Communication Strategies for Interviews
by Don W. Maybin and John J. Maher


Do you have students who are taking the Eiken test? How about college students who are going to have an English interview to enter a company? Or students who want to study overseas and the school requires an interview? Do you know that in the near future the TOEIC test will have an interview component? In all of these cases students who have been trained in the use of communication strategies stand a better chance of passing their interviews.


We have prepared students for the above situations and found that skillful use of communication strategies gives them many advantages during an interview. But what are communication strategies? For our purposes, we define a communication strategy as a way to overcome an anticipated or actual communication breakdown when you are speaking with someone. All good language learners use such strategies regardless of their level, but some people are more efficient than others.


In our book, The Active Learner, we frame specific communication strategies in models which can be memorized and referred to when “trouble” arises in a conversation. For example, in the first unit of Book 1 students learn the steps needed to clarify when they are having trouble understanding. There are two stages:

    Stage 1: Stop the other person by interrupting politely with “Excuse me.”

    Stage 2: Try to understand by identifying what the problem is and taking action, such as asking someone to speak slower (“More slowly, please.”), clarifying a word (“What does that mean?”), or overcoming difficulty with an unusual accent (“How do you spell that?”).


In an interview, communication strategies can provide the learner with some key advantages, including:

1. Greater self-confidence: People are naturally very nervous during an interview, but even more so when required to answer in a language that is not their own. Learners who have studied communication strategies know they can manage the conversation to a greater degree. The speaker controls the language and not the other way around. By asking the interviewer to speak slower, repeat what was just said, or clarify the meaning of a word or phrase, the chance of understanding and giving an appropriate answer is much greater. Hopefully, the learner will begin to relax and do a better job!

2. Positive impression: A native speaker of English naturally uses communication strategies without thinking about the steps involved. On the other hand, when a learner becomes more assertive and uses communication strategies during an interview, the interviewer can’t help but take notice. A learner’s ability to take steps to understand and be understood when using English will impress others.

3. More natural language: By using communication strategies, the learner’s English will sound more natural. As he or she actively pursues meaning, the learner not only creates a better impression, but also gives the interviewer a clearer sense of the learner’s actual ability to maneuver in everyday conversation. If necessary, the interviewer can adjust the level of the exchange so that it is more comfortable and natural for everyone.


In fact, many of our students have reported that the use of communication strategies in their interviews has helped them succeed. They became more relaxed and some interviewers became friendlier and were willing to help clarify more. Surprisingly, some learners mentioned applying the skills they learned in English to successfully perform at job interviews in Japanese!


Of course, communication strategies won’t guarantee that your students will pass every interview with flying colors; however, if they have been trained in how to efficiently manage a conversation, chances are the learners in your classes will be better prepared for every encounter in English once they head out into the real world!