The Bilingual Interview: Preparation & the Actual Experience

Daniel McCullough on

I have readers asking me how best to prepare for an interview, so here are my thoughts. My advice includes tips that you may find on the internet, but I do give a Japanese spin on it. (Also, check out my blog post on 10 tips to prepare for a remote interview.)

Preparation checklist:

  • Have you checked out the company’s website? This includes their headquarters and subsidiaries in various locations.
  • Have you researched the company online and via their social media? What organizations are they a part of? How involved are they locally? Perhaps they support a cause you believe in and that could become a point of conversation in the interview.
  • Is your outfit ready to wear, and have you actually tried it on? It might be a suit you wore last year and may realize that it doesn’t fit anymore. Worst case scenario, you can go shopping, or iron/mend something.
  • Look at the map on how to get there. If you don’t know the area, then give yourself extra time to drive, get gas, get lost, park and walk to the building. Be sure you have the correct location, especially if the company has more than one. 
  • Is there anything to take with you, i.e. previous essays you wrote, binder of translations, or copies of your resume?
  • Do you have business cards? These are especially impressive when dealing with a Japanese company or Japanese persons in the interview.
  • Practice your Japanese. Don’t worry about what you don’t know; practice what you do know. The interview isn’t a test – it’s an opportunity to show what you’ve learned over time. Don’t think about your level and how it may compare. Just be confident being YOU.
  • Prepare questions! Think of the interview being a conversation where you get to participate. The questions section is your chance to show what you’ve learned about the company and what you’d like to learn more about. 
  • Get a good night’s sleep. You don’t want to sleep in or look super tired. My dad used to say that when you have a school exam or important meeting, don’t stay up all night preparing for it. You’ve already taken years to improve your skill; now is the time to just rest, relax and let your skills shine. You can do it 🙂

The actual interview:

Every company has its own unique flavor to interviewing, but the basic format can be found in any online article: introductions, questions to the job-seeker, questions to the employer, and goodbyes. 

So what is a “bilingual” interview, and what does it look like? Well, this can also depend on the company and their process, but here are some possible situations:

  • the entire interview is conducted in your foreign language. This is because the interviewer is from that country, and/or they want to determine your language skills.
  • a portion of the interview is conducted in your foreign language. 
  • you become an impromptu interpreter (I prefer the term “communicator”). This scenario is for more advanced speakers and could look like this: there are 2 interviewers, one American and one Japanese. You hear the question in English and interpret it into Japanese, and vice versa. The point is to see whether you understand what the questions and answers are in both languages. Don’t worry about being exact; as long as you show that you understand the basic meaning, you’ll be fine.
  • reading/writing practice. You could be shown a document written in your foreign language to see whether you understand it, and you could be given something to translation to/from either language.

Key point: again, don’t worry about your language level! Just do the best you can. You weren’t born with your foreign language (actually, any language!) and it takes time to learn a language and become proficient. Honor the level where you are at, and if you are determined to improve, be thankful for potential opportunities like such interviews!

Most people get nervous when preparing for interviews, which is perfectly normal. It’s an important event, and it means a lot to you. Remember that the person on the other side of the table is also human and they just want to get to know you a little better. 

A final note on the results: don’t think about them. Consider the interview as a practice that gets better every time, and know that you will have many interviews in your life. The most successful people in the world don’t get jobs at their first interview, so don’t think that you are a failure if it doesn’t work out. 頑張って下さい!(Good luck)

Don’t forget to check out my blog post on 10 tips to prepare for a remote interview!

Daniel McCullough on

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