One of the most common things that happens with clients is that they tell me about something they did at their last job and they use the present tense.
It drives me crazy, not because I really care about grammar, but because it's hard to focus on the content if the grammar is wrong. That's why I tell my clients they really have to get their verb tenses right.
In any admissions or job interview, you'll need to talk about (1) your past experience, (2) what you're doing now, and (3) what you plan to do. That's the past, the present, and the future.
Before your interview, review the right verb tenses in English to talk about these three time periods.
Overview of verb tenses to use in an interview
1. Use Simple Past to talk about the past
In interviews you're going to be talking about what you did in the past, right? You might have to talk about what you did last summer, or what your favorite class was, or where you went to school, or what you studied, or what you did in your last job, or the last project you worked on.
You can use the Simple Past tense to talk about those things. This is the most common tense to use when speaking about past experience.
- I studied English in high school.
- I got an A in algebra last year.
- I was #3 in my class freshman year.
- I worked at Siemens as a Finance Manager and then I moved to Nokia.
- I became a manager after 2 years.
- I created my first website in 2006.
- I developed an in-house database for the HR department.
- Just last week I finished a database for our warehouse.
- I completed the project under budget and 3 months ahead of schedule.
2. Use Present Simple or Present Continuous to talk about now
In interviews you're going to be talking about what you do right now. You might have to talk about what classes you're taking, or what degree you're getting, or where you work, or what your day-to-day responsibilities are, or what research you're doing.
You can use the Simple Present tense to talk about fixed habits or routines — things that don't change.
- I work at O'Reilly Media.
- I go to Haverford.
- I'm a Bio major.
- I collect data from all of our branches and analyze the information on a weekly basis.
- I manage a team of front-end developers.
- I am the number 1 salesman in my region.
- I am the lead project manager on the redesign of a trading platform used by 4,000 investment managers at my company.
- I'm usually responsible for staff organization and office management.
- I create and maintain the quarterly sales reports.
You can use the Present Continuous tense to talk about actions that are happening at the present moment, but will finish soon.
- Currently, we're expanding our sales division to include South America.
- I'm designing a new layout for our local branch.
- I am working on a project for our Senior Partner.
- I'm writing a presentation for a conference next month.
Usually in an interview when you talk about what you are doing now you are going to use a mix of these two tenses.
3. Use Future Simple or Present Continuous to talk about your plans for the future
You can use the Future Simple to answer questions like "What is your five year plan?" or "What do you plan to do after you graduate?" This is the tense I advise you to use if your English is average or below average because it's the easiest.
- In 5 five years I will be the manager of a medium-sized retail outlet.
- My long-term plan is that in 2 years I will be in a Master's program and 2 years after that I will be in a Ph.D. program.
You can also use Present Continuous to talk about experiences in the future.
- Once I gain additional experience, I am planning to move from my technical position into a managerial role.
- In the future, I am going to grow with a company where I can continue to learn, take on additional responsibilities, and contribute as much value as I can.
This was a just a quick overview; I wasn't trying to teach you grammar because I assume you've already learned that.
This was more of a reminder to you that you need to use tenses properly when you're interviewing because if you don't you will force the interviewer to focus on your grammar and not your skills.
Does your English need to be perfect to interview? No, it doesn't, but using the wrong tenses is one of the worst English mistakes you can make, so it's best if you can avoid that.
How to discuss your education in an interview (including tenses)
I hope this post helped you understand the English tenses to use in your interview. If you want to practice, ask me for one-on-one interview prep.
Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching international students and professionals. You can email me at email@example.com to schedule a consultation.