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As a non-native speaker, I always cringe when I hear the job interviewer asks me "if we were to offer you the job" ....

Strictly grammatically speaking, "if we were to" simply implies uncertainty, which is fair in the job interview context. But does it also imply, implicitly, that the job interview was not impressed by the interview performance and thus chose to put the sentence in an uncertain manner.

Q1. has any native speaker ever used "if we are to offer you ..." ?

Q2. How often is "if we were to offer" neutral ?

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    It's a perfectly normal use of the subjunctive mood, used to express a hypothetical. "If . . . were" is used all the time by native speakers. – Jason Bassford Sep 27 '18 at 8:01
  • "If we are to offer you" makes no sense at all. Even if it did, it wouldn't mean the same thing. Just like I just said "even if it did". You can't say "even if it does" instead. That's not English. – RegDwigнt Sep 27 '18 at 10:56
  • @RegDwight - it'd be greatly appreciate if you can elaborate on your "even if it does" makes no sense and is not English as a formal answer, for the sake of this forum being about English usage, as it's not clear to me what it is not English – B Chen Sep 27 '18 at 14:33
  • "If we are to offer you" is less neutral than "if we are", because it would typically only show up as the first part of a condition (not conditional). That is, I would expect that sentence to be completed something like "If we are to offer you the job, you must first do X, Y, and Z." – 1006a Sep 28 '18 at 0:01
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I am a native speaker and I have been on both sides of the table. In my opinion, “if we were to offer you the job” sounds perfectly natural, and there’s no need for you to cringe.

In some cases, multiple people at the hiring company will interview the prospective employee. In the U.S. at least, it’s common for HR to brief these people to not give the candidate the impression that they can commit the company to making the hire. The actual decision to extend an offer will be made after all the interviews are complete and the results collated. In general, the aim is to avoid giving someone the impression that they would have been hired, and their failure to get the job was due to racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, or being in one of the “protected categories” as they are referred to in U.S. law.

There are many questions that could give a prospective employee the impression that they are close to being hired, such as “when can you start?”

It’s difficult to assess the language used by a specific interviewer, since interviewers vary in their understanding of employment law and how to best communicate with potential employees. It can be difficult for a candidate to gauge what the interviewer is “really thinking”. What looks like indifference could actually be interest that the interviewer is trying to conceal.

My first recommendation is that you read up on body language, which is often more telling than the words alone. However, in my experience, an interviewer saying “if we were to offer you the job” is a sign that they are entertaining the possibility, and gives you an opportunity to respond with warmth and enthusiasm, at least if it’s a job you want.

  • @Charm, thanks a lot for feedback. It'd be great if you can elaborate, if possible, from the perspective of the English language, although it's certainly comforting to hear that the language per se bears minimal/no impact on the job prospect itself. – B Chen Sep 27 '18 at 14:36
  • @BChen Grammatically, if we were to offer you the job is the subjunctive equivalent to the straight conditional form, if we offered you the job. However, the subjunctive form in spoken English is so rare that in my view, you are better off thinking of it as a turn of phrase. In languages where the subjunctive form is more common, such as French, the use of a subjunctive is supposed to relate to the speaker’s mood. In theory, this would make if we were to offer you the job more tentative in spirit than if we offered you the job. In practice, though, there’s no great difference. – Global Charm Sep 27 '18 at 18:53

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