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Give a good impression (without lying!) in an interview

One major factor is that ESL speakers are often poorly practiced at dancing around questions; you are too honest! Or rather, too direct. What's the solution?

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In an ideal world…

…you鈥檝e been headhunted for your next position at your dream company – because you really are the best in the business: totally career-focused, perfectly qualified and always learning, no interest in Netflix beyond your intensive English listening practice regimen, tons of relevant experience, and you just love to work overtime. Oh, and of course you are an elite CrossFit competitor and a loving parent too.

Give a good impression (without lying!) in an interview – carefully phrasing the truth to show your best side; adapting what you say to the interviewer’s expectations!

Back on planet Earth, I鈥檝e had a spate of last-minute panic bookings with students wishing to practice their English in time for a critical interview the following day. Now I know my students are reliable, hard-working, and have generally already proven they can do the job as they鈥檝e held comparable roles at 鈥榖ig 3鈥 companies (or big 5, or 7鈥 whatever it is in your sector). And yet, running through typical interview questions, I often find myself not being totally convinced.

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One major factor is…

…that ESL speakers are often poorly practiced at dancing around questions; you are too honest! Or rather, too direct. Any good interviewer must find out who you really are in the limited time the interview provides, and this requires that they鈥檒l ask questions which you don鈥檛 have an easy answer for. Lying is obviously not an option, but a truthful answer that is overly simplistic and direct can totally undersell you and appear to reveal a guilty truth, which could be a dealbreaker.

However, I鈥檇 like to make the case that the truth can often make for an excellent, positive sounding answer (even in the worst of cases) with just a little TLC. No longer something you admit to, but instead a constructive, functional piece of communication.

Questions and answers

Despite what your 7th grade English teachers may well have insisted, questions do not often have correct answers. Rather, there鈥檚 generally a lot of room for interpretation.

Let鈥檚 consider a highly unusual question:

Can you throw me your banana?

  1. Yeah, sure.
  2. No, I don鈥檛 have a banana.
  3. Oh I don鈥檛 have a banana here, let me grab you one from the kitchen.
  4. A banana? Should I have a banana?

Here are 4 鈥榗orrect鈥 answers, one of which is rather rude (2.), and one of which would most certainly be the best option if it鈥檚 your manager asking (3.). A more likely example:

Shall we call it a day?

  1. Yep, I think that鈥檚 about time.
  2. No, I think I have another half hour left in me.
  3. Absolutely, I鈥檓 bored stiff!
  4. Yeah, alright, just let me finish this part.

Again, all 鈥榗orrect鈥. Perhaps one of these is not true, though it sounds nice (2.), two of them are probably appropriate (1./4.) for responding to a senior, and one is definitely not.

So in an interview, remember that each question is an opportunity to interpret the question according to the facts, your goals, and the intentions of the interviewer.

Assuming that the interviewer wants to confirm that you are indeed the right person for the job, then when the question appears to expose a professional or character shortcoming, consider taking these steps:

  • Ask yourself 鈥榃hat鈥檚 true?鈥

  • Ask yourself 鈥榃hy? What鈥檚 also true?鈥

  • Select the best of the content you鈥檝e come up with

  • Rephrase to show your best side

What not to do?

Why have you been out of work for the last 6 months?

ANSWER: I was laid off and then just didn鈥檛 really want or need to get a job immediately.

Problem -> True, but too blunt / unflattering

What are your goals for the next 5 years?

ANSWER: My goals are to become a key member of your company because I think your company is the absolute best and I just want nothing more than to be a part of what you鈥檙e doing.

Problem -> (Presumably) Untrue, disingenuous, and too simplistic.

Better examples

Why do you want this job?

  1. I want to be paid more for my work.

  2. Despite contributing more and more value to my department as I gain experience, the company overall has underperformed in this last year. I鈥檓 not in a position to change company strategy, nor do I know what they should do, to be honest. But this means they鈥檝e been unable to reward me fairly for my contribution. This has been demotivating. Being rewarded well for higher quality work will mean I enjoy continuing to improve at my job, and so I will continue improving. I鈥檇 find this more meaningful. Your company would benefit from employing an individual like that.

  3. Whilst my current role has provided me with a wealth of experience and allowed me to take on greater responsibility and contribute more to the company as I鈥檝e grown, I fear management just haven鈥檛 been able to reward the team fairly. The salary you offer is therefore extremely attractive, as I imagine that your team are highly motivated to perform and to push the envelope in terms of quality.

You are missing one of our desired qualifications.

Why should we consider employing you?

  1. I know that I have the skill set required, even if I don鈥檛 have the qualification.

  2. I don鈥檛 have the qualification because my route into this field was atypical. I changed my route because one of my earlier jobs really didn鈥檛 suit me. The fact that I have learned on the job to the standard I am currently at is proof of my adaptability. I am aware of the requirements of the job (namely A, B, C鈥) and have the theoretical know-how already, so a small period of mentorship would prove my capability.

  3. I鈥檓 aware that I can鈥檛 exactly hit the ground running, which is something of a limitation, however I鈥檓 confident that only a slight extension to my onboarding processing would be required to bring me up to speed. You鈥檒l see on my CV that I actually entered into my current role before formally completing my master鈥檚, which required a fair degree of adaptability on my part. With some good hands-on mentorship, I expect to be working without direct oversight within a month or two at most.

What鈥檚 your biggest weakness?

  1. I am quite slow at learning new things.

  2. I am slow because I am very well practiced at my job, and so I do most of my tasks half on auto-pilot. The reason I can work reliably in this way is because I learned my job very meticulously and made sure to avoid silly mistakes from the start (perfect practice makes perfect), so I can trust my habits to produce reliable results. Learning something totally new is therefore quite the paradigm shift and challenges my routine style of work. I should expect to achieve similarly accurate, repeatable output and results once I have learned how to do it, though.

  3. Well far from being hasty, I have to admit it can take me a little while to work out new processes. I鈥檓 a big believer that it鈥檚 not just 鈥榩ractice makes perfect鈥, but rather 鈥榩erfect practice makes perfect鈥, so I really do like to be sure I鈥檓 not turning mistakes into habits. I mean, on the plus side this means that you can definitely rely on me to work quickly and accurately once I give you the thumbs up.

Whilst there鈥檚 obviously a limit to how far you can take this

I find that going through this process can often help candidates to take a step back and reconsider the truth of the matter. When carefully framed, the facts can always communicate valuable information about your attitude and your character, even if you鈥檙e not a superhero.

Any experienced interviewers reading, do let me know what you think of my number 4 examples. Would they convince you?

Michael Dubery

Chcesz pozna膰 nowe zwroty niezb臋dne w biznesowym angielskim?

Bezp艂atny e-book Business English specjalnie dla Ciebie

Wystarczy, 偶e podasz nam sw贸j adres e-mail, a e-book 30 KEY IDIOMS FOR BUSINESS MEETINGS聽trafi prosto na Twoj膮 skrzynk臋. Dzi臋ki nowym zwrotom lepiej zrozumiesz klienta i o偶ywisz j臋zyk angielski, polepszaj膮c p艂ynno艣膰 m贸wienia o biznesie!

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