The company of your dreams emails you to set up an online interview. It’s going to be held in a foreign language, but that’s okay. You’ve spent your entire life studying, getting job experience, and preparing for this moment that will give you financial freedom, a new career trajectory, and an adventure in a new land.

And now you’re in the online interview floundering, watching your hopes and dreams evaporate, because you can’t remember the word for “internship” in the other language. You’re blabbering like a fool. The woman interviewing you tries to say something, but her voice cuts in and out. The video image of her frowning face flickers. Your mind goes blank. The awkward silence seems to drag on for minutes, hours, years.

Sound far-fetched? Hopefully. But remember that all interviews are stressful. Online interviews are even more difficult. An online interview in a foreign language? That is an elite-level challenge, only for the bravest of the brave. So, take a deep breath, read the tips below, and get ready to land the job of your dreams.

Be Honest with Yourself and the Interviewer

This honesty and self-reflection must start before the interview itself, namely when you’re making your CV. Honestly, how good are your reading, speaking, and writing skills?

It can be tempting to exaggerate your language skills to make your application stand out. But if you’re still learning animals and colors and your CV says your English level is B2, well you’re setting yourself up for humiliation. Other types of CV embellishments could possibly be explained away, but any suspected dishonesty about language skill can and will be challenged on the spot.

If you know your language skills are lacking, be upfront about it. If you think it’s appropriate, touch on it very briefly in the interview, then move on. Make it clear that you are working to improve in that area, then discuss your strengths.

Speaking Skills

Interviewees tend to overthink this part. Their minds start going a million miles an hour trying to remember some random vocabulary word or verb conjugation, and then none of their words come out right. That one random word is not important! What’s important is the information you give, the flow of the interview, and how you present yourself.

Even in their native language, people in a job interview get nervous and speak far too quickly. This can be fatal in a foreign language. Focus on speaking at a relaxed, normal pace. Breathe, think, speak.

Interviewees also tend to worry too much about their pronunciation or accent. Focus on what really matters – being able to talk about the job and your experience using industry-specific terminology.

Listening Skills

Interviewees tend to be underprepared for this part. They may miss a word or two, and instead of asking the interviewer to repeat the question, they either give some vague answer, say something wildly incorrect, or go silent and try to ignore the question with a painful smile and nod. There are three better ways to handle this:

  1. Remember that it’s okay to politely ask interviewers to speak more slowly. Not only will they slow down, but they’ll also subconsciously use less difficult words so that the interview goes more smoothly.
  2. If you’re not 100% certain of the question, confirm it before answering. For example, ask, “You’d like to know how I learned JavaScript?”
  1. If you don’t understand the question, ask the interviewer to repeat it or clarify. As long as you’re not doing this after every sentence, this is not a weakness. It shows that you want to answer the questions to the best of your ability.

Cultural Awareness

An interview in a foreign language likely means a foreign culture, so make sure you know that culture’s common interview and workplace customs. Is it a high-context culture? Do people traditionally engage in small talk beforehand? How eager are you supposed to appear for the job?

Technical Details for Online Interviews

Close other applications on your computer, silence your phone, and make sure you are somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted. Also, make sure your screen background looks professional. Dress smart, smile. It is usually okay to wear headphones, and this will likely help your listening comprehension as well. And asking someone to repeat something is the norm in videoconferences due to audio distortion or a poor connection. Just try not to overdo it.

How to Practice for an Interview in a Foreign Language

You are preparing two different skill sets here – your language skills and your interview skills. To succeed in the interview, you need to practice both skills together. Don’t read common interview questions in your native language and assume you can translate them when the time comes. Ultimately, you want to practice interviewing in a simulation of the online interview you’re going to have. You can build towards this in steps.

  1. Prepare all your information in the foreign language – all the industry jargon, answers to common questions, how to talk about your CV, etc.
  2. Have an in-person mock interview with someone in that language.
  3. Have a realistic mock interview in that language via Skype or Zoom.

These mock interviews can be done with a friend or coworker, or if you can’t find someone, you can even pay for a mock interview service, depending on the language. Another option is to use AI to research the company, the specific position, and even answer practice interview questions.

Good, realistic practice is the key to interview success, but don’t memorize your answers word for word. Reciting something from rote memory will sound insincere.

Final Thoughts

An interview in a foreign language can feel like a language assessment, a public performance in which every syllable will be critiqued. That is simply not what is happening, and remembering that will help you immensely. For 99% of positions, the interviewer really wants to know more about you, your qualifications, and how those fit with the job. Prepare, practice in a realistic environment, and then go into the interview with confidence.

About the author

Justin Benton

Justin Benton

Justin Benton is a writer and English teacher based out of Colombia.