For the past two weeks, I’ve had the delight and honour of hosting/teaching a French lady. Fabienne took voluntary redundancy from her job last year and has spent this past year working on her English. She’s now considering her professional options and wanted to focus on her job interview skills with me so as to be ready for the next stage in her career.

We spent the two weeks analysing what makes a good interview, what language to use, what is the right attitude to have during an interview and so on. We listened to interviews, role played them and analysed them some more.

One resource I used as a guide during the course was the excellent Business English Pod. They have a series of lessons dedicated to job interviews which is informative and well-structured. I am indebted to them.

In most first interviews, there is a series of questions that you can be sure to be asked. I mention first interviews because in many jobs, people are often invited to attend second and even third interviews before being offered a job. In this post I am going to describe what questions are asked in the first interview and how to answer them in English. I am also going to share some useful phrases that would be worth your while practising and remembering.

First of all, let’s see what these commonly asked questions are about:

  • Background
  • Current responsibilities
  • Personal characteristics
  • Proudest achievement
  • Greatest strength and weakness
  • Reasons for leaving your current job
  • Questions you may have for the interviewer

This list is by no means exhaustive but it’s a start.


‘ Can you tell me something about yourself?’

With this open-ended question, you’re being asked to give a brief summary of your professional background. I mention brief because you need to avoid the long and rambling reply. It’s essential you have a clear structure in mind. We all know that this technique is hard in our own language let alone doing it in another language – so beware!

Briefly summarise:

  • your current responsibilities
  • your work experience;
  • your education and professional qualifications, if relevant

“I graduated from Southampton University in 1989 and joined ABS Systems. After two years, I moved to JBC as an investment analyst where I was responsible for the pharmaceutical sector. Four years later I was promoted to senior investment analyst in charge of a team of 5 analysts. For the last five years, I have been with XYZ investments where I am responsible for the engineering sector.”

Quantify your achievements: Where you can, use specific numbers. That way you quantify your achievements. This is especially useful where you want to show your added value.

“In the two years I was in charge of logistics, our delivery times halved from 4 days to two days from receipt of the order”

Current Responsibilities

Some phrases for starting:

I’m mainly responsible for …….

My main duties include ……….

I’m mainly in charge of coordinating…………..

In addition to my financial responsibilities, I take care of organising …..

Verb-noun collocations
When you’re asked about your current job and responsibilities, it’s useful to learn verb-noun collocations to describe them in English. That will make you sound more natural. There are many and you need to select the ones that are appropriate for your job.

Here are some examples:

  • handle calls/ meetings
  • manage a portfolio/ a team
  • organise schedules/ events
  • coordinate events
  • provide cover for
  • deal with problems/clients
  • oversee day-to-day management/ a portfolio of shares
  • support key managers
  • prepare agendas
  • resolve conflict

Another way you could get useful collocations related to your job would be to look at the the key responsibilities in the job advertisement for which you’re applying. Highlighting the key phrases will help you enormously.

Personal Characteristics

“How would you describe yourself?”

The question that requires careful thought especially as you will probably be asked to provide an example to back up your response.

Using dynamic phrases (usually adjective-noun combinations) will catch your interviewer’s attention. Phrases such as:

adapt well to new situations
thrive on challenge
flexible thinker
effective team member
work well under pressure

“I’d describe myself as a dynamic team player, with the ability to thrive on new challenges and work well under pressure” (Source: Business English Pod)

For more phrases, take a look at this. Be sure to pick a few that most describes you and are appropriate to the job you’re applying for.

Some phrases may need clarifying especially if they are buzzwords such as “risk taker”, “thrive on challenge”, “self-starters”. Clarifying what you mean by your choice of terms shows that you understand and ‘own’ your words; they are not words you’re using at random. Use expressions as these below:

“In my management philosophy, I am a risk-taker. What I mean by that is I am willing to try new things and think in new ways”. (Source:Business English Pod)

“I definitely think it’s good to create a team of people who are self-starters. What I’m saying is that as a manager you should welcome people who are motivated, have ideas and who work well independently”.(Source:Business English Pod)

If your interviewer were to ask you to provide them with an example of a situation that could demonstrate a particular characteristic, you may need to give yourself some time to think.
Giving yourself time to think is important and the following phrases will help you gain precious thinking time:

Mmm, let’s see…..
That’s a good question …….
Just bear with me for a second……
That’s an interesting question. Let me see……..


Summarising a response
Once you’ve given an example, summarising that response would give a strong impression of your orderliness and structure of thought.

For example, you could say:

“In a nutshell, I think this story clearly demonstrates my ability to prioritise tasks”.

“In summary, taking the initiative has led me to success again and again in my career as I think this story illustrates”. (Source: Business English Pod)

In Part 2, I will cover how to deal with sharing your proudest achievement, describing your greatest strength and weaknessgiving  reasons for leaving your current job and finally, asking rather than answering questions.

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Ciao for now


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