How To Prepare For A Foreign Language Interview And Ace It
You keep looking nervously at your phone.
It’ll be alright, you keep telling yourself.
Still, your body doesn’t seem very convinced.
Your palms leave sticky stains of sweat on the tabletop in a final cry for help.
Just one more leap and your dream job will be yours…
But what to do to make this leap count?
Is it even worth making it?
Let’s dig into numbers!
How Much Is Knowing a Foreign Language Worth
Learning languages has a lot of benefits.
Among others, it can:
- improve your memory
- increase your attention span
- increase your verbal and non-verbal intelligence
- boost your problem solving skills
The list goes on and on.
What’s more, it turns out that it is also a great decision money-wise!
” Assuming an average starting salary of almost $45,000, a 2% “language bonus” average over 40 years, and also a 1% raise annually, you’d have an extra $67,000 by the time you retire. Since you can learn a new language (or two) pretty quickly, that’s a pretty good investment of time “. Source: The Economist
Of course, not all languages have the same value. German and French are worth $128,000 and $77,000, respectively, compared to $51,000 for Spanish.
Do you know Japanese or Russian?
In that case, you can count on much more!
Not bad, right?
Now that we’ve established that knowing a language is actually worth something, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of acing the foreign language interview.
The first station?
Don’t Be Yourself, Be Your Better Self
I have never bought corny slogans like “be yourself”. That’s a lazy way of thinking.
If I were a pimply, adolescent and were after a girl out of my league, such advice would be useless.
If the girl I like is my dream company then I don’t want to be a pimply loser. Nor should you.
Be ready to step up your game.
Trust me, I know a thing or two about language interviews.
I’ve been at the both sides of the table. I have interviewed and have been interviewed dozens of times in 5 languages.
The first thing you need to know is that the pre-interview preparation is what really matters.
No amount of luck will shelter you from the unwillingness to put in some hours beforehand.
All the tips are ordered chronologically for your convenience.
From the ones you should use days before the interview to the ones which will be useful hours before it starts.
Prepare Answers To The Most Common Interview Questions
It never ceases to amaze me. There is an infinite number of questions an interviewer might ask.
Yet, these are the ones they tend to ask the most:
- 1. Tell me about yourself
- 2. What do you know about or company?
- 3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- 4. Why did you leave your last job?
- 5. What is the biggest challenge you have encountered so far?
- 6. What do you do in your current role?
- 7. Why would you like to work for us?
- 8. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
- 9. What kind of qualifications do you have?
- 10. Why would you like to work for us?
Yes, that’s really it. Preparing answers to just these 10 questions should drastically boost your chance of getting your dream job.
Of course, the chance is that some companies have slightly different questions sets.
If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, visit:
The website gathers all kinds of information about different companies – interview questions, salaries and so on.
Once you prepare the answers, rehearse them aloud. Do it as many times as necessary.
How many times exactly?
It depends on your current language level, of course.
The rule of thumb is that you should be able to recite these questions without any hesitation and unnecessary pauses.
And there is a good reason for that.
If you stutter in the stress-free conditions, at your home, imagine what will happen when the stress kicks in during the interview.
You will crash and burn.
Prepare all the pleasantries
Imagine eating a delicious cake. Your palate experiences a surge of exquisite sensations.
What a bliss!
But then the last bite turns out to be a lump of dung.
How do you think you would recall this event?
Negatively doesn’t even come close to describing this experience.
But how does it relate to a language interview?
Many candidates are relatively well-prepared when it comes to answering the questions.
Very often they don’t know how to exchange common pleasantries.
But why is this petty element of an interview so important?
Because it’s the end of a certain experience.
The peak-end rule says that:
People exhibit better memory for more intensely emotional events than less intensely emotional events (…), the atypicality of extreme memories can lead people to believe those extreme moments are representative of the “set” being judged.
If an interviewer sneezes, know how to say “bless you” in your target language.
If he says, “thank you for your time and have a wonderful day”, know how to say “likewise”.
Prepare Difficult Phrases To Trick The Interviewer
This step requires greater sophistication but it can be, without any doubt, called the secret sauce of acing the foreign language interviews.
I came up with this sneaky strategy years ago and have battle tested it many times.
Its implementation will immediately make you stand out from the crowd.
Prepare at least 10 phrases / idioms which are quite sophisticated. Next, repeat them aloud in the sentences until they become your second nature.
For example, instead of saying:
“I also think that …”, try saying, “Having said that, I would also like to add that … “.
Boring ? Maybe.
Does it sound more impressive? Hell yeah, it does!
The purpose of this strategy is very simple.
Such phrases are easily memorable. They distinguish you from others.
They will help to artificially boost your potential language level, regardless of how high it is currently.
What’s more, it doesn’t matter if you talk with a native speaker or not.
If the interviewer, who is a non-native speaker, doesn’t understand some phrase you say, 99 out of 100 he won’t ask you to explain it.
Why would he?
That’d be humiliating! He’s the guy who should know this stuff!
If you heard a guy saying:
“I don’t want to sound like a philodox* but I would dare to say that… ”
Would you ask him, what a philodox means?
I guess not.
If I didn’t know what the word means I would just start thinking why someone would fill some poor dogs**.
And what if you talk to a native speaker?
Even better, in this case, they will know what you said and would probably be in awe because of your amazing language skills.
* From the Greek philos, meaning love, and doxa, meaning glory, a philodox is a dogmatic person who is especially fond of his/her own opinions
** Phil dox? You know, it sounds like “fill dogs”, right? Anyone…? (Walks away disappointed). It was funny in my head!
Bear in mind that the aforementioned example is a little bit over the top since it’s a very rare word.
Prepare Difficult Grammar Constructions
Prepare a few sentences with more advanced grammar constructions which you don’t use normally and rehearse the hell out of them.
Try to build sentences which are as universal as it gets. You have to make sure you can use them at (almost) any point during the interview.
Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses To Dominate The Interviewer
Ok, I admit. “Dominate” sounds somehow wrong. I don’t suggest that you pee on your opponent to mark your territory and show dominance.
You see, every language learner has one language competence which prevails. Be it listening or speaking since these are the ones which count the most during the interview.
By knowing which of them is your strong suit you can direct the interview into the direction desired by you.
Listening as a strength?
If you are a better listener, try to limit your speaking time by asking questions.
For example, the interviewer asks you, “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?”.
You give a short answer and then smoothly parry with, “Actually, I’ve been wondering… I would love to stay in this company as long as it’s only possible but can you tell me what other employees think about it?”.
You nod enthusiastically as you listen and then ask another question, “So what do they like the most about it?”.
People love to talk about themselves so you can try to ask the interviewer about his personal experience in this company.
Just a word of warning. Don’t be creepy and /or socially awkward.
You should try to come across as an enthusiastic and inquisitive person. Not a nosy weirdo.
Speaking as a strength?
If you’re more of the silver-tongued devil, you should minimize speaking time of the interviewer. Try to give lengthy answers to every question.
And don’t worry about talking too much. It’s a verification of your language level, not an ordinary interview in your native tongue.
Dazzle the poor bastard with your linguistic prowess!
“Hi. This is X from the Y company. Am I speaking with Mr. X?
“I am calling to verify your language level. Shall we start?”
“Of course. Let me introduce myself and say a few words about my previous job / life / other fillers.”
Obviously, you can’t talk all the time. But at least try to minimize the chance of not understanding the interviewer.
And if you’re feeling really unsure the question? Then you can alway salvage yourself by posing a question back.
“So you would like to know……is that correct?”
Just ask the interview to reformulate the question and you should be fine.
Immerse Yourself In A Language Prior To The Interview
Don’t dive head first into the dark water. At least dip your fingers first!
Warm up before the actual interview by surrounding yourself with your target language.
- Listen to some music in the morning
- Watch a movie or listen to the radio
- Talk to yourself or to some other person in your target language
I would suggest doing it for at least 1 hour. But obviously everything depends on how much free time you have on your hands.
Bonus Advice: Apply For Other Positions With Your Target Language
If you’ve found your dream job at some company, it would be a shame if you failed you just because stress ate you up.
That’s why you can put some extra effort and apply for other positions with your target language. Sure, you don’t want to work in other companies but, at least, you’ll get some extra practice!
As you can see, acing the foreign language interview is not about luck or simply having a perfect command of your target language.
It’s more about having the right attitude, being prepared and using the right strategies. Once you understand it the world is your oyster!