4 tips for a successful interview in a foreign language

4 tips for a successful interview in a foreign language

Having an interview is stressful in your own language, but when applying for a job abroad where you are expected to be able to hold your own in a foreign tongue, the pressure can become that much harder to handle. However, there’s no need to worry - just like a normal interview, there are certain things you can do to make sure that you have the best interview possible, and what’s more, still be yourself.

1. Prepare in advance

Preparing in advance is important for any interview, but it comes in particularly handy for an interview that will be conducted in a language that is not your first. This way, you can rehearse answers that are sure to come up - questions like "What interests you about this job?" or "What do you think you can bring to the company?" 


You can also trawl the website for the company’s buzzwords. Words to do with the company’s aims that you scatter through your interview answers are recommended in any language, but by noting and revising these words beforehand, you’re arming yourself with a vocabulary that’s tailored to your audience - someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.

2. Follow their lead

When in an environment where a language other than your native tongue is prevalent, it’s also important to take notice of cultural differences. Greetings are particularly fraught - sometimes a ‘Hello’ and a nod of the head is enough, sometimes a handshake or even a bow is expected. 


Thankfully, the people interviewing you know exactly what kind of social tone is required of the situation, so if they extend a hand, take it. It’s that simple.

3. Don’t goldfish

The worst part of an interview is when the interviewee flounders for words - it’s not a case of a short, thoughtful silence to give the question the full attention it deserves, it’s when in the middle of a sentence, words completely fail you and you open and close your mouth like a goldfish without anything intelligent coming out.

Very few of us haven’t experienced that moment, especially those who have learned a second or third language. But these moments are avoidable. To start with, you can pause until you have a constructed point in your head - you don’t always have to start speaking straight away.


If your point is good but there is a specific word that is escaping you, try to find a different way to say it. Creativity in language is a great skill to have in any situation.

Finally, if the word is very clearly in your mind in your native tongue, you can always ask your interviewer if they know the translation. Unless you’ve lied on your CV and said that you were fluent, no one will expect you to have an 100% grasp on your interviewer’s language. Asking for help in this case shows that you did have a point and that you’re willing to fill the gaps in your knowledge - a good sign in an interviewee.

4. Be keen

The words you speak and the handshake you may or may not have had count for nothing if you don’t seem keen. It’s not vital to have complete control of your target language when your body language speaks volumes. 


Not fidgeting, leaning slightly forwards, smiling or looking thoughtful as appropriate to show you’re listening closely… these are all things that help you seem interested in the job you’re interviewing for. An employer isn’t interested in someone, however qualified they are, if they’re not clearly interested in the job, so instead of telling your interviewer how keen you are, let your body language do the talking.

These four tips should carry you through your interview with little to no hitches - if you’ve already read up on tips for having an interview. The most important thing for an interview, whether in your own language or another, is to be genuine - and you don’t need to be fluent in any language to bring that across.