Tenses to talk about your career

    Business Spotlight 1/2018
    © Bernhard Förth
    Von Mike Seymour

    Knowledge of the basics of English grammar will help you to communicate clearly and confidently. Here, we present the structures you need to talk about your work experience, both past and present.

    1. The present simple vs. the present continuous

    Use the present simple to talk about your current job, the company you work for or the tasks you usually perform. Do not use the present continuous form here as this makes it sound as though your employment is not permanent. At this stage, you are giving general background information:

    • I work for Freeman, Hardy & Willis.
    • I design websites for an IT company.
    • My father runs his own business and I do his accounting

    You can switch to the present continuous when you want to be more specific about what you are doing at the moment, for example to talk about a current project:

    • I’m creating a new user interface for the call centre staff.
    • I’m looking for a new challenge.

    You could add words such as “currently”, “at the moment”, “right now” or “at present”:

    • Right now, we are working with a Spanish media company.
    • I’m not working on any new designs at present.

    2. The present perfect

    Use the present perfect to talk about your previous work experience and employers in very general terms. Don’t use this tense to go into detail. Say what you have done (so far) but not when you did it:

    • Do you have any international experience? — Yes, I’ve worked in Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
    • Have you ever used CAD applications? — I’ve used TurboCAD, CADopia and SketchUp Pro.
    • Have you ever worked in customer service? — No, I’ve never done that.

    3. The present perfect continuous

    Use this tense to describe actions, tasks and positions that started in the past and are still ongoing. The focus is more on the action (on the verb) rather than on the end result:

    • I’ve been working for Style-Direct since 2010.
    • My housemate has been looking for a new job for six months.
    • We’ve been working on this project for about a year now.
    • How long have you been looking for a new strategic assistant?

    4. The past simple

    Use the simple past to talk about things in more detail, especially when you did them, or about jobs and employers that are definitely in the past and finished. As a general rule, if you mention a date or time, this is a signal that you need the simple past:

    • When did you finish university? — I graduated in 2016 and then I volunteered in Chile for six months.
    • Why did you leave your last position? — It was a temporary contract and it ended in 2017.
    • Tell me about your career to date. — I graduated in 2009, then I went travelling. I went back to art college to study design in 2011 and then I joined my current company as an intern in 2013 before they offered me a permanent job a year later. I left last year because they offered me redundancy and I wanted to  start my own business.

    Present simple    

    • general information
    • talking about your current situation

    Present continuous

    • more detailed information
    • current projects or tasks
    • temporary duties  

    Present perfect    

    • general information about your career and past experience
    • information about what you have done (not when you did it)    

    Present perfect continuous    

    • actions and tasks that started in the past and are still ongoing    

    Past simple

    • finished and completed jobs and projects
    • start and end dates


    Test yourself

    Use the following exercise to find out if you could use the tenses correctly in a job interview.


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