Essential English for the job interview

The job interview requires a specific kind of vocabulary. It also requires a certain flexibility in your usage of tenses. When you walk in the room, the first impression you make on the interviewer can have a great influence on the rest of the interview. You need to introduce yourself, shake hands, and be friendly. The first question is often a "breaking the ice" (establish a rapport) type of question. Don't be surprised if the interviewer asks you something like: How are you today? Did you have any trouble finding us? What do you think of the weather lately? Don't be surprised by the friendly tone. The interviewer wants to put you at ease (help you relax). Answer the question without going into too much detail. The language you use should be simple but polite.

Talking about your experience and credentials (qualifications) is the most important part of any job interview. Your qualifications include your education from high school, post-secondary school, etc., and any special training you may have done in the past. Your experience is any work that you have done that is directly or indirectly related to the job you are applying for.


Remember that your education took place in the past. Therefore, you need to use the past tenses, for example:

  • I attended the University of Helsinki from 2001 to 2004.
  • I graduated with a degree in agricultural planning.

If you are currently a student, you should use the following present tenses:

  • I am currently studying at the University of British Columbia and will graduate with a degree in Economics in the spring.
  • I am studying English at Red River Community College.

Remember to include any training you may have had when talking about your education. This includes any computer training, correspondence courses, etc. If English is not your first language, be sure to mention your English studies.

Experience and Qualifications

Work experience is by far the most important topic of any job interview. Therefore, you need to explain the experience you have in detail. Generally, employers want to know exactly what you did and how well you accomplished your tasks. This is not the time to be modest. Be confident, and talk freely about your accomplishments in past employment.

When talking about current employment, use the present tense. This signals that you are still performing these tasks at your current job, for example:

  • Smith and Co. have employed me for the last three years as a salesperson.
  • I have been creating customer contacts for six months.

When talking about past employers, use the past tense to signal that you are no longer working for that company, for example:

  • I was employed by Jackson's from 1996 to 2000 as a clerk.
  • I worked as a receptionist at the Bayshore Inn while I was living in Vancouver.

Talking about Responsibilities

Most importantly, you will need to demonstrate your qualifications and skills, which are required for the job you are applying for. The job skills that you have acquired in the past may not have been for the same exact job. Therefore, you need to show how your capabilities relate to the job you are applying for.

For example, a student from Russia who had worked as the manager of an important theater in Moscow, had to start from the beginning in Vancouver and wanted to get a job as a rodent exterminator. When asked what kind of experience he had, he replied that, as the manager of the theater, he had had to ensure that the theater was always rodent-free and was therefore capable of doing the job well. This is a good example of the type of adaptability most employers are looking for.

Use the right word

Below is a list of strong, descriptive verbs to help express exactly what you did. These verbs are used to express responsibilities and tasks performed.

acted accomplished adapted administered advised allocated analyzed applied arranged assisted built carried out catalogued classified collaborated compared completed conceived conducted constructed consulted controlled cooperated coordinated counseled created decided decreased delegated derived designated developed devised directed discovered distributed documented encouraged engineered enlarged established estimated evaluated examined explored facilitated finalized formulated founded governed guided handled identified implemented improved increased initiated inspected installed interpreted introduced invented investigated led located made managed maintained merged moderated motivated negotiated operated organized overcame performed pioneered planned prepared presented presided processed programmed promoted provided purchased raised recommended recorded recruited redesigned repaired replaced restored reviewed revised screened selected serviced set up solved sorted specified started stimulated strengthened summarized supervised supported tested trained transcribed transformed upgraded validated verified.

To describe your skills, the following adjectives are useful:

accurate active adaptable adept broad-minded competent conscientious creative dependable determined diplomatic discreet efficient energetic enterprising enthusiastic experienced fair firm genuine honest innovative logical loyal mature methodical motivated objective outgoing personable pleasant positive practical productive reliable resourceful self-disciplined sense of humor sensitive sincere successful tactful trustworthy.

Use these verbs and adjectives and really sell yourself. You only have a few minutes to show how good you really are. By using precise vocabulary and being confident, you will be able to make the best impression possible.