There are two different levels of English, informal and formal. Another name for formal English is “polite” English.
How is the topic of polite English related to interviews?
Why you need to use polite language in interviews
Your goal in an interview is to show that you’re the best person for the job.
Using polite language shows your interviewer that you:
- Are well educated
- Have good manners
These two things make your interviewer think that you can:
- Build relationships with colleagues, partners, and customers
These are what are called “soft skills.”
Sometimes technical people think that they don’t need soft skills. The truth is, even if your job is technical you’ll still need to be able to communicate with your supervisor or colleagues.
Using polite English shows your interviewer that you have good soft skills.
Test your polite English skills
Here’s an exercise that I use with clients to assess how polite their language is.
Polite English Exercise
The language in these sentences is direct and clear but not very polite/formal. Revise them so that the meaning is the same but the tone of the message is more polite.
1. “Last month we sent you a form asking if you were interested in our services, but we haven’t heard back from you.”
Write down your politer answer.
Have you written down your answer? Write it down before you go on to the next paragraph.
Did your answer sound like this?
“We have been waiting to receive your response on whether you are interested in our services.”
The tone of this answer is actually more direct than the one in the example. Because it’s more direct, it’s actually less polite.
Here is a politer form of this example:
“We would like to follow up with you regarding our correspondence dated June 25th. We would truly appreciate receiving your reply regarding your interest in our services.
This is definitely politer than the original.
Your answer should sound something like this, although it doesn’t have to use those exact words. There are many ways to get the right level of politeness of English.
I'm not going to teach you polite English here because that's a complex topic, but if you need to learn or improve your polite English there are many resources.
Here are more example questions to test yourself:
2. “I couldn’t complete your order because you failed to mention which size shirt you wanted.”
Write down a politer version.
This one has the same tone:
“Can you mention which size shirt you want so I can complete your order?”
In order to be polite it needs softening language.
This one is politer:
“I’m afraid I was not able to complete your order due to the lack of information regarding the size shirt.”
But it still isn’t very polite.
Here’s a good answer:
“I’m afraid I couldn’t complete your order. Could you please tell me which size shirt you’d like? Once I get that information, I’ll transmit the order right away. Thank you very much.”
3. “Because there were more qualified candidates we didn’t keep your application.”
This statement is too honest.
This one uses different words but has the same tone:
“We could not consider your application as we had many qualified candidates.”
The next answer is better:
“Thank you for applying. I’m afraid that at this time we aren’t able to interview you, but we’ll keep you in mind for the future.”
This doesn’t actually say they rejected the application, although it implies it. If you don't say the bad news directly, it's more polite.
4. “We’re sorry that we have no more rooms available for Labor Day weekend.”
This version is much politer:
“We regret to inform you that we are fully booked for the Labor Day weekend and we cannot accommodate you during this time frame. We apologize for the inconvenience caused and hope to see you soon.”
5. “The only reason you don’t do well at your job is because you don’t work hard enough.”
Ouch, too direct!
This is also too direct:
“You need to put more effort in and bring out your A game!”
This is also too direct:
If you work hard enough, you will do well in your job.
Remember, we’re trying to use formal English, which means you’re talking to someone who is not your friend but more likely a colleague or an employee.
This is better:
“I’m sorry you’re not doing well at your job. Do you have any idea why? Do you think you might not be working hard enough?”
This is still a difficult subject to talk about. The most polite thing to do is to not discuss it at all, but you may need to discuss something like this at work. If you need to have the discussion this is a better way to phrase it.
6. “It’s a very important meeting. I want to make a good impression with the client. Try not to say anything wrong like you did at the last meeting.”
Too direct! Being this direct makes you sound mean and insulting.
This is better:
“The upcoming meeting is going to be very important for us and we need to make a positive impression with the client. We should review our talking points before the meeting to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
7. “Your department is doing a terrible job with sales. Can’t you get more customers?”
This statement is too direct. It needs to be softened.
This one is better:
“The sales results from your department weren’t good last quarter, as I’m sure you’re aware. Have you given any thought to ways you can get more customers?“
This was a short test to see how polite your English is. If you're going to an interview, you need to make sure you can use the polite version of the language.
If you failed the test, you should review your polite English. If you aren't sure how you did, can email me your answers and I can let you know.
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.