So, you’re not a native English speaker. English is your second (or third or fourth) language. That’s no reason for a hiring manager to think less of you as a candidate. Your English might be accented and your grammar might not be perfect -- that doesn’t mean you can’t still communicate clearly. You might have to work a bit harder, but with the proper diligence and preparation, you’ll still nail a phone or in-person interview.
Know your story
Your preparation for the interview will be the same as most job seekers. You’ll want to memorize your answers to common interview questions like “why should we hire you?” and “what is your biggest strength.” You should also prepare for interview questions specific to the field you work in. Having these answers prepared ahead of time allows you to worry less about thinking how to express yourself or how to navigate grammar in the middle of an interview.
The second important part of your interview preparation will be to know your story and communicate it clearly. Your story is how you want to present yourself to an interviewer. It’s a mix of your background, work experience, achievements, and motivations. Write down your story, get it proofread, and begin memorizing it.
Some people like to tell their story on the fly and are effective at doing so. However, you don’t want to get caught translating the story in your mind, so if you can’t think it out in English, it’s best to have prepared it ahead of time.
Communicate it properly
After you’ve done the hard work of preparing your answers, you should meet with a friend or acquaintance who is a native or super-fluent English speaker. Practice answering the questions and telling your story to them directly. Encourage them to give you grammar and pronunciation tips along the way. This is a crucial step -- you want to memorize your story in English, but you don’t want to sound like a robot or as if you’re reading off a script. Talking it out will enable you to sound conversational.
If you can’t find someone to help you, try to find a local career center or Career OneStop and sign up for some mock interview prep sessions.
Finally, be prepared and okay with fixing errors or taking a moment before speaking during actual interviews. Just because you prepared for every question doesn’t mean that you’ll be asked only those questions. You’ll want to answer anything that comes your way, so if you don’t have it up your sleeve, it’s better to take the time to communicate clearly than confuse your interviewer.
Turn multilingual into a strength
If you want to take advantage of your multilingual skills in the workplace, then you should position yourself as that sort of strategic asset for the company. In your research, do a little digging on how your native language can help you within any particular team. For example, maybe the company has a large customer base in your country, but they don’t have blog posts, documentation, or a website in a language other than English.
You can be of great use to the company in that regard, allowing them to tap into a growing but poorly targeted foreign market segment. Turn your English language barrier into a foreign language door that you can open for the company.
Finally, be patient and diligent
When you’re at the interview, you’ll find that some misunderstandings will happen. It’s a natural and inevitable part of the conversation you’ll be having. Take it upon yourself to make it an easy and smooth ride for your interviewer. Speak slowly and clearly, pause to make sure you’ve been understood, be willing to repeat yourself, and remember that you’re there for a reason! You’re qualified for the job, and you’re speaking with the interviewer to prove you’re the best person for it.
Take time to politely ask for clarification when you need it, asking if you’ve interpreted what they said correctly. Finally, take good notes so that, at the end of the interview, you can address any possible misunderstandings on your end. Summarize what was said to clarify that you understand what the role entails and what your expectations would be. And when you get home, write and send a killer thank you note proofread and edited by a friend.