Nervous about your English? Tips to help you express yourself well in an interview

Portrait of a young man talking about himself during a job interview

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I know the feeling. When I finally snagged a job interview after sending out what seemed like a hundred applications, I was euphoric! In my head, I thought, I have the right education, training and experience for this job. I’ve got this. But then I began imagining the interview. Panic started to set in. What if I can’t explain that I have the necessary skills? What if I can’t remember the right words in English? What if I can’t think fast enough and run out of things to say? What if I forget to wear pants (sorry, it’s one of my recurring dreams when I’m stressed)?

If you have the same fears, welcome to the club! Aside from the usual concerns of making a good impression, newcomers like us need to make an extra effort to hurdle our fear of speaking in English. The good thing is that there are techniques that can help you overcome your fears and bring your confidence back. Here are some of them:

Preparation is key!

Just like for an exam, we become more relaxed when we are prepared. Your initial preparations should include the following:

  • Research on the company and the job. Find out what the company is all about, it’s mission, vision and corporate culture. It will also help to read any recent news articles involving the company or the particular industry to which it belongs. Having knowledge of these indicate that you keep yourself updated about trends. It tells your potential employers that you have a genuine interest in your field and in joining the company. On the other hand, knowing about the company’s mission and vision will help you craft your answers to reflect their beliefs and priorities. This will convince your interviewers that you are a good fit for the organization. For more tips, read How to research a prospective employer before an interview.
  • Prepare a script. Think of answers to the most common interview questions and write them down. Memorize if you must, but be careful not to sound robotic or fake when you deliver your lines.Read The most common job interview questions you should prepare for to get you right on track.
  • Remember the STAR method when answering questions. STAR stands for Specific situation, Task, Action, and Result. This pattern is appropriate for answering behavioral questions. For instance, if the question is: “Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a difficult project.” Don’t say something general like “I always took lead roles in all of my department’s projects, and I handled them all successfully.” Instead, name a specific project and relate exactly what you did to make it succeed. A good response would be something like this:
    “I volunteered to lead a committee to study why our sales dropped in the last quarter (specific situation). I analyzed our numbers as well as customer feedback and saw that poor customer service was a common complaint (task). I led a brainstorming session with the committee to come up with solutions, and we implemented them in all our branches. We began by holding customer service trainings to motivate front line staff and equip them with the proper skills (action). A month after, we saw our sales increase by 30% (result).”

Practice

Using your script, practice with a native speaker. Ask him/her to critique you and take down notes. It will be good to revisit those notes afterward and focus on improving your weak points. Revise your script accordingly and if you have time, practice again.

Make your international experience a selling point

Many companies value diversity in the workplace. So instead of apologizing for not having “Canadian experience” be confident when you tell them about your international experience. Emphasize the skills that you gained with this exposure. For instance, you can say that you have learned to work with limited resources or that it has made you more adaptable to dynamic work environments. Another good thing to mention is if you have knowledge of other languages.

When talking about your international experience remember that your Canadian interviewer/s may not know anything about your country. So when you are describing your education or professional achievements, it may help to add important details like, “I graduated from my country’s top school” or “I worked for my country’s leading pharmaceutical company” if you did. But be careful not to over-describe (because it will sound boastful). Most importantly, never lie about your achievements.

Don’t mind your accent

Being one of the most multicultural cities in Canada, most people are used to accents in Manitoba. When you talk, what matters most is that you can be understood. If you have a heavy accent, try to speak slower. Don’t be sad or offended if they ask you to repeat what you say. Speak confidently and remember to talk at the right pace.

Don’t worry! Even native speakers make mistakes

Most newcomers are tripped up by the fear of making mistakes. But most of the time, you’re the only one who notices those slight grammatical errors. Focus on the content of what you say and think positively!

During the interview: Ask if you don’t understand

If you don’t understand what the interviewer is saying, let them know but say it politely. You can say, “sorry?”, or “do you mind repeating that again, I did not catch the __part.” You can also request the person to speak slower if he/she is speaking too fast for you to understand.

Sources: 7 ways to conquer your fear of speaking English and communicate with courage, Real Life Global.com; Managing the English interview as a non-native speaker, CV Correct.com; STAR method, University of Leeds Career Centre.

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Community Resources

Also read 5 best strategies to ace that interview for additional tips on the STAR method, asking smart questions and writing a “thank you” email post-interview.

There are many employment workshops all over Manitoba if you need help preparing for an interview:

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Quiz

Nervous about your English? Tips to help you express yourself well in an interview

Read the following questions and select the best answer for each one. Please note that some questions have more than one answer.

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