You have a job interview coming up. Not just ANY interview, but one which you’re determined not to screw up. What can you do to prepare?
Anyone advising you to do some research online about the company’s information can probably save their breath. If you don’t care about the job enough to do the research, you probably don’t deserve it. And if you care enough to read this article, you would probably be smart enough to Google and find out about your potential employer, which is like the most basic thing you can do to prepare for an interview. What, then, are a few other things that you can do in preparation to impress your interviewer as the well-spoken, driven and humble candidate who has a confident command of English?
To speak to stand out, you have to be a master of both your skills and your content. A skilful speaker is, above all, pleasant and likeable. Being skilful means that you speak in a way so that people enjoy listening to you as a speaker, while having good content, on the other hand, means people enjoy listening to what you have to say because they are interesting and easy to follow.
Mind your pronunciation, intonation, rhythm and speed
Many people ignore the importance of enunciation – the easier-said-than-done practice of saying a word exactly as it should sound. Sounds often ignored include the sound /d/, /p/, /θ/ (the soft “th” sound) , /ð/ (the buzzy “th” sound) and /z/. The distinction between long vowels and short vowels is also, almost always, universally ignored by Chinese/ Cantonese speakers. Even if you’re not an actor auditioning for a role, it will do you so much good to speak with crystal clarity so that you will never be misheard or, worse still, outright incomprehensible to your interviewer. To know more about how to enunciate, listen to Andy Krieger on Youtube, who is a professional coach who teaches people how to get rid of their native accent by allowing themselves time to get their lips and tongues in the right positions before they say each and every word:
Cantonese learners of English typically do not intone their speech properly. Interfered by their mother language, most of them speak, not in a monotone but instead in what I call a triple-tone, which makes their English sound rigid, robotic, odd and disagreeable at worst.
Another common mistake is to ignore the importance of pauses when you speak, leaving both yourself and your listener feeling short of breath. Masterful speakers, instead, know how to pause without impeding their fluency. They know well enough to pause after uttering keywords to allow time for their message to sink in.
Surprising as this could be, very few people I know speak too slowly. The vast majority of them speak too quickly. This is a habit that possibly stems from a lack of confidence – people feel insecure. They are afraid. Afraid, that people do not feel interested in their speech; afraid, of coming across as slow-thinking or unintelligent. Ironically, it is speaking too quickly that gives away your lack of confidence. You don’t hear masterful speakers like Oprah or Barack Obama speak too quickly. Confident speakers like them take their time and a properly paced speech naturally exudes charm and captivates any listener. Confident speakers know that speaking slowly doesn’t make them look dumb; the opposite does.
How to improve your oral skills
To improve your oral skills, speak to a friend you can count on, preferably a non-native but masterful user of English and see what advice s/he has to offer on your oral skills. This may sound like stereotype, but native speakers, as far as I know, could tend to be less critical about a non-native speaker’s oral skills. Are you not enunciating properly? Are you not intoning your speech properly? Do you ignore the importance of pauses? And do you speak too quickly? As opposed to listening to and evaluating yourself, the safe bet is using a second pair of ears and get some objective advice. It’s all too human for us to have our own blind spots and biases, after all.
Some tips for tackling yes-no questions
A simple tip that I have for you for responding to yes-no questions is…really very simple.
When people ask you a yes-no question, do not simply reply by saying “Yes/No.” But make no mistake, I am not asking you to go on and on and explain your answer after saying yes or no no matter what, I am simply asking you to just get a slight bit further than a plain “yes” or “no”. Say “Yes, I am.” or “No, I am not.” or equivalents like that instead. Honestly, not every interviewer is a good listener and not every one of them is interested in that “why” to your yes or no. Your readiness to talk could risk you coming across as a plain annoying person who cannot help talking about themselves even when you’re NOT invited to do so. It is true that only saying “Yes” or “No” could make you sound too cold, but sounding too ready to jump right into talking regardless of whether people want to listen isn’t cool either. Be ready to talk and friendly, but not overly eager. Always observe and look for cues – that inquiring twitch of the eyebrow that says “Go on.” before you elaborate.
Some tips for tackling open-ended questions
Most people simply babble when they’re asked a question. They do not start speaking with an end in mind. Their speech lacks direction and they lack a consistent strategy for dealing with whatever open-ended questions that get thrown at them. They start, not with an intro summarising what they have to say but with whatever that they have in mind. At times they start with examples. At times they start with the elaborations. Rarely do they start answering a question with a firm and clear topic sentence.
Does this have to be a bad thing? I think not. If you were a superb storyteller who has a few closely relevant anecdotes up your sleeves you can readily conjure up to illustrate a point, that’s all fine and dandy. If you have a narrative that can draw people in without the advanced heads up about what they will actually get from your story, that’s fine. The problem is, most people are not superb storytellers. They are not even decent ones. A better approach, is thus, to summarise your main point in one short, clear, and forceful topic sentence.
Say, for example, if an interviewer asked you, “What’s the biggest challenge you’ve come across during your years in university and how dealing with it shaped you as a person?” Don’t beat around the bush and say, “There were a few challenges that I found to be particularly difficult…” Don’t give a detailed recount like “When I was in Year 2, I lived in the hall. I lived with 2 roommates. One of them lashed out at me once…”, which also qualifies as beating hard around the bush. Get directly to the point, like this: “A challenge which made me a much tougher and more sophisticated person was when I learned how to deal with my brother’s passing away.” To craft effective topic sentences like this, you will need a bunch of abstract nouns that describe emotions and personalities, which you can find from these two lists below:
What good content should be like in general
Be bold enough to be yourself
You will be asked about your opinions in the interview, and your opinions should be your own. If you were minded to play safe by saying something that no one would or could disagree with, you would probably end up elaborating on cliched and unoriginal points of view and coming across as uninteresting or, worse still, boring. There’s a word for that in English – truism. Truism is a statement that is so obviously and indisputably true that no one could disagree with it. Be bold enough to voice your own opinions in an interview, as controversial as they may be, and let your true self shine. Nothing touches and connects as well as your genuine self.
Should you be humorous?
I have heard people who can pull humour off. Not everyone can do it but humour, when done right, sure is impressive. Humour is inherently risky, but the rewards can be worth taking the risk for. There are many types of humour, one type of which is self-deprecation. People who have the guts to deprecate themselves leaves the impression that you have a healthy self-esteem, which is always a good thing.
Let’s face it, being young is not being superficial or lacking common sense. You’re a candidate, a potential employee. You may be young, but not as young as an intern. Showing some degree of sophistication in your opinions is especially important if you are a fresh graduate, something that your recruiter either loves or the hates the most about you. You could be loved for being fresh and adaptable but you won’t for being naive.
To make sure what you have some degree of sophistication, check your opinion against that of people who are objectively considered intelligent. Chances are it’s not easy to find any around you (because they are, by definition, rare). Listen to yourself and compare your perspectives with that of journalism that targets the educated as reference – the Economist, Time, the Atlantic, Paris Review. Ask yourself: Are you as informed and knowledgeable? Do you have multifarious perspectives? Are you kept abreast of the industry news? If an honest answer to these questions is no, set some time aside every day for reading up, soaking up knowledge, thinking and developing a more mature and comprehensive world view before your interview. Your future self will thank you, even if your future boss wouldn’t.