English job interviews – a survival guide!

So you’ve applied for a new job and landed yourself an interview – fantastic, congratulations! For an hour or so you feel great, but then…panic strikes. How am I going to get through this??

Job interviews…we all have some sort of love-hate relationship with them, don’t we? After all, they may open the door to a new job, a new phase in our career, a fresh start! However, they can also be terrifying: in a very short amount of time, you have to convince a group of strangers that, out of all the people who have applied for the job, you are the one they’re looking for! This is a daunting task in your native language, let alone in a foreign one!

Therefore, we thought we’d give you a head start by listing some of the most common interview questions plus tips on how to answer them. Of course, these answers are not one-size-fits-all: you have to adapt them as you see fit. However, they will hopefully point you in the direction of what (most) interviewers are looking for!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself

After you’ve introduced yourself, it’s time for your first question, and this might very well be it.
Although it might seem easy – how hard can it be to talk about yourself? – interviewers don’t want to hear every single detail of your life story. Therefore, stick to the relevant facts – in this case, anything that is relevant to the job you’re applying for. In other words, when applying for a teaching job, don’t tell them all about the summer you worked as a cashier at your local supermarket, but do mention that you did some tutoring in high school / at university!

For example:

I’ve been working as a junior chef at a small Italian restaurant for 2 years and my duties included assisting the head chef and preparing salads. I have always been interested in food and cooking which was why I chose to follow this career path. I studied at ******* college, where I gained my first level cooking diploma.

2. What are your strengths?

This is your chance to advertise yourself! When your interviewer asks you this question, they want to know all your positive qualities. Again, stick to what’s relevant to the job! This means you need to know what kind of person is well-suited to this job, especially if you’re a newbie and entering the workforce for the first time.

An important point to remember here is not to just list a number of adjectives (anyone can do this), but to use examples to support your point, like this:

I’m a punctual person. I always arrive early and complete my work on time. My previous job had a lot of deadlines and I always made sure I was organized enough to meet them.

I consider myself to be a team-player. I like to work with other people and I find that it’s much easier to achieve something when everyone works together and communicates well.

I’m ambitious. I have always set myself goals and it motivates me to work hard. I have achieved my goals so far with my training, education and work experience and now I am looking for ways to improve myself and grow.

When I work, I always take initiative. If I see something that needs doing, I don’t wait for instruction, I do it. I believe that, to get anywhere in life, you need this quality.

3. What are your weaknesses?

Yes, you also have weaknesses – no one’s perfect! What the interviewer is trying to find out here is how you try to fix your weaknesses and they also want to know how self-aware you are.

The trick here is to turn those weaker qualities into positive qualities. For example, your weakness is that you spend too much time on projects which makes you work slower. Turn that into a positive by saying:

I sometimes am slower in completing my tasks compared to others because I really want to get things right. I will double or sometimes triple-check documents and files to make sure everything is correct.

You could also mention a weakness (like being disorganized), but say how you’re trying to overcome this, like:

I have created a time-management system, which allows me to list all my duties and organize my deadlines so I have a clearer idea of what I need to do.

4. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

This one is about your goals. Again, professional goals, not personal ones. Remember that it’s important to be ambitious, but NOT too ambitious as you don’t want to be seen as competition. You can mention:

By then I will have…I would like to have…

…improved my […] skills.
…created more of a name for myself in the industry (become more known for what you do).
…enhanced (improved) my knowledge of […]
…achieved a higher position.
…become a team leader.

Etc. etc.

5. Do you have any questions for us?

This is how an interviewer will usually finish the interview. Always make sure you have a question ready, as the interviewers want you to speak! If you don’t ask any questions, then they may view this as you being not very interested in the job.

Examples of questions you could ask:

Do you have any examples of projects that I would be working on if I were to be offered the job?
What does a typical day for someone in this position look like?
Does the company offer in-house training to staff?

We hope these tips will help you get ready for your next interview (whether it’s in English or German). Remember that the team at English to Go is here to help if you need more help with job interviews or any other Business English-related issues!

ENG                                              GER

terrifying                                     entsetzlich / furchtbar
convince                                      überzeugen
head start                                    Vorsprung
adapt                                            anpassen
apply                                            sich bewerben
strength                                       Stärke
well-suited                                  gut passend / geeignet
weakness                                     Schwäche
newbie                                         Neuling / Anfänger
entry into the workforce          Berufseinstieg
punctual                                      punktlich
ambitious                                    ehrgeizig
take initiative                             Eigeninitiative zeigen / die Initiative ergreifen
self-aware                                   selbstkritisch
competition                                Konkurrenz