Interviewing as an International Student
By Kelly Cuene
Interviews can be nerve-wracking for anyone, but as an
international student there is the extra challenge of trying to
determine how U.S. cultural norms will manifest in a job
The good news is, if you're an international student who has
been in the U.S. for a little while you've probably
already encountered most of these cultural differences, just
within a different context.
American Cultural Values
While values and culture vary among different regions, groups,
and individuals in the U.S., there are some commonly held
cultural norms in American society. In general, U.S.
Directness and efficiency
The idea that every one is equal
Confidence, assertiveness and competition
Some of these are common in other cultures, too. Chances
are, however, that there will be some differences between your
home country and interviews in the States.
What it Means for the Interview Process
Each of the values listed above impacts the interview process
in different ways:
Honesty: Employers are interested in what you
have to say, not what you think they want you to say. There
often isn't a "right" answer you should give in an
interview. An employer wants to know what you think in
order to make an accurate determination of your fit
for the position and company.
Directness and efficiency: Get to the point.
Be concise when answering a question and be careful not to
Equality: While Americans still work in
hierarchical organizations most of the time and respect
superiors, there isn't as much value placed on respecting
seniors and elders as there is in some other cultures,
especially when those higher-level people are acting
inappropriately or unethically. Less experienced staff are
often expected to voice opinions and challenge others'
ideas and behaviors for the benefit of the company.
Confidence, assertiveness and competition:
Present yourself and your ideas as though you are the
authority on your skills and attributes?because you are.
You have to be your own advocate. Being too humble or
modest can be perceived as a weakness. (But be careful not
to come across as arrogant). Use a firm handshake and make
plenty of eye contact. Avoiding eye contact may make the
interviewer wonder if you are being dishonest.
Individualism: When discussing a team effort
or group project, focus on your actions, not the group's
Punctuality: Being on time means being at the
interview 10 minutes before it is supposed to begin.
Polite friendliness: Be likable, but not
overly intimate or personal. How many times have you
witnessed an American ask someone "how are you?" only to
walk away before that person even has the chance to
respond? This is because we like the idea of being
pleasant, but do not have the time or the desire to go too
in-depth with our personal stories.
When we spend the majority of our lives in one place, cultural
norms become deeply rooted in our thoughts and behaviors.
It's challenging to try to "un-do", even if only temporarily,
what seems completely natural. Doing some practice
interviewing with a friend or advisor that can give you honest
feedback is the best way to identify some of these issues so
you can be a better and more confident interview
Kelly is a career advisor at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business
students with all aspects of their career development. Connect
with Kelly on Twitter, LinkedIn orBrazenCareerist.
The Student Branding Blog, part of the Personal Branding Network, is the #1 resource for career and personal branding advice for high school, college and graduate students.
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