Job interviewing in English 101

More information about Maud can be found here.

If you are looking for a position with an international company, you are expected to not only apply but also interview in the English language. Perhaps this is a language that comes naturally to you, or a language the words of which you painstakingly crammed before school tests. It might be a language that was very accessible in your daily life due to books, television and the internet, or perhaps one you have only come to feel any degree of comfortable with because of your professional environment. Whichever one is true to you, do not worry: below you will find a breakdown of how to do well during your (online) job interview, no matter how comfortable you are using English.

Strawberries and grapes

There is some low-hanging fruit for you to simply pluck from the myriad of tips you will find online: a couple of little tricks to make yourself feel more comfortable. For example, you can look up and practice some of the more typical interview questions. You might want to loop up and/or check some often-used words or familiarize yourself with the company- or job-specific slang, and the role you have applied for. It is always a good idea to keep your resume in sight during your interview, just so you can easily look up any references your interviewers might make to it.

Through the grapevine

To quote the incomparable Billy Mays: ‘wait, there’s more!’. Diving a little bit deeper into the psychology behind recruitment – behind and above the low-hanging fruit from the previous paragraph – there are a couple of other things to consider during your interview prep.

1. Know your audience

There is a theory called ‘Recipient Design’[1], which entails that in any conversation, one (sub)consciously takes into account the other’s level of knowledge and their convictions. There are two underlying theories here: one states that most people indeed apply a socio-centric or sociable approach, and a second theory, the egocentric approach, according to which one adjusts their manner of speaking only after receiving a certain reaction from the other, triggering them to adjust their strategy. Which approach you naturally turn to depends on your impulse control and capability of filtering (ir)relevant information, as well as your empathy, mood, and culture. Being aware of your manner of speaking and the manner in which your audience likes to be spoken to may help you bring your message across, no matter the language you use.

2. Throw your head back when you laugh

Not literally, of course, unless this is your usual style. What I mean to say is that the deliverance of what you have to say is equally important as your non-verbal presentation. It will never hurt you to show us that you care – to show your enthusiasm. ‘Why, how would one do that’, you ask? Prepare. Read up on the company, motivate your candidacy, and ask us questions, too. Build ‘rapport’, as the French would say. Arguably, interviewing in another language might complicate this a little, but an honest smile, eye contact, and clear pronunciation go a long way, both off/online.

3. Be kind to yourself

We like your answers straight and to the point. Making a grammatical mistake is fine, as well as asking us to repeat a question or having to take some time to think about how to word your answer. If you are not completely sure of your answer, try to avoid over-eager elaborations. A simple ‘I do not know’, or ‘I have not covered that yet’, is enough – we will probably praise you for your honesty, especially if you display eagerness to learn. Especially in a foreign language, you do not want to overdo it: you might confuse not only us but yourself, too.

Going into your interview, it might be helpful to remember that we have already selected you from what in this economy is usually quite the stack of candidates, purely based on your skills and motivation. Therefore, we are inclined to think that you have the skillset we need. The difference between being the preferred candidate on paper and in real life is your preparation and your ability and desire to put in the work.


[1] Mangus, M. Het Talige Brein: ‘Are we egocentric when we speak?’. 15-6-2020.

Learn more

More information about Maud van Turnhout, corporate recruiter at KPMG, can be found here. Learn more about her tips for how to use storytelling in your cover letter here.

Find our strategies and tactics for how to prepare for job interviews as well as our four-part video series on YouTube. In this series, you will gain insight into which interview questions you can expect, which ones you can ask, how to respond to those and what language (i.e. job interview terminology) to use during interviews. Learn more.

Follow us on LinkedIn through our company page to keep receiving updates on her posts and others you may be interested. Drop us a comment there and ask any questions about job interviews as this can be input for her future posts here on LinkedIn. This could generate good discussions on this social media platform.

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