When you have a job interview in English, you want to show your interviewer the best of yourself. This includes using all of the appropriate grammatical tenses you can. Part of your job interview preparation should be reviewing the tenses you know and how you use them. You can often predict the job interview questions that you will be asked, so you can think about what your answers will be.
How can you prepare for a job interview in English?
There are some tenses that you will need to use more than others. When talking about your experience you’ll need past tenses; when talking about your present job, that’ll be present tenses.
Job interview tips on how to use a mix of English tenses
The present simple
We use the present simple when we want to talk about something that is true now, and is quite permanent. Talk about tasks related to your day-to-day job, things which don’t change very often, and about any skills that you have.
“I work in a very international team. My colleagues are from all over the world so we communicate in English.”
“I use Google docs every day at work.”
“I speak fluent Japanese and Korean.”
The present continuous
We use this tense to talk about something we are doing now. However, it doesn’t mean right at that moment – don’t narrate your job interview just to show you can use this tense! “I’m sitting in a chair… I’m talking to you…”. That would leave a very strange impression on the interviewer.
Instead, you can use this tense to talk about what you are doing at your current job at the moment.
This is different to the present simple because you can talk about things which are more temporary, or which might change often.
An interview question might be, “What are you working on right now?”.
“I’m working on a project with a company based in the UK at the moment.”
“I’m managing a team of three right now.”
The past simple
Use the past simple to tell your employer about finished actions.
You will most likely get a question about your education. The question might be, “What did you study at university?” This question is in the past simple. But, you might also be asked “Tell me about your studies.” Remember, you should usually answer in the past simple.
“I studied engineering at the University of Bristol.”
“When I left school, I decided to do a professional training course in welding.”
You can also use the past simple to talk specifically about your previous jobs.
“When I worked for British Airlines, I often handled customer complaints.”
“I learnt a lot about photography when I worked for Snappy Co.”
The present perfect
The final tense for today is the beloved present perfect. You can use this tense to talk about states or actions which began in the past and continue in the present.
In a job interview, you can talk about your likes and dislikes with the present perfect. We often use the words always and never to do this.
“I have always enjoyed working with people.”
“I have never liked sitting behind a desk all day long, which is why I enjoy working as a construction manager.”
We also use this tense to talk about recently finished actions, or actions which have a strong connection with the present situation.
“I have just completed a large project in collaboration with a tech company in California. That’s why I feel ready to work with a US-based company again.”
“I have worked freelance for my whole career so far, so I really want to work as part of a team now.”
We said above that you should usually use the past simple when talking about your education, but if you have recently finished your degree, you can use the present perfect.
“I have just graduated from university in Berlin. I’m confident that I know about all of the most recent developments in the field.”
Preparing to speak business English in an interview is stressful but hopefully after reading this you feel more confident about the tenses you will use.