Career

8 Steps for Interview Prep: How English Learners Can Confidently Answer "Tell Me About Yourself" and Other Questions

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Synopsis

Job interviews are scary -- even when English is your first language.

What will you say? How will you talk about yourself? Can you keep your personality? How formal is the American workplace?

But by using just 8 steps to prepare, you can walk confidently into your interview.

The 8 steps to interview success include:
-- Finding the right mindset and calming your interview fears
-- Researching the company with the open position
-- Understanding your purpose
-- How to nail the "About Me" speech
-- Following up with the hiring manager after the official interview

Get in the Right Mindset

Congratulations! It’s the day of your interview. 

You’ve talked to yourself in the mirror about your resume (or CV) ten times in the last two days. You’ve chosen your interview clothes. 

You’ve memorized the list of things you did in past jobs. You’re confident in your skills! 

But after you shake hands with the hiring manager, the words don’t want to flow. The conversation feels awkward. You’re not sure if you’re responding to unexpected questions properly. 

Are you making enough eye contact? 

Are you making too much eye contact? 

Is this entire meeting weird, now?

When you’re feeling extreme stress or anxiety, those feelings can make it more difficult to remember everything you want to say during an interview.

This is especially true when you aren’t interviewing in your first language. 

However, if you can shift your mindset, you’ll do a great job -- a great job with the interview as well as a great job at work, after you’ve aced the interview. 

This chapter is about the three main struggles I’ve seen ESL students deal with:

* Mindset

* Focusing too much on your personal life

* Not showing enough personality

Having the right mindset is the first step of a successful job search. It allows you to set aside the fear that causes anxiety and communicate effectively. 

Then, you can confidently talk about your job-relevant skills and experiences, without losing your personality. 

There is a balance. 

The next few chapters are full of actions you can take to prepare what you’ll say, but understanding these concepts is important before you start crafting your “About Me” story. 

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

You should believe you are a great candidate for the role, even if you know it will be a challenge. You should believe you can make a great connection with the interviewer, even if there are a few awkward moments.

I’ve known Rhonda Siex, PHR, SHRM-CP, who is a Human Resource expert, for several years. She told me why this mindset is necessary: “Of course, we want qualified applicants. But if people look at the overall job description and feel capable of completing the tasks, they can be trained to use new technology.” 

In other words, think about whether or not it’s possible to learn the programs or systems in the job description if you already have the education requirements and understand the main responsibilities. 

Carol Dweck, Ph.D. wrote a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that outlined two major beliefs people have -- either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. 

Fixed Mindset

People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence, creativity, and certain character traits are things we cannot change, even if we try. They might not even realize they have this mindset. However, you’ll hear it when people say things such as, “I stopped trying to paint because I’ve never been creative.”

Both success and failure reinforce -- or strengthen -- these mindsets. 

If you have a fixed mindset, then of course you know why Janet has a great job -- she was always really smart in school. It also wasn’t too surprising for you when Derek started a flower shop because he had a natural gift for keeping plants alive. While these might seem like innocent statements, they can damage your sense of self-worth if you begin to think you aren’t good enough because you aren’t like Janet or Derek. 

Growth Mindset

People with a growth mindset believe that challenges are a great way to improve our skills, judgment, and character traits. If someone responds to failure by trying again because, “Now I know not to use that much salt in my next chocolate cake,” they believe in their ability to grow. 

Take a moment to think about which mindset you have right now. The great thing is, you can decide which one you believe in.

Why Does This Matter?

Dweck’s twenty years of research for her book showed that both adults and children who believe that their intelligence or creativity is fixed are constantly worried about proving themselves and their worth. These worries keep them from trying new things. They also focus too much on perfecting the tasks attached to their worth. 

On the other hand, adults and children who believe they can cultivate skills and intelligence are able to improve their weaknesses instead of constantly hiding those weaknesses or feeling shame about them. 

By believing in your ability to improve, you are able to act in ways that will lead to improvement. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I want you to know that it’s okay to be nervous or anxious, as long as you’re willing to try and learn new things! That is your starting point. It was my starting point when I needed to prepare for my first professional interviews, and I know it is the starting point for many expats and language learners who need to have a successful interview in a foreign language. 

For years, I was very afraid of public speaking. This extreme stage fright caused my voice -- and the rest of my body -- to shake when I spoke in front of groups of people. I knew, however, that I could get better with practice. I hated knowing that practice was the solution, because it wasn’t fun. At all. 

So if you’re scared, or nervous, or anxious about this interview, know that it is okay to feel fear, and believe that you can practice staying calm and relaxed.  

Now, we can work on improvement and growth from here. 

What Do Hiring Managers Want to Hear? 

Hiring managers want to hear how your experiences and skills can bring them value and help the company succeed. 

* Can you complete the tasks from the job description?

* Do you understand your industry’s technical terms and buzzwords? 

* Are you aware of the company’s major competitors? 

Some candidates don’t know how to talk about necessary job skills at all, which means they won’t be able to communicate their most important qualifications. 

Take some time to read blogs, magazine articles, or case studies about projects in your industry. If you don’t know where to start, use the vocabulary and phrases listed in the job description. Get comfortable with the job-specific terms used in these materials and practice using them to talk about your education and experience. 

This focused conversation communicates how valuable you are to the company. 

However, just because your main focus is on the job role, that doesn’t mean you should cover up your entire personality! 

Keep Your Personality -- Don’t Be a Zombie

Some interview and office-related advice from the past ten years is getting a bit out of date. When I started looking for my first professional job, I thought I had to be “professional” above everything else -- whatever that meant -- because it felt like most of the advice I saw was telling me to hide my personality and become another stereotypical businesswoman in a suit. 

However, that advice did not reflect my reality. I discovered that, while it is important to be respectful of your colleagues and the environment, my office mates appreciated my sense of humor and the way I solved problems with my unique perspective. 

While some candidates need to practice talking about their industry-related skills, others -- like my past self -- need to let more of their unique qualities show. 

Just because you’re focused on the best ways to present your skills doesn’t mean you need to become a corporate zombie without any personality. The best part of feeling comfortable with yourself is the ability to be yourself

Remember: You’re Also Evaluating the Company

Human Resources knows that a motivated employee is more productive than an unmotivated employee. Countless articles online have made this common knowledge, even if some people disagree on the best ways to encourage workers. This means hiring managers want to make sure you’re already excited to work -- specifically at their company. 

 Ask questions as you think of them to show your interest. Interviewers are more impressed when you can go through the interview as more of a conversation than a one-sided interrogation. By the time you walk into your first interview, know what type of environment you want to work in, your lowest-acceptable salary number, and your scheduling deal breakers. 

And make sure you have at least one question left when they ask if you have any further questions! Experienced and confident candidates know that just because they could be successful at a company, doesn’t mean that company will be an ideal place to work for them. Further questions tell the hiring manager that you’re interested in a good match, instead of the first job that comes along. 

In a Nutshell

You can decide whether or not to have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. If you believe in your ability to grow, it is easier to learn new skills and become the best version of yourself. 

Keep the focus of your interview conversation on how you can help your potential employer. Talk about the job skills and experiences that they care about. 

Just don’t forget to show a bit of your personality in the process! 

And don’t forget to evaluate how well the company would fit you.



About the author

Tina Crouch has conducted hundreds of 1-on-1 English lessons with a focus on Business English, practice interviews, and academic writing skills. She used her students' common fears and most frequently asked questions to build this guide for job candidates who speak English as a second language. view profile

Published on October 29, 2020

10000 words

Genre: Career

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