Common Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them



Interviews can be extremely nerve-wracking — everybody feels it. There's just something about stepping into a room with a total stranger whose sole purpose of being there is to make judgements and decide the direction of one’s future. It’s not a great feeling knowing you have to prove yourself and your capacity in a limited amount of time.

While interviews are an opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge and suitability for the secondary school in question, they also serve as a chance to learn more about the school, and figure out if things are a good fit — for everyone involved.

Over the years, ME education’s experienced teacher, Mr. Patrick Cummings has prepared many students for secondary school interviews. He has seen it all and has taken his experience to paper so future interviewees can learn from some of the more common mistakes.

Pronunciation Errors:

Pronunciation displays competency of language. Interviewers might think a second language English speaker is not as fluent as they are, if their speech is full of pronunciation errors. Regardless of whether their grammar and vocabulary is on point.

Being able to communicate well with interviewer is important, as it is not in the students’ best interest for the interviewer to have difficulty understanding what they are trying to say.

Common examples of pronunciation errors Mr. Cummings hears often are:

  1. ‘Kine’ instead of Kind

  2. ‘Hells’ instead of Helps

  3. ‘Lurse’ instead of Nurse

  4. ‘Perfect’ instead of Prefect

Language Errors:

As a non-native speaker, writing and speaking in English can be challenging. Language errors come in many forms and can easily confuse the intended meaning.

Some common errors students should look out for are:

  1. Spelling school names incorrectly. It’s important to be able to spell the names of the schools the student is currently attending as well as the school they are applying to. This demonstrates care and preparation.

  2. Confusing nouns. Students may say, “My mother helps my homework” instead of saying, “My mother helps me with my homework.”

  3. Paying attention to the words ‘hobby’ and not using it in the incorrect context. Students will often say, “My favorite hobby is football.” Football is considered a sport, not a hobby especially if it played during school hours. “Hobby” is something you do for fun in your spare time, rather than a subject or a scheduled school-based team activity.

  4. Confusing verbs. When asked what services the student performs at school, Mr. Cummings has heard students say, “I do a prefect“ instead of the correct way, “I am a prefect.”

General Interview Errors:

What shouldn't you do when interviewing? Mr. Cummings runs through the most common student interview mistakes and blunders.

No student wants to sit and worry about the mistakes they made during their interview that could have cost them the placement, so take the time to prepare beforehand so the interview goes as smoothly as possible.

  1. Manners! Manners! Manners! Greet your interviewer and upon exiting, be sure to say goodbye and thank you. Speak when spoken to and do not interrupt while the interviewer is talking. Politeness and grace will leave a good impression, whereas bad manners may leave a lasting impression too, however its not one you want to leave interviewers with at all.

  2. Being late or getting the date wrong. “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” Students should know exactly where and when the interview is being held so that they can be sure they will not get lost on the way, show up late or horror – miss the appointment altogether. Tardiness is rude and shows a disregard for the interviewer’s time. This will start the interview out on a bad note, which is less than ideal. Getting the date wrong shows a lack of organization which is also not the impression students want to give to interviewers.

  3. Not making eye-contact. While students shouldn’t engage in a stare-down with their interviewer, they also shouldn’t avoid eye contact completely. Looking around the room or at the floor does not demonstrate maturity or eagerness. It’s advised at times to look directly at your interviewer especially when answering a question.

  4. One-word answers. The purpose of the interview, is for the interviewer to get to know the student. When answering questions, it is advisable not to answer in one-word answers but rather to give more detail when appropriate. For example, Mr. Cummings may ask a student, “what would you like to be when you grow up?” instead of answering, “Police.” The student should say, “I would like to be a police man/woman when I grow up.” Then offer a bit more information to explain why. “I want to help people and fight crime. I also like the uniforms.” Answering with full sentences and providing detail allows the interviewer to understand more about the student and to appreciate the reasons behind the answer.

  5. Be Genuine. Interviewers understand that the process can be scary and that students want to put their best foot forward. For this reason, Mr. Cummings has noticed that some students may tell him what they think he wants to hear instead of what is actually the truth. Students sometimes pretend to know more than they do or say they have read books they haven’t. This can be dangerous because the interviewer may question them further and come to find they have not been entirely truthful. This is worse than if they had said, “I have not read that book because I find the language a bit too difficult.” Honesty will always garner more points than fabricated stories.

  6. Letting nerves take over. Sometimes, students will be so overwhelmed with nerves, they are unable to speak at all. If a student is prone to nervousness, practicing a ‘mock interview’ beforehand can help to alleviate some stress. It would be a pity for a student to have all the knowledge and personality locked inside their heads without being able to communicate it with their interviewer. Implement breathing techniques, practice answers and above all, try to enjoy the process.

  7. Demonstrate Maturity: The questions in an interview will be age appropriate. Interviewers are not trying to ‘catch students out’ but they will expect them to apply logic and learning before answering questions. For example, Mr. Cummings may ask a student what they would do if they won HKD10,000? If the student says, “I would buy a house with a big swimming pool” it is clear that the student does not understand the value of money at all. Secondary school applicants are old enough to understand that would not be enough money for a house and the interviewer will expect them to demonstrate this understanding.

  8. Moaning about English: Displaying a negative mindset is never a good idea no matter what the circumstance. A pet peeve of interviewers is when students complain about English being difficult. While there is truth to that statement, English is a difficult language to learn, it would serve students better to phrase it differently if they wish to communicate their struggle. Perhaps saying, “English has a lot of complicated rules like X or Y” is a better way to get the point across as this explains where the student is struggling and may serve to lighten the mood as the interviewer can relate to many strange rules in the language. It also demonstrates an eagerness to learn and to understand more. While the interviewer may empathize with the students struggle, the fact remains that they are there to assess the student’s English skills as they are applying to an English-speaking school.

The interview process can be scary but it’s purpose it to give the school an opportunity to evaluate the student and help determine whether or not to offer admission. If students go in feeling prepared, ready and armed with good manners and genuine answers, the process will go smoothly.

If you feel you need help preparing for an interview, contact ME education here and find out how we can help.

Good Luck!


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