5 essential interview strategies for international job-seekers

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Background

In this blog, I’m going to compile the main job interview strategies into one easy-to-use article.

I’ve tried to include some cultural tips as well as language use, grammar and “mindset” advice. I believe I’ve covered most of the main bases, but as always there are things that may have been left out. I hope this is helpful! I welcome any input or questions you may have.

So without further ado, here are the 5 essential interview strategies for international job seekers.

Strategy # 1: Research, research, research

Preparation for the job interview always begins with research.

Research is one of your secret weapons. Without it, your interview responses might not sound convincing. However, if you use it well, it can definitely help you land the job. 

Here are a few of the reasons why you need to research: 

  • You’ll sound sharper, more professional, and better informed. 
  • You’ll have some great questions to ask the interviewer.  
  • It shows your passion and commitment to the role.
  • It demonstrates that you put energy and time into your preparation.

Believe me – hiring managers are impressed by quality research. It’s something that can elevate you above the other candidates.

Areas you should research:

  • The company’s current and future products and services
  • Company background and history
  • Decision makers, CEO, etc
  • Recent revenue and growth
  • Target demographics and users
  • Market niche and competitors
  • Company news and culture
  • What the team is working on currently as well as problems and challenges
  • The interviewer/s’ background, hobbies, and career journey

Use Google, the company’s website and blog, blogs or videos from employees and leaders in the company, Youtube/Vimeo, and online industry publications.

Pro tip: connect with people in the target company via LinkedIn and then arrange an informational interview or coffee chat. You can get some great insights from these conversations.

Strategy #2: Align yourself with the company and the role

In this step, you show that you’re a perfect match for the company and the role based on your background, experience, and your skills as well as your emotional commitment. 

The point here is to make it easy for them to choose you as you come across as a perfect fit for what they’re looking for.

The important thing to keep in mind is this alignment is not just rooted in your technical abilities. There’s also an emotional and ‘personality’ element. They want to see what it will be like to work with you on a day-to-day basis.

1.Alignment based on skills and experience.

The first thing is to look closely at the job description. Then go through and match your skills, achievements, experience, and results with each of the bullet points. (Now it’s important to keep in mind that your school projects and internships count!)

For example, if the role calls for you to “design, conduct and execute multiple research projects for relevant teams, using the right methodology,” come up with examples from your background when you’ve done this. It’s best if you can provide metrics of the success for each of the points.

You can also align your background with the company goals and projects you learned about in your research. Describe previous projects you’ve done, metrics for your achievement, and the relevant skills you used to get the results. 

2. Alignment based on ’emotion’.

As we all know, human beings are emotional creatures. Interviewers and hiring managers are no exception. During the interview, they’re not just looking at technical skills. In many cases, if there’s a gap there, they’re often willing to train a new employee.

What they’re looking for is personality ‘fit’. This is where you will have get to express some of your emotional commitment and your personality.  

Culturally, the US is a place where feelings and passion are often expressed directly, unlike in other countries, where it might be done in a more indirect or subtle way. Americans can sometimes come across as dramatic or over-the-top in the way we express our feelings. However, you don’t need to do it that way.

But you need to state how you feel about the opportunity and the company. If you don’t, the interviewer may think you’re not that invested or passionate.

I usually recommend to my clients that they use simple expressions such as:

I’m really excited about ________!

I love _______ about ________ !

I would love to ___________!

It would be great to_______!

Tell them how you were a fan of their product when you were a kid! How you loved the Google logo when you were 5 years old. If you’re interviewing with ILM, tell them how much you loved the Lord of the Rings movies.

Telling them how their mission resonates with you because of a long term interest or passion you have can be very effective.

Let them know you’re a passionate human being with feelings about the company. Tell them you can’t wait to join the team and make an impact. Anything to show that you’re not just a robot who can do the work.

Remember the old saying in marketing: “people shop based on logic, but they buy based on emotion.” 😉

Strategy #3: Answering the Questions

The area that people spend the most time on obviously is answering the interview questions. There’s a ton of advice out there on how to do this, and it can get bewildering and complex if you let it. 

So to make it simple, I’m going to break it down into two categories.

First, the “Common Questions.”

The common interview questions include “Why do you want to work here?,” “Why are you interested in the role?,”” Tell us a little about yourself,” and so on. 

In your answers, discuss your background but also try to include information from your research along with a little emotional expression and some juicy and impressive metrics if possible. 

You’ll have them wrapped around your finger by the end of it.

In terms of format, it’s a good idea to have a structure that makes it easy for them to grasp the information you’re providing. Here’s a template that you can use to answer the common questions. (For those who’ve suffered through the TOEFL test at some point in their education, this will look familiar!):

Question: So why do you want to work for Mushroom Data?

Answer: That’s a great question!

I have a couple / three reasons

First,_______________(something about your love for their product and mission)

Second,_______________ (experience that aligns with the company goal + success metric)

Third,_____________ (another experience that matches a finding from your research)

This is why I’m super interested in the role and would love the chance to make an impact!

Answers to the Common Questions should be brief – 30 seconds to just under 2 minutes. Don’t take up too much time. In many cases, these topics will lead to longer conversations, which is great!

Pro tip: Mix up the intro sentence in the template up with positive and enthusiastic statements like “Yes definitely. Thanks for asking!…”

Second, the “Behavioral Questions”:

Behavioral questions can be scary at first. But they do give you a great opportunity to show what a perfect fit your are with the job description and to show exactly how your past performance added value to a company or team (or a school project). This is where you’ll get to tell stories about your background.

Behavioral questions are also a chance to show self-awareness, personal growth, and what you learned.

These questions typically look and sound like this:

Tell me about a time when you had a hard time with a client. How did you handle it?

Describe a time you didn’t succeed. How did you deal with it? 

Tell me about a time you took initiative on a project.

The correct way to respond to behavioral questions is by using the STAR method. 

Generally speaking, STAR means:

Situation: context, challenge, project, background. What was the situation?

Task: what needed to be accomplished or achieved. What was your responsibility?

Action: actions you took, thought process, analysis, decisions you made, initiatives you implemented. What did you do?

Result: outcomes and impacts your actions achieved; use metrics where appropriate. 

It’s a good idea in the Result part of your answer to show what you learned in the process, as your ability to learn and grow is something the interviewer will be assessing. 

Language tip: make sure you use Simple Past when telling your stories. It’s easy to confuse the interviewer if you mistakenly use Simple Present or Unreal Conditionals. These answers are a little longer; 2-3 minutes is fine.

Strategy #4: Mindset and “vibe”

Imagine you’re a player on a sports team. A new potential member arrives to try out for an open spot. You know from their background that they have incredible athletic ability and have racked up some brilliant wins and statistics. 

However when you meet them, they seem a little distant and detached. You can’t really tell how they feel about joining the team. They don’t seem that curious or excited about what you’re trying to do and don’t show much interest in your game-winning strategies.

You might wonder if you really want to be on the same team working with this person day in and day out, in spite of their undeniably great athletic prowess. You also know that the remaining candidates all have approximately the same skill level. So you’re probably going to go with one who has a more delightful and inspiring attitude. 

It’s no different in the work world. We want someone with the right mindset and vibe.

Here are some mental attitudes you should bring to the interview:

  • Positivity. Be optimistic and happy. Smile! Show them you’re glad to be there. Radiate enthusiastic energy. 
  • Be friendly and chat. Small talk and a little banter go along way towards breaking the ice.
  • Curiosity. Ask questions. Ask for more detail if they ask a question and you’re not sure of the answer.
  • Learning mind. Make a point of telling stories that illustrate what you’ve learned and how you’ll apply it to the role. And of course, tell them directly that you love learning as well. 😉
  • Personal Initiative. People in the US have a fondness for mavericks and risk-takers. And for those who take initiative in their work. We work in teams but it’s also a culture based on the individual. So highlight your accomplishments, decision-making, and initiatives you’ve taken.
  • Critical thinking. Show that you can analyze problems, think about the big picture, and work through ambiguity. Also (and this is important): look for potential red flags not their side. Not every job is a good fit for you. It’s better to see this early on and not be unhappy and regretful later.
  • Gratitude: Always thank them for their time and for the opportunity.  Send them a thank you note with a personal detail afterwards.

 

Strategy #5.Asking Questions

I’ve read blogs from hiring managers and interviewers who go so far as to say that if the candidate doesn’t ask questions, it’s a major red flag, and they won’t be selected no matter how good the technical skills are.

Here are the types of general questions you can and should ask:

  • What qualities are you looking for in the candidate?
  • What are the expectations for the role / what does success look like?
  • What do would you like to see in the next 3 months?
  • What are the challenges for the team right now?
  • How do you evaluate the employee?
  • What attributes are important for the person in this role? 
  • What are the work environment and culture like?
  • What are the usual deadlines like?

Also, think of questions based on your research of the company, the position, AND the interviewers (use LinkedIn and their other social media posts).

  • What do you enjoy about working here?
  • Ask about future developments or plans.
  • Ask about current projects and initiatives.
  • Ask about concerns, challenges, and problems they’re trying to solve. 
  • Ask about career growth opportunities. 

Questions about the interviewer:

  • How did you get into this industry?
  • What do you like about working here?
  • I notice you like baseball. Who’s your favorite team?
  • Looks like you enjoy cooking! I do, too. What do you like to cook?

Remember to respond and add value to the conversation after you ask the question. Provide some insights. Tell them what you think. 

Practice your answers, rehearse your stories and achievements, but also remember to be natural and just make a conversation out of it. The interview is an opportunity to make a real connection and learn something. And maybe have fun! It does happen. 

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