Asking Students the Right Questions to Help Prepare Them for Job Interviews

MC900054709interviewOver the years I’ve had to help a number of private students prepare for job interviews in English. At one point, I even worked with my Russian-speaking husband on his answers to typical job interview questions. Now after working many years in the U.S. as an executive recruiter, he’s more of an expert in this area than I am. He may have more tips than I do on presenting oneself, but I remain confident I can provide a good amount of support as an English language teacher.

Have you been asked to help students prepare for job interviews, too? What practices do you find to be most effective?  Here are some of my strategies.

1. Ask students to write out answers to several basic questions. You can easily find lists of common job interview questions online. Select appropriate ones for your students (or allow them to choose) and ask them to write their answers for the next lesson. The process of writing requires them to organize their thoughts and consider their word  choices.  During our lesson, we correct and revise the answers together for clarity.

2. Ask variations of those questions. Students must learn to  adapt their answers to different questions. Each question is an opportunity to strengthen one’s candidacy. Remind students that there are two goals in a job interview: give information the company wants and give information that you feel presents you as the best candidate. At this stage, I pose questions and allow students only occasional glances at their notes. We work on keeping their thoughts organized, answering the given question, and being concise. We all know that an interviewer is going to ask about your background and work history. It’s also very likely that you’ll have the chance to speak about your key strengths, your work style, and/ or a challenge you overcame. As the candidate, you need to practice speaking about these topics so that the ideas flow freely.

3. Ask students to memorize key phrases and lines from their notes. In my opinion, performance is a big part of doing an interview. You need to be yourself, but you need to be on your game and that means having some ideas ready for delivery. A good actor learns his or her lines. Good acting isn’t fake. It’s genuine. I think having some ideas well-rehearsed can help a candidate (native or non-native speaker) feel more confident going into the interview.

4. Do a mock interview. Whether it’s on Skype or face-to-face, I’ve had students role play with me. With one student, I found a lot of uncertainty in the greeting phase. How relaxed can the greeting be without being too casual? How do you respond to chit chat and questions about the weather?  We had to restart the interview a few times until she felt comfortable with the initial part. Each time, I varied my greeting and pleasantries. With another student, I once sat on the opposite end of a long table to force her to speak more loudly and to impose a sense of distance. I was no longer her friendly, familiar teacher, but a stranger across the room asking questions.

5. Encourage further rehearsal. Students need to continue making their responses familiar and natural. Suggest some practice in front of a mirror to monitor one’s facial expressions. Practice should be aloud in order to increase comfort with pronunciation and to make sure students are  fully articulating their ideas in English.

Click here for a related post on using resumes in the classroom.


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