Each year, I conduct an interview workshop for international students who are interviewing for jobs in the U.S. The workshop is interactive; there are opportunities to practice answering questions, and to get feedback from me and their peers. For all of the international students out there, understanding what to expect in an interview in the U.S. and how this can differ from interviews in your home country is essential for effective interview preparation and practice.
You can never have enough practice.
This applies to everyone who is interviewing for a job. I recommend that international students practice with a peer who speaks English well and who understands American idioms and slang. Of course, this person does not have to be American or a native English speaker, but someone who can play the role of an American employer.
If English is the student’s second language and the student feels like this could present some challenges, I recommend joining a conversation group or finding a conversation partner with whom you can practice English. It doesn’t hurt to practice out loud and to audio and videotape oneself. Finally, take advantage of the great services provided by your career services office which probably includes videotaped practice interviews with a career counselor and/or web-based practice programs.
Body Language & Nonverbal Etiquette
Upon meeting your interviewer, a firm handshake is expected. It’s OK to make eye contact with your interviewer throughout the interview, in fact, it’s recommended. Smiling often has been shown to demonstrate your sincere enthusiasm for the position. Sit up straight in your chair. It’s permissible to take a few notes during the interview, if necessary. Provide your interviewer with a hard copy of your resume on resume paper. At the end of the interview, you can expect another handshake before you depart.
Many students I work with, international and American, cringe at this word. Self-promotion is uncommon and even unsavory in many cultures. In fact, focusing on oneself is often downplayed in lieu of focus on a team’s collective efforts. I recommend that a student stay true to their tradition, and I never suggest that a student compromise his or her sense of self in an interview. However, I coach many international students to understand that American interviewers expect them to talk about their individual accomplishments.
Start out by discussing your role and responsibilities. Share with the interviewer how you perform tasks and make decisions and what skills you use to accomplish your work. Use concrete examples. An interviewer is not expecting you to talk about how you are better than your peers and co-workers – that’s not self promotion. Rather, the interviewer is looking for you to honestly acknowledge your competencies and skills by describing how you have used them in a work setting. And, an interviewer is especially interested in any awards or honors that you have received that are an indicator of the excellence of your work.
Family and Cultural Expectations
I am defined by my family, and so I have an appreciation for an international student whose identity is deeply embedded within their family unit. Some international students make the decision to break away from their role in order to explore career fields that may not be acceptable by their families or their culture. This can pose challenges for students in interviews because they may be otherwise distracted. If you anticipate that this may be one of your challenges, it’s important to talk with a career counselor or staff member at the international student center. That may further help you support your career goals and how they are affecting your identity.
Will I Ever Get Hired?
I often hear this- especially lately- from international students who fear that there is no chance for them in the current job market in the U.S. I prepare international students to expect challenges in their job search, but I also coach them to recognize their personal brand in order to put their best foot forward.
The International Student Personal Brand
Through interview preparation with a career counselor, an international student can recognize that they bring a unique and valuable perspective to an American employer as well as an American interview. Language skills; cultural sensitivity; adaptability; risk taking; international travel, work and education – these qualities and experiences may be included in your brand, along with athlete, writer, time manager, or computer geek.
International students are making an impact on American employers and are learning to anticipate the challenges expected in interviews in U.S. and abroad. If you are an international student who plans to interview for a job or an internship in the next few months, schedule an appointment with a career counselor to come up with a strategy for interview preparation and practice.
Nicole Anderson is an Assistant Director/Career Counselor for Tufts University Career Services. With fourteen years of experience in college career services, Nicole’s expertise includes career counseling undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from liberal arts, science, engineering, business, and education.