How to prepare for a job interview in English

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Preparation is key

Prepare for your English language job interview just as you would for any other interview. This may include researching the organisation's history and mission, determining the travel time needed to promptly arrive at your interview location, organising your materials and choosing an outfit.

Some companies may require you to take an English skills test during your interview, such as the British Council's Aptis. To help you prepare at little or no cost, several websites offer free online English skills tests.

Anticipate potential questions

Most interviewers have a set list of questions to determine whether you would fit the position and organisation as a whole. Sample questions might include:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to work here?

Take some time to determine how you would answer these and other interview questions in English, and be prepared to provide real-life examples that reference your job history. Refer to the job advert itself for keywords and ideal candidate qualities that you can highlight. Avoid memorising your answers in order to sound as natural as possible during the interview.

If you find yourself struggling to answer a question, do not be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat or reword their question. This is completely normal and happens in many interviews between fluent English speakers.

Role play the interview

One way to practise your language skills is to role play the interview. Find an English-speaking friend who can act as the interviewer by reciting sample interview questions in English and providing feedback on your answers. Alternatively, record yourself (on your mobile phone, computer or other recording device) asking and answering the questions in English. Play back the recording to see how you can improve your responses.

During your role play, pay attention to the speed and clarity of your speech to ensure that your answers are properly delivered and comprehensible. Individuals tend to speak faster when nervous, so by practising speaking slowly and clearly during the role play, you will feel more relaxed and confident during the actual interview.

Don’t underestimate the importance of body language

Psychologist Dr Albert Mehrabian suggests that only 7 per cent of communication involves spoken word. According to Dr Mehrabian, 55 per cent of communication is based on non-verbal behaviours (like posture and eye contact), and 38 per cent is based on tone of voice.

It’s unlikely that your interviewer will penalise you for pronouncing a word incorrectly. By ensuring that you speak with confidence during the interview, you can make a positive impression.

Being multilingual is a major asset

In today’s global job market, the ability to speak multiple languages in the workplace is a major asset. According to a report by New American Economy, the number of online job postings targeting bilingual workers has more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. Job recruiters are actively seeking individuals who understand more than one language, so you can rest assured that your language skills will be valued.

Learning a new language takes patience and dedication, two traits that can set you apart from other job applicants right from the start. You can even consider sharing your language-learning story as an example of the skills and personal qualities you can bring to the organisation.

By Megan Oliver

Published on 27 July 2017 at the British Council website

Why employers value intercultural skills

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We asked employers in nine countries how they view the role of intercultural skills in the workplace. Janice Mulholland of the British Council in the USA summarises the research.

The reality of today’s global economy is changing the way employers look at job candidates. While relevant experience and technical know-how remain must-haves for employers, they are also looking for employees with the ability to understand people from different cultural backgrounds, build trust, demonstrate respect and speak other languages.

To find out the value of these intercultural skills, we conducted a survey of more than 360 recruitment decision makers at large organisations in nine countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).

This new report – Culture at Work – looks into how employers view intercultural skills in the workplace, why these skills are important and how they stack up next to other necessary skills in employers’ eyes.

What do employers understand by ‘intercultural skills’?

To understand where employers are coming from, we first asked them to describe intercultural skills for us. The most frequent descriptor was ‘the ability to understand different cultural contexts and viewpoints’. The second and third most frequent descriptors were ‘demonstrating respect for others’ and ‘adapting to different cultural settings’, followed by ‘accepting cultural differences’, ‘speaking foreign languages’, and ‘being open to new ideas and ways of thinking’.

Why do employers think that intercultural skills are important?

We asked employers why these skills were important. While they gave many different answers, it seemed that many of the employers surveyed agreed on a few important reasons, all of which have benefits to an organisation’s earnings. One told us that 'employees with these skills bring in new clients, work within diverse teams and support a good brand and reputation.'

Employers also see risks associated with not having employees with these skills. The top risks identified were loss of clients, damage to an organisation’s reputation and team conflict. All of these risks could also have financial implications for an organisation.

How do employers evaluate job candidates for intercultural skills?

Once we established how employers define intercultural skills and why they are important, we asked them about how they evaluate job candidates for these skills.

While the majority of employers reported that they do not screen for intercultural skills in the application or interview process – at least, not formally – most were able to explain what they look for in job candidates that could be related to intercultural skills. These are the top five indicators of intercultural skills:

  1. strong communication throughout the interview and selection process
  2. the ability to speak foreign languages
  3. demonstration of cultural sensitivity in the interview
  4. experience studying overseas
  5. experience working overseas.

How well do education systems support the development of intercultural skills?

Finally, we asked employers how well they felt their country’s education system supported the development of intercultural skills.

The answer was a mixed bag globally, with some employers feeling good about the role of their education systems (Indonesia, Jordan, and UAE) and others mostly disappointed (China and South Africa). In some countries, respondents were either neutral on this issue (UK) or completely divided (US and India, with nearly a third of respondents in each category).

While opinions were certainly mixed about the success of the education system, it seemed that most employers agreed on a short list of things that education providers could do more of to improve the development of intercultural skills. Those suggestions included teaching communication skills, encouraging foreign languages, encouraging overseas study and developing research partnerships.

By Janice Mulholland

Published on 4 March 2013 at the British Council website


How to figure out what career suits you

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Anna Rowlands, who helps young people in the Middle East and North Africa transition from school to adult life through the Taqaddam programme, explains how best to answer the question.

How can you figure out what career to pursue?

It might sound obvious, but the first thing to do is to think about what you love doing and what you're really good at. Whether that’s at school, or at home, or with friends — which activities make you lose track of time? Which make you feel energised? And what is it about those activities that you find so absorbing? Note your thoughts down.

Also, think about ways you can either demonstrate your skills or apply them in a work context. For example, if you are really good at listening to other people, find more opportunities to use and develop this skill and research jobs where this skill is important.

Why are employers looking for skills such as 'listening'?

Academic achievements, such as good grades, are important, and so are technical skills, such as learning how to type, how to build a house, or how to develop a website. But soft skills are the glue that connects us, and helps us cope with difficult situations. To flourish in life, most of us need to learn how to get on with other people and show resilience in the face of stress. Optimism helps us ride out tough times and support people around us. In professional contexts, organisations want to employ people who aren't just technically and academically competent, but who will add to the team through their personality and behaviour.

What's the difference between soft skills and character strengths?

Character strengths are the personality traits that make us unique and define the way we are. Research shows that once you understand your strengths, and begin to craft a life that plays to them, you are more likely to be happy. Our character strengths form the bedrock from which we develop soft skills.

Soft skills are specific, learned abilities that help you work and interact with other people – for example, thinking critically, communicating effectively and being a team player. They differ from hard skills, such as how to change a car engine or code a website. Nonetheless, just like hard skills, soft skills take effort to learn, and mastering them involves a variety of character strengths. For example, to communicate effectively (a soft skill), you need a positive outlook, confidence and curiosity, which are character strengths.

How can you figure out what your character strengths are?

If you can, ask your friends and family what character strengths they see in you. Perhaps a teacher or a mentor could give you some guidance. It's important to ask about what others see as your character strengths, rather than what they think you should do for a career, as these two questions may produce different answers. You could take the Taqaddam survey to look at the strengths we identify there too.

Once you've gathered some feedback, keep a record of it. Do you recognise those strengths in yourself? Think about how you could build on them. We always recommend concentrating first on building your strengths rather than improving your weaknesses, because if you focus on your weaknesses, you’ll probably lose motivation. But if you work on improving your strengths, you’ll enjoy using them and honing them even more.

The Taqaddam programme works with 15- and 16-year-olds. Why is this such an important age?

There is stiff competition for jobs, and demand for high levels of skills. This can magnify the tensions and lack of control that young people often experience. It seems particularly hard on the fast-growing young population of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Many young people are leaving education unprepared for the job market, and face the prospect of long-term unemployment.

In a region where there’s such high unemployment, shouldn't we focus on jobs instead of helping people identify their dreams?

The one leads to the other. Encouraging young people to figure out what they are good at will help them articulate to teachers and future employers what makes them stand out from others. It gives them the experience and understanding that will stand them in good stead, not just for their dream job, but for their first job.

Everyone should have high aspirations, but it's also important to be prepared for the wide range of experiences that adult life will bring — experiences that exams don’t always prepare you for.

What is your advice for young people?

Don't think that what you are good at (or bad at) is fixed and unchangeable. Remember: what you practise doing is what you will become good at. It doesn't matter if you start practising aged six, 16 or 36. If you believe you can do something, you will try to do it, and then you will make that belief come true.

By Anna Rowlands

Published on 15 June 2016 at the British Council website