Unit 1 Interview practice

Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should:

  • know how to behave in the interview
  • know how to prepare for the interview
  • know how to respond to questions
  • have practised a full interview


Interviews conducted in English may be judged on the English proficiency, the content of the answers or a combination of both. This unit will focus on the English proficiency.

Activity 1 English proficiency

Read the following list of assessment criteria and decide which you think are most important for your interview.

  1. fluency
  2. accuracy
  3. pronunciation
  4. appropriacy
  5. range of vocabulary
  6. range of grammar

These six criteria are commonly used in many interview examinations, including for IELTS and TOEFL examinations.

To score highly on fluency is is necessary to avoid "dead air" or "awkward silence", which are usually caused by lack of ideas, lack of vocabulary or inability to create a sentence. Avoiding "dead air" is achieved mainly by practice and the use of a few expressions to gain thinking time (see Activity 5).

Accuracy score is related to grammatical proficiency. The more grammatical errors you make, the lower the overall accuracy score.

There is a trade-off between fluency and accuracy. When people speak slower, they may be more accurate. In general, for Japanese students, it is better to focus on improving fluency when preparing for your interview. This is because the Japanese education system emphasizes accuracy over fluency.

Pronunciation comprises multiple aspects including intonation and stress. Your aim should be to sound enthusiastic and interested, which means you need to stress important words and use rising and falling intonation appropriately.

Appropriacy is concerned with the content of your answers. Your answers should not only directly address the questions but also provide some additional relevant information. This gives you two advantages: first, you show you understand how to communicate appropriately; and second, you provide the interviewer with more language for them to reward you with a higher score.

Range of vocabulary relates to the type of words you use. If you only use common words (e.g. high frequency words, such as the most common 2000 words), you score is unlikely to be high. You should aim to use some less common words. This can be acheived via good preparation.

Range of grammar relates to the different types of grammatical constructions that you include in your answers. Range of gramamr trades off against accuracy, since the number of grammatical errors may increase as you use increasingly complex grammatical structurs. In most cases, I recommend you focus on using the grammar you are comfortable with plus some prepared expressions.

interview sign

Activity 2 Sample five-question interview

Read the transcript of this (very short) practice interview. Identify aspects that can be improved.

  1. What is your hobby? I really like going r%iding.
  2. What do you study in university? I'm learning about computer science in my university.
  3. How did you come here today? I come here by plane and bus.
  4. What club activity do you belong to? I belong to swimming club.
  5. Why did you choose your university I want to learn computer science and English, and I wanted to live alone.

In short, the answers relate directly to the questions, which is a good point. However, all the answers are short and simple. In fact, the interviewee only said 40 words in total. This means that there is little chance for the interviewee to impress the interviewer. In addition, there are a number of simple grammatical mistakes, such as using "come" instead of "came" and "want" instead of "wanted" in answers to questions asking about the past. There is one intrusive pronuncation error "r%iding". This word was difficult to recognise because of an "r/l" sound problem. However, by adding more information, such as "riding horses" or "riding my bicycle", it would be easier for the interviewer to guess.

Activity 3 Interview etiquette

Read the following advice.

  • Dress appropriately for the situation (e.g. formally for job interviews).
  • Sit down on the chair with your back straight.
  • Appear confident by looking directly at the interviewer.
  • Do not fidget. Keep still (i.e. no 貧乏ゆすり).
  • Appear relaxed by controlling muscle tension.
  • Answer the exact questions asked. Do not stray from the topic.
  • Give full answers, even if you could give a ‘yes/no’ answer.
  • Expand your answers by adding some extra related information.
  • Ask the examiner to repeat a question if you don’t understand.

In Japanese job interviews there is a strict etiquette regarding knocking on doors, waiting for instructions to enter or sit down, and bowing correctly. Interviews in English conducted in Japan may expect such behaviour, particular when job hunting. However, IELTS and other language proficiency interviews are more relaxed. It is, however, important to try to create a positive impression. The advice above is aimed at creating a positive impression.

Activity 4 Length and content of answers

Select the best answer for these questions.

  1. Where do you live?
    1. Niigata
    2. A city on the north coast of Japan
    3. I live in Niigata, which is a city on the north coast of Japan.
  2. How did you come here today?
    1. By plane and bus
    2. I came by plane and bus
    3. I flew to Haneda airport and then took a bus from there.
  3. Why did you choose your university?
    1. My mum chose it.
    2. I wanted to live alone.
    3. I was interested in programming and this university specialised in computer science.
  4. What you do you study in your university?
    1. Computer science.
    2. I am learning about computer science in my university.
    3. I am learning about computer science wih a heavy emphasis on software engineering.
  5. Which university club do you belong to?
    1. I belong to the swimming club.
    2. I belong to the swimming club. We meet four times per week.
    3. I belong tothe swimming club. My specialty is the 100 meters freestyle.

In each case option a is the worst answer. Although this option answers the question, the interviewer learns little about your ability to speak English because the answers are too short. Option b is a better answer, but option c. is the best answer in each case. In option c the answer directly addresses the question and provides some additional information. The answers also show a wider range of vocabulary.

Activity 5 Dealing with difficult questions

Read and remember these fillers. They can help you gain thinking time and show fluency even when you cannot answer a difficult question. For example, if you are asked to compare a frog and a toad, you might say

  • Oh, that is an interesting question. I have never actually thought about that....I believe [your answer].
  • Oh. let me think about that question. Ah, yes. I believe [your answer].
  • Oh, that is a difficult question. I have no idea about this topic. I believe [your answer].

"Oh" is used to show surprise. The next expression gives you time to think of a response. Practice at least one of these so that you can avoid "dead air" while thinking of an answer.

Watch and listen to this short video in which an interviewee demonstrates how to answer questions even when she does not have an answer.

Create a list of possible interview questions and practise answering them. Record yourself. Assess the recording. Repeat.

Activity 6 Interview simulation

Practice your interview skills in this interview simulation.

This was created for accounting students, but for computer science majors talk about your major, and not accounting. The interviewer asks a question and pauses. Speak until he begins the next question. Do not leave any "dead air" or awkward silence (気まずい沈黙).

Activity 7 Pronunciation focus

Read this advice.

We show enthusiasm and interest using facial expressions and intonation. Maintaining eye contact and smiling are two common ways to show interest. Intonation is one of the main ways to convey interest. When speech is rather flat, it seems as though the speaker is not interested. When speech has too much intonation, it sounds silly.

Read the following sentences aloud.

  1. I live in Aizu-wakamatsu. It is known as Samurai city and has a very famous castle.
  2. I live in Aizu-wakamatsu ↘. It is known as Samurai city ↗ and has a very famous castle ↘.
  3. I live in Aizu-wakamatsu. It is known as Samurai city and has a very famous castle.
  4. I live in Aizu-wakamatsu ↘. It is known as Samurai city ↗and has a very famous castle ↘.
In sentence two, the rising and falling intonation is shown using arrows. In sentence three bold is used to emphasize the words that should be stressed, that is pronounced stronger, louder and/or longer. In sentence four both intonation and sentence stress are shown. .


Activity 8 Audio recording

Create an audio recording of your answers to each of the questions below.

  1. Could you take about one minute to tell me about yourself?
  2. What are your strengths?
  3. What are your weaknesses?
  4. Why do you apply for this?
  5. What's your ideal company?
  6. What attracted you to our company?
  7. Why should we recruit you?
  8. What do you hope to be doing in 10 years?
  9. Which university courses did you excel at?
  10. What did you like least about university life?
  11. What makes you a better candidate than the other applicants?
  12. Do you have any questions for us?

If that was easy, try answering "Tell me a little more about that?" after each question from question 2 through to question 11.

Activity 9 Video recording

Video record your answers to the questions above. Re-record until you have an error-free video. Check each of the following criteria.

  1. Fluency: Are there any long pauses while you are thinking
  2. Accuracy: Are there any grammatical mistakes, e.g. using present tense instead of past tense.
  3. Pronunciation: Does you voice sound flat? Did you use intonation, sentence stress and word stress?
  4. Appropriacy: Do your answers address the questions?
  5. Range of vocabulary: Did you use a wide range of vocabulary?
  6. Range of grammar: Did you use different tenses and different sentence structures?
video interview


Make sure you:

  1. have prepared answers to a list of most common questions
  2. have made and checked an audio recording of your answers
  3. have made a video recording of you answering the questions
  4. can answer questions under stress.