and explain exactly why you think it would be a great company to work for.
- Present simple: I am fascinated by this area of work and hope to build on my existing knowledge.
- Present continuous: I’m looking for a new challenge that will allow me to develop professionally.
3. What has been your greatest achievement?
Remember to keep it professional here. You may hold the record for the greatest number of hot dogs eaten in ten minutes, but your prospective employer wants to hear about what you have accomplished in your professional life. Think about academic achievements, big projects you’ve worked on, commendations from previous employers, or moments when you have reached particular milestones in your professional life. Don’t explain the what, but explain WHY it was so important to you or your company.
Past simple: I managed a team of seven people to complete one of the largest projects my former employer had undertaken.
My company was featured on the national news for a project that I led.
4. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
This question is quite a tricky one. There is a fine line between criticizing yourself too much and sounding boastful. When talking about your weaknesses, focus on how you have overcome those weaknesses to become a better employee. This way you’re sneakily talking about strengths without sounding too big-headed.
For example, if you’re a naturally disorganized person, tell the interviewer how you devised a system to organize all of your workloads as efficiently and clearly as possible. Or maybe one of your weaknesses is a lack of experience in a certain area of work? Tell the interviewer how you are enthusiastic about plugging that gap by working more in this area.
Used to/no longer do: I used to have problems organizing my workload until I came up with a system for clearly categorizing all my tasks.
Present perfect with “always”: I’ve always been very good at communicating ideas to people.
5. What did you like best and least about your last job?
You may have hated your last job and everyone who worked there, but this is not the place to reveal that. Prospective employers want to hear positivity and good vibes from you. So remember to focus on work-related aspects that you enjoyed; for example, you could say you enjoyed the opportunity to learn from more experienced employees and the supportive environment created by the managers.
When talking about what you liked least, use it as an opportunity to show how enthusiastic you are about new challenges you would face in the new job (see question two). For example, talk about how you would have liked to work on more varied projects or to have been given more responsibility. This will make you sound ambitious and proactive.
Past simple: I really enjoyed working with such experienced colleagues. They taught me so much.
Would have + past participle: I would have loved to work on bigger projects that pushed my abilities more.
6. Give an example of a problem you faced at your last job and how you solved it.
This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to show the interviewer you really know the job inside and out. Give concrete, real-life examples of when you’ve used your skills to solve a problem. Try to focus on something which shows you as resourceful (creative and flexible), dynamic (proactive and engaging), and full of initiative (actionable and self-driven).
If you are applying for a job in the same industry you work in now, feel free to use technical language to explain the problem and the solution. If it’s a different industry, remember that your interviewer may not know what you’re talking about; so instead use common everyday terms to explain what you did.
Past simple: I worked out a way of reducing waiting times for our customers.
I analyzed the problems with the ordering system and came up with a better alternative.
7. What would you like to be doing five years from now?
Ambition is a key requirement of any employee. If your prospective boss thinks you want to be successful, then he or she will presume you’re going to work pretty hard. So, what should you say here? Well, these questions depend on the role you are applying for and the opportunities for career progression.
Is this a corporate job where you can see a clear line from your lowly position to the chief executive within ten years? Or is it more of a technical job where progressing means acquiring more skills and knowledge so you can work in more fields? It’s best to have a good idea about this before you start the interview. Make sure you’re confident about what opportunities are available to you and be realistic! Saying you want your boss’s job within five years may sound a little arrogant if you’re applying for a relatively junior position.
Would like to have + past participle: I would like to have worked on much bigger projects and perhaps be leading a team.
Would like to + be + verb-ing: I would like to be working more in a managerial role.
8. Would you rather be in charge of a project or work as part of a team?
Is there a correct answer here? Or is this a bit of a trick question? Even if the job to which you’re applying is a managerial role, there will always be times when you have to work equally with other people. On the other hand, if you’re working as part of a team there will be times when you’re expected to take charge and show leadership. So… the ideal answer is: both
How can you say this without sounding dishonest? The best way to approach this is to talk about the benefits of both roles. For example, being able to communicate your vision to others is a rewarding part of being in charge of a project, while exchanging ideas with colleagues and learning new things is a great part of working as part of a team. Remember to stress that you have at least some experience in both roles.
Advantages and disadvantages: The advantages of being in charge of a project are…
Comparing and contrasting: However, working as part of a team is also rewarding because…
Tip 1: Use short specific English words and phrases
To better prepare for the English interview, first, you need to memorize some specific English words and phrases for the interview. In this way, you can communicate with the interviewer fluently.
Just keep your sentence short. If you speak long sentences, you might be overwhelmed during your expression, in particular when you are a little bit nervous. But if you are really bad at spoken English, you need to improve your English speaking skills first.
Tip 2: Visit the official website of the company
Visiting the company’s website will help you understand the core values better. Maybe you think it’s not important enough. Actually, European and American companies attach great importance to the core values. They want to hire people who agree with their company culture. In this way, employees can go together with the company for a long time.
Tip 3: Simulate the interview situation
After preparing the questions in English, you can try to answer the questions as in the interview. You can also face a mirror and pay attention to your facial expressions until you can speak out what you think with a smile and relax.
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Have you got the tips for the English-speaking interview? Just prepare these questions and answers. If you want to practice and improve your English interview skills, you can also book a lesson with our italki English tutors. And if you have any questions about this article, you can also contact us.