10 Tips from Non-native English Students to Get You Your First Job

I emailed some of my former ESL students who now live and work in English-speaking countries (the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada). I asked them to share one best tip about interviewing for jobs as a non-native English speaker for an English-speaking job. They were happy to do so. Here are their responses:

  1. The interview. The interview is the most intimidating part of the job application process.To help gain confidence in interviewing skills, you should practice the interview process and work on listening and speaking skills. Think of how you would answer some of these typical questions. Then find a friend who can ask you questions and role play the interview. Keep practicing every day until you can “think on your feet”.Typical questions might include:

About the position you are interviewing for

What interests you about this job?

Why do you want this job?

What attributes/experiences do you have that make you qualified for this particular position?

Why should we hire you?

Why are you the best person for the job?

What do you know about this company?

Why do you want to work here?

What challenges are you looking for in a position?

What can you contribute to this company?

What do you see yourself doing within the first 30 days on the job?

Are you willing to travel?

Why do you think customer service is important?

How long do you expect to remain employed with this company?

About past employment

What were your responsibilities?

What major challenges and problems did you face?

How did you handle them?What did you like or dislike about your previous job?

What do you expect from a supervisor?

What problems have you encountered at work?

Describe your ideal boss.Why are you leaving/changing/resigning from/quitting your job?

What have you been doing since your last job?

About you

What is your greatest weakness/strength?

How would you describe yourself?

Do you work well with other people?

How do you handle stress and pressure?

What motivates you?

What are your salary expectations?

What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make?

Why did you choose your major/college/career?

What has been the greatest disappointment in your life?

What are some of your interests?

If the people who know you were asked why you should be hired, what would they say?

Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?

Give some examples of teamwork.How do you evaluate success?

  1. Questions that should not really be asked – ever. Know that there are some questions that interviewers should not ask. These pertain to such things as race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability and marital/family status.  Be prepared to answer the question(s) anyway as the interviewer might routinely include these type of questions or he/she may be new and not fully know what types of questions should be avoided.  If a question in one of these categories is asked, it is a good idea to answer in an upbeat manner. There is no need to go into excessive details. Answer politely and directly.  For example, if the question of age is asked, you could smile and say something like Oh, I never like to say how old I am or you could just state your age.  If someone asks about your national origin, you could say where you are from and then state that you are living in ___ now and hope to spend your future here.
  2. Study about the company and position you are applying for. It pays to learn a few things about the company to which you are applying. You probably can find some updated information about the company and what exactly the position you are interviewing for by looking on the company website.  Do you know the company’s philosophy?  How about their product brand and how they are different from other competitors? What are the specific job requirements for the job you are applying for? Again, you could find someone to ask you these questions and you could do a mock interview until you feel confident that you would know what to say in an actual interview situation.
  3. Sound natural.  Instead of memorizing answers, it is important to anticipate certain questions and think out how you might   answer them.  However, it is advisable to not sound like you have memorized the answers to the questions.  The content of the answer is important to remember, not the exact working. Work on the content and the wording will follow.
  4. Proper dress. You should dress appropriately for a job interview. The rule of thumb is to dress for the interview as you would for the job. Your clothes should be clean and pressed.  Your shoes shined.  It is important to look well-groomed from  your hairstyle to your fingernails, etc.  If you are male, wearing a pair of dress pants, a dress shirt and tie, and dress shoes would be good choices.  If you are female, a skirt, dress pants or a dress with dress shoes is the standard choice.  It is important to bring along any items      requested to the interview. Other than that, bringing a professional-looking  notepad or notebook and a ball point pen would be helpful.  You could jot down a few important      things from the interview, if needed.
  5. Practice your pronunciation. How to say things in an  interview is just as important as what you say.  Do a self-assessment.  Are there some letters sounds or words  that are difficult for you to pronounce and that most likely you would like to use in the interview? Work on these or find suitable words to  substitute that you can pronounce correctly.  Listening to television or radio broadcasters will help you learn how to pronounce English words  correctly.  You will hear the speed  and rhythm of their speech. You can pattern your speaking skills after them. There are many other suggestions on how to improve English fluency and confidence in speaking. It would be advantageous for you to read some of these online blogs and follow through on some of the helpful suggestions.
  6. Improve your vocabulary. Is there a need for you to add some words to your English language vocabulary?  Can you anticipate the area(s) that you may need to add some of these words? Perhaps the individuals who help you with some of the mock  interviews can also point out different vocabulary words for you to use. Then practice these until these words become familiar to you and they can be  used with ease.
  7. Be early. Show up for your interview about 10-15 minutes ahead of time. Make sure you know where to go. Call  for directions or look online so there will be no unexpected delay in finding where the interview will be. Double-check the time you are expected to show up.  You should greet the interviewer by shaking hands and saying Hello or Good morning or  even the phrase Nice to meet you. Address them with the appropriate title (Mr./Miss/Ms./Mrs./Dr.) and the last name.You should look at the person during the interview.  If there is more than one person interviewing you, it is important to look at all of the people in the  interview panel. Shift your eye contact to include everyone in the room.  It is also important to be a good listener and not to interrupt the conversation.  Always wait a few seconds before\  responding.  Think of your answer\ first, and then answer concisely and accurately. Be pleasant and positive This is not the time to be long-winded. It is important that you are also truthful.  At the end of the interview, the interviewer will probably ask if you have any questions about the job.  If you have a question, then  this is the time to ask it Do not\ ask about salary and benefits at this time.  If you don’t have any questions to ask you could merely say something like No, I don’t have any questions.You\ explained everything so well.\Thank  you. Or, no I don’t at this time. But, thank you.
  8. Follow-up with a thank you  note. This can be done on a computer with typing paper. Send the thank you in the mail. Try to compose and send the letter as soon after the interview as possible. Address those who interviewed you by name. It is a good idea to  keep this in mind as you are going into the interview and mentally jot down their names. Or you can write their names down immediately after the interview.  Make sure all of the names are spelled correctly. You could check later at home by going online      or making a phone call to the respective secretary, etc. Again, use  respective titles. Keep your thank you letter simple. Thank them for the opportunity to interview for the specific position (mention what this is) at their company (state the name).  Explain that you want the job and why. Briefly highlight why you are best qualified for the position.  Double-check the address of where you are sending the letter.  Then mail it.
  1. Follow-up phone calls. If the interviewer gave you specific directions of when to call to find out about the status of the job, then go ahead and follow whatever was explained to you.  If not, it is appropriate to call in about a week to see the status of the job.  You can ask them when they might know about the position being  filled. That will be helpful for you to know so you can better plan additional interviews for other positions with different companies. Also,you will better know when you will expect an answer about the job you applied for.

And remember, with every job you apply for and with every interview you have, your level of confidence will increase. Undoubtedly, you will gain a number of interview skills just like my former students.  Many people probably have told you that getting that first job is the hardest. Well, I would agree.  I think most people would.  But if you keep a positive outlook and keep trying, you will be hired for your first job as a non-native English speaker. Then you will have some tips of your own to share.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Jae Shin sent this quote. He said it would make a good ending to this article. Well, I would agree to this, too. Every experience in your life is being orchestrated to teach you something you need to know to move forward.” –Brian Tracy (motivational speaker and author)


Do write to me using the comments section below and pass on an interview tip or two. Please tell me something about one of your job interviews and how you landed that first job. I look forward to hearing what you have learned and in knowing that you, too, have reached success in securing a job.

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