1-310-390-0131 - Outside U.S.
“A wise man’s questions contain half the answer.”
—Solomon ibn Gabriol (1022-1070), Jewish philosopher
Ask more. Know more. Share more. Create Compelling Conversations.
That’s our slogan. Asking questions – in class, at dinner, and on campus – collects information and builds relationships. It’s also a crucial skill when applying for new positions and during job interviews.
Many people prepare for job interviews by rehearsing answers to common questions.
- What brings you here today?
- What do you know about our organization?
- How has your college education prepared you for this position?
- How would your friends describe you?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
While practicing responses to these common questions remains essential, it’s also often insufficient. Memorized answers can also become a crutch. Many English language learners find themselves in this position during competitive job search campaigns. Impressing prospective employers is hard enough in your first language, let alone your second. Sticking to a script seems to offer a safety net for less confident English speakers. Naturally, this common approach allows applicants to prepare strong answers and improve pronunciation of familiar phrases. (I recommend students look up at least five words or phrases on Google’s beta English pronunciation website, www.YouGlish.com.)
Flip the script!
However, according to “How The Most Successful People Ask Questions,” research shows that the curious candidate makes the best impression. “[P]eople who are inquisitive are generally judged to be more intelligent and engaged,” author Stephanie Vozza states. She then highlights the difference between ‘learner’ and ‘judger’ questions and how they affect the flow of the conversation. Learner questions ask “How?” while judger questions ask “Who?” and “Why?” One actively seeks a solution where the other only serves to point out the problem. Asking more ‘learner’ questions helps both prospective employees and employers make more informed decisions and creates a strong foundation for future work relationships.
Bringing it back to the classroom
As an English language educator, it’s important to impress upon your students that interviews are always two-sided. Job interviews provide an opportunity for them to learn more about the company/employer too!
Vozza recommends “question storming” to collect your thoughts pre-interview. Try having your ESL students brainstorm two separate lists of questions – ones they would like to ask and be asked by a potential employer. We’ve found this list of 51 engaging interview questions a helpful starting point.
After selecting the best from each, pair them off for mock interviews, switching roles so that each partner will take a turn as the interviewer and interviewee. See this post for more information on how to set up this in-class exercise.
Clarify if confused
Additionally, don’t forget to stress the importance of ask clarifying questions at the end of the interview. Students want to make sure that they understand the question (and context) before rushing to give a response based on false understanding. This technique remains essential for ESL/EFL students, who may lack familiarity with English occupational jargon or other situational formalities. Many insecure international students or immigrants, fearful of being disqualified for weak English language skills, may also prefer to pretend they understand a question.
That’s a common, if understandable, mistake. Yet by rushing to respond to an imagined question, applicants often unintentionally confirm concerns about their listening and speaking skills in English. Instead, I strongly advise students seek clarification when feeling confused. Here are some simple clarifying questions that students and job applicants can use:
- Can you clarify that?
- Could you tell me more about…?
- Did I paraphrase you correctly?
- When you said x, what did you mean?
Close with a few questions
How do you prepare your English language learners for job interviews? What kinds of questions do you encourage them to ask? What questions did you find most engaging in past interviews? Let us know!
Are you seeking a lesson plan for addressing interview etiquette in the English classroom? Check out the Practicing Interviews chapter from Compelling American Conversations on my TeachersPayTeachers store, featuring bonus content from the Teacher Edition!