You can’t succeed in an interview unless the interviewer understands you.
You may have years of professional experience and industry knowledge but if you can’t communicate this to your interviewer they won’t know about it.
You can succeed in an interview if you have an accent
You may be worried that your accent will keep you from succeeding in an interview situation, but that isn't true.
If you have an accent, you can succeed at your interview, but there are a few things to consider.
How strong is your accent?
Most of my international coaching clients worry too much about their accents.
It’s perfectly okay to have an accent.
The question you want to ask is, how strong is your accent?
Slight (small) accent
If you have a slight accent, it won’t be a problem in your interview.
I know you may be self-conscious about the way you speak, and you may have gotten some comments about it in the past, but as long as it isn’t interfering with listener comprehension you should be okay.
One of my clients told me he had gotten complaints about the way he said “development.” I hadn’t noticed anything so I asked him to say the word for me. Yes, he did have an Indian accent but it was easily comprehensible and I had absolutely no trouble understanding the word.
It was a shame that an American had made him self-conscious about his pronunciation, and I apologize on behalf of my fellow Americans because we can be pretty rude.
A note about Americans and accents: Most Americans don’t study foreign languages and don’t interact with foreigners often, so we’re not great at understanding or dealing with accents. The ones who work at tech companies get more experience.
Do people understand you when you speak English? If yes then your accent isn’t a problem.
It doesn’t matter if your accent is different than your interviewer’s, as long as they can understand you
What if you do have a strong accent?
If you do have a stronger accent there are some things you can do to improve the chance that your interviewer will understand you.
How to improve your accent before your interview
Here are some tips for improving your accent before you go into your interview.
1. Work with an accent coach
You can work with an accent coach, and I’m happy to refer you to a good one (I don’t do accent coaching myself).
I realize that accent coaching is expensive, so if you can’t work with one long-term, I advise having a consultation/evaluation. A good accent coach will do an evaluation of your accent and pinpoint your specific problems. They will then give you a learning plan with things you can fix on your own (and give you ideas of resources).
I don’t advise trying to improve your accent without getting an evaluation, because it’s hard to know what your own problems are.
The problem is, however, that accent coaching is a long-term (or at least longer term) project. You probably have an interview coming up soon if you’re reading this book.
If you do have at least a month before your interview, congratulations! You’ve planned ahead and you do have time to work on your accent with a coach. Email me and I can let you know the name of my favorite accent coach.
Most of you probably don’t have that much time, so I’m going to give you a few suggestions of things you can learn quickly and incorporate into your interview prep on your own.
2. Is it your accent or theirs?
Although you may go into the interview worried about your own accent, you might actually have a problem understanding your interviewer’s accent. Most people are so focused on worrying about their own performance they never think of this possibility.
Even though you might be interviewing in an American company, there may be quite a few people working there who weren’t born in America.
What should you do if this happens to you in your interview?
You can’t ignore it if you’re having a problem answering the questions, because you can’t answer a question you don’t understand. I know you might want to ignore it if you’re worried about being rude, but you need to say something.
Be polite but direct. Say to them, “I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding you. Would you please slow down?” Or “Could you please repeat the question?”
Hopefully this will solve the problem and they will then repeat the question.
Worst case scenario is that you don’t understand them the second time, or they ignore you. Unfortunately, both of these things might happen. What should you do if it does?
Ask them to repeat the question again. You can also say that you’re sorry but you don’t understand their accent.
You need to be clear that you don’t understand them, because you can’t interview if you don’t understand the questions
This might be a test
If the team you’ll be working closely with are people who are often difficult to understand they might test you to see how you handle the interaction.
If you ignore the problem you might fail the interview because they’ll see you couldn’t communicate with them anyway. Of course, you’ll probably fail because you won’t be able to answer the questions.
Ask the interviewer to repeat words and have them spell them if they don’t make sense.
You don’t need to feel self-conscious if you do have this problem, because this is actually a common occurrence in tech companies.
3. Slow down
Many non-native English speakers think that speaking fast will help them sound smarter and more fluent.
I often do mock interviews with clients and they give their answers so quickly that I can’t understand them at all. But then, when they slow down, the same answer is totally clear.
- increases your pronunciation mistakes
- decreases clarity
- makes you sound nervous or self-conscious
These aren’t good things in an interview.
Slow down and your words will be much easier to comprehend.
This will help Americans and other non-native speakers understand you.
4. Say technical words clearly
You should try to say all of your words clearly, but be especially clear with key words – technical words, acronyms, names of companies, etc.
For example, the company name is the most important word in this sentence, “I worked at Mitsubishi for 6 years.”
I gave you that example because I had a client who worked there, and I couldn’t understand him when he said the name of the company.
Another example is “AWS.” I get a lot of clients who are applying to AWS and I ask them to answer the question “Why do you want to work at AWS?”
Many of them have a hard time with the “W” but unfortunately if you’re applying to a company with a “W” in the name you need to be able to say “W.”
You may think you are saying the name of your company correctly because you say it every day, but you should test your pronunciation on someone else.
5. Speak up
Do you speak quietly because you’re not confident in your English?
Do you speak very softly all the time?
Do you speak at a normal volume but then “skip” a word you don’t know how to pronounce?
Don’t do this. Speak in your normal tone of voice.
This advice will be particularly useful for Asians, who tend to speak more softly than Americans.
It's definitely possible to succeed in an interview if you have an accent, especially if you practice with some of these tips.
Let's work together preparing for your interview so you get the job of your choice. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.
Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.