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Interview Techniques - Overcoming Language Barriers

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For candidates whose primary language is not English, interviewing can be intimidating. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow employers to require English as the only language spoken in the workplace without compelling reasons, language difficulties can still cause problems during interviews.

The importance of your English fluency as a candidate depends in part on the job and company. For example, if you are working with numbers or computer programming, refined English skills are less important; if other colleagues speak your primary language, you need not rely as heavily on English.

But, if you are applying for a job as a manager or you will be interacting with English-speaking clients regularly, English fluency is likely to be significant.

In addition to barriers on the job, language skills can pose barriers during interviews. Employers need to feel like they can connect with you. Even if you are friendly and accomplished, interviewers will begin to feel uncomfortable if they cannot communicate with you effectively.

People feel uncomfortable when they cannot understand you or are not confident that you understand them. The last thing you want to do is leave an interviewer with the impression that you are nice and talented, but that he could not tell if you understood what he was saying. Feeling like you cannot express yourself well can also cause you to lose well-deserved and much-needed confidence.

There are ways for you to overcome these negative outcomes. Language difficulties are best resolved by learning English very well. The more fluent you are, the better and more confidently you can connect with the employer. If you are still struggling with English, consider the other tips below.

Before the Interview

  • Memorize answers to common and difficult questions after having someone edit your responses for grammar.
  • Write down a few notes to yourself that you can refer to during the interview if you get intimidated.
  • Prepare and memorize questions that you wish to ask the interviewer.

During the Interview

  • Remember that you are a qualified person who speaks more than one language, an accomplishment that many interviewers cannot claim for themselves.
  • If you do not understand a question during the interview, ask the interviewer to clarify the question. You might begin by saying, "I want to make sure that I understand what you mean. Are you saying...?"
  • Address your language proficiency in the interview. For example, mention to the interviewer how you make certain that you understand instructions and give examples of working situations in which you excelled, despite limitations in English. Do this casually if possible.
  • Tell the interviewer about your plans to take advanced English classes or tutoring in the evenings.
  • Take notes.
  • Summarize what the interviewer says at the end of the interview, touching on the important responsibilities of the job and needs of the company. Briefly repeat how you could meet these needs. Inquire into when you can expect to hear from the company.

After the Interview

  • Be sure to write a thank you note that highlights your fit with the position. Repeat what you have to offer the company and what enthuses you about the company.
  • Be sure to have someone edit the note for grammar before you send it. This way, the lasting impression of you will focus on your abilities and not your English.

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