FUNCTIONS: English for job interviews

It is very important to create a good impression during a job interview, but this can be especially hard when you have to speak in a different language. This post will help you use some common vocabulary and phrases in English that will help you get the job you are being interviewed for.

First of all, keep in mind that for most job interviews, you should be presenting yourself formally, using an academic rather than conversational level of English. Take a look at the table below to see how some common words can be upgraded to more formal alternatives.

Talking about your previous roles

In my last job In my previous position / role
People I worked with Colleagues
I worked with Mr X I coordinated with Mr X
I gave people jobs to do I allocated tasks / I delegated tasks
I made the shift schedules I designed the shift schedule
I helped with staff training sessions I facilitated staff training sessions
I told customers what they could do I advised customers regarding their options

Talking about your skills and abilities

I like to make sure a job is finished well I am conscientious
I can fit in to different jobs I am adaptable depending on the role
I get things done quickly and well I am efficient
I always think of new ideas I am innovative
I do things step by step I am methodical
I can work without a manger telling me what to do I am able to work independently
I know how to keep a secret I am discreet

Common interview questions

Of course, every interview is going to be a little different, but there are some questions that you are generally always asked when being interview. Read the question then the two responses that follow. Why is the response in blue better than the response in red?

Interviewer: So tell us a little about yourself.

Candidate: Well, I’m from ABC city in Shanghai. I also went to university there, and when I graduated I worked overseas for a few years for a British multinational company. My role there was to provide support for the IT team, ensuring that all staff were able to access the company intranet and send emails. I was also responsible for conducting training sessions for new employees so they were able to use the company’s computer system.

Candidate: Well, I’m from ABC city in Shanghai. I also went to university there, and when I graduated I worked overseas for a few years. I enjoy travelling, and in my free time I read a lot of travel books. I also enjoy keeping fit, mostly running.

Why is the answer in blue better? Click here to find out.In the first response, the candidate has focused specifically on a role they had. Although this will undoubtedly be something you refer to later in the interview, the question is asking about you as a person, so don’t go into too much detail about specific jobs.


Interviewer: What type of position are you interested in?

Candidate: I’m looking for a management position very similar to the role I had with my previous company. I would like to have a small team working under me so that I can meet deadlines.

Candidate: Ideally, I’m looking for a management position where I can utilise the experience I have gained from my previous roles, but I am also interested in expanding my experience into new areas.

Why is the answer in blue better? Click here to find out.In the first response, the candidate is very specific about the role they want. This means that if the company interviewing you have slightly different plans for the role they are looking to fill, you won’t be suitable. The second response is more open, while at the same time has still expressed a preference.


Interviewer: What would you say are your strengths?

Candidate: Well, I like to think that most of the time I can work well regardless of the pressure. Even if a deadline  is very close and there is still work to do, I will try to persevere in the hope of getting the project completed on time or as soon as possible.

Candidate: I work well under pressure and am able to meet project deadlines.

Why is the answer in blue better? Click here to find out.It is important to be direct when answering this question. Using language that suggests doubt / lack of certainty is not ideal. Of course, this needs to be balanced with not being too egotistical (thinking too highly of yourself).

Tip 1: Your pronunciation during the interview

One of the most common errors I have experienced when preparing non-English speaking candidates for an English interview is not so much what they say, but how they say it. Accept the fact that you may make a few mistakes, but make sure you are speaking clearly, using an interested and enthusiastic tone of voice. In the majority of interviews, the people interviewing you are looking for your ability to communicate effectively, so you need to make sure you’re heard.

Tip 2: Avoid negative language

The interviewer might ask you what experience you have in a particular area – but what happens if you haven’t really got the experience you think they might be looking for? For example

Interviewer: So do you have any experience in working with different departments on a projects?

You: No, I don’t.

You: Only a little.

You: Well, I have worked with different departments in previous positions, and I have had the opportunity to work on larger projects.

Keep in mind that short answer that focus on negative points will not give a good impression.


Some final vocabulary

Here are some words that may come up in an interview – make sure you know what they mean!

A CV (also called a resume [rez-you-may]) – a description of your education and work experience

A reference – a letter or comment from previous employers about your work

Your background – your personal history (where you grew up, hobbies, interests etc)

Salary – the money you make from a job per year (compared to wage, which is often by the hour, day or week)

Made redundant – when the position you had is no longer required by the company or the company had no more work for you

Fired – when you are forced to leave your job often because of poor performance or causing problems in the workplace

Resign – to leave your job voluntarily

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