But it’s not possible to be prepared for every single question or interaction that could happen during an interview. And that’s a good thing. A good interview flows like a conversation and some questions will come up spontaneously in the course of a good conversation.
If you get caught unprepared, try to pause and slowly say out loud “let me think of an example.” Give yourself a moment to think of a specific example you could use to answer that question. This keeps you from rambling! And it is important to have controls in place to keep yourself from using up precious interview time with rambling.
For almost any unexpected question, you can mine your experiences with studying languages for a specific example that illustrates the case under discussion. Here is an example from an interview I had for a Spanish teaching position: after explaining my approach to teaching culture (an “expected” question for which I had an excellent answer prepared), one of the interviewers asked me this unexpected question,
“Sometimes textbooks do a bad job teaching culture. What would you do about that?”
When I heard that question, I knew I would give a long, meandering, rambling response if I didn’t find a way to pause and give myself an opportunity to think of a concise example.
So I said “Let’s see….let…me…think…of….an…example” by which time I remembered a photo in a text I had once used of several generations of a Peruvian family all wearing “traditional” attire. No other context was provided in the textbook.
I showed students a picture of four generations of my family at a wedding…in “traditional” attire. But every student in the class knew that it was traditional wedding attire and not the clothes that anyone would wear on a daily basis. Then we were able to conclude that we didn’t have enough information about the Peruvian family to know how they dress day-to-do, whether the picture was taken during a special occasion or not, or even what kind of “traditional” attire it was.
And that approach reflected my overall approach to teaching culture that I had already explained in answer to the previous question. With that, the topic was concluded and the interview moved on to other areas.
Now imagine that you’re in an interview and you’ve just given your perfect answer to a commonly-asked question such as “Do you work better independently or in teams.” Then the interviewer says, “Sometimes in your career you’ll encounter people who don’t work well in teams. What will you do then?”
Think of a time you had trouble working in teams in a language class–this could be a brief in-class activity with a partner, an activity that required communicating with several other students during class, an end-of-semester presentation, or a group project–language classes are a great source for these examples because you are constantly being asked to work with peers!
What did you do to resolve that trouble? Practice telling that story and concluding with how you would apply that same strategy in the professional context of a workplace.
Now you’re ready to deal with the unexpected as well as the expected in any interview situation!
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they standout in the job search and workplace. For one-on-one coaching or to set up a workshop, contact Darcy: email@example.com