Mastering Tenses in Job Interviews: Essential Tips and Comprehensive Review

I have been doing interviews in non-native English-speaking countries for a while now, and the most common problem I have observed is the use of tenses. It is very common to ask clients to tell me about something they did at their last job and they use the present tense in their reply. 

In any 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.

So let’s do a quick review to help you create the best impression you can.

But let’s keep it simple.

Simple communication is clear, it is harder for you to make mistakes, and have you ever heard someone say – “I didn’t like that answer, it was too easy to understand”? 🤔

Me either. 😎

So – let’s break it down.

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 where you went to school, or what you studied, or what you did in your last job, or the last project you worked on.

Eg. I graduated from university in 2006.

I completed my Masters degree in 2009.

I worked at Company X as a Chemical Engineer and I moved to Company Y in 2017.

I became a manager after 2 years.

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 where you work, 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 collect data from all of our branches and analyse the information on a weekly basis.

I manage a team of technicians.

I am the lead project manager on the redesign of a heat exchanger to increase recoveries in the process by 2%

I’m usually responsible for technician staff rosters and coverage.

I create and maintain production/mining reports.

You can use the Present Continuous tense to talk about actions that are happening at the present moment, but will finish soon.


I’m designing a new stockpile layout to optimise access for better grade control.

I am working on a project for my Senior Manager.

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 five years I will be the manager of a medium-sized mine site.

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 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 try to understand if you are talking about things you have done or are doing) 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 most difficult English mistakes for clarity you can make, so it’s best if you can avoid that.

And if you need to, brush off those old dusty English grammar books and refresh your tenses knowledge before you nest BIG interview.

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