Interview Skills for ESL Professionals

Which interview skills would help ESL professionals improve their opportunities?

Why are interview skills important to learn for ESL professionals?  A number of my clients are accomplished professionals in their field before they came to the U.S.   While they are satisfied with their current work, they are often over-qualified for those positions.   Some do not entertain the idea of applying for jobs in other companies because that’s not the practice in their countries.   They often stay with the same company until they retire.   And some are not confident about interviews because some countries do not rely on interviews as the first step of hiring.   So what skills would help them succeed further in interviews?

A relaxed attitude

If this surprises you, you may want to read Interview Tips for Immigrants.   I have done mock interviews with many immigrant professionals who sit erect as if they are being good students in class to show respect to the teacher.    Just imagine, if you are applying for a position that requires some leadership skills, this posture during the interview may not convey your ability to lead, at least as interpreted by an American interviewer.

In some cultures, sitting with your legs crossed convey disrespect.   Yet, this could simply convey that you are feeling comfortable and relaxed.  Leaning into the back of your chair is more relaxed than sitting at the front of the chair.   If the chair has arms, you might even rest your arms on them to look and feel more relaxed.

Being present instead of memorizing answers

I recently worked with someone who wants to make sure her English is correct in her answers, so she memorized them.   Well, they SOUND memorized!   What if the interviewer has a follow up question that you don’t anticipate?

A better skill to practice is being present.   Have a friend, preferably a Native English speaker, ask you those questions in different ways.   This way, you are not relying on cue words but listening for details in the question.   Imagine giving an answer you rehearsed when the interviewer was asking something slightly different.  That would reflect negatively on your listening skill.

It is absolutely okay to ask the interviewer to clarify the question before you answer.   Say something like “Do you mean…?”   This shows you are a good listener and communicator.

You can get more tips from this article on Interview Tips for Immigrants.

If you find this post helpful, here’s another one on How to learn English in a natural way.


Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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