How do I prepare for a job interview in the US?

If you Google “How do I prepare for a job interview in the US,” you might come across an article on the US Department of Labor website. Now this is an official website of the US government, so you’d like to think that the information on it is top drawer.

And it’s not bad. They do recommend researching the organization, its goals and mission, and they advise you to “support past accomplishments with specific information targeted towards the position requirements.” That’s a great tip, actually although it is a little vague. How do you “support past accomplishments”? Who knows? The article also recommends practicing answers to the common questions using a “framework.” Again, this is great advice generally speaking, but they don’t tell you what this framework is or where you can get it.

Sadly, this is a common problem when it comes to providing international students and professionals the critical information they need on this topic. It often either short on details or assumes that the reader will infer what isn’t provided. But if you’re not from the US and don’t already understand what Americans take for granted on this subject, it’s not going to help you much.

So in this blog, I’m going to provide some tips and guidance on the “American job interview,” including advice on points that in my 15 years of coaching, I’ve noticed many international professionals seem to lack.

1.Research, research, research

The US government was right about one thing. You need to research. And there’s really no end to it. The more research you do, the better prepared you will be. It’s really that simple. And they were also correct in saying that the company’s mission and goals are two things you’d better understand very well and be prepared to mention and discuss in the interview. But it doesn’t stop there. Study the website in detail. Read the blogs. Understand as much as you can about the company values: what they care about and why. What are they trying to achieve, short and long term? Research the founder. Study the financials.

Take a close look at their social media. Find posts and ideas there that resonate with you and prepare yourself to bring these up with the hiring manager. Your goal is to make it seem to them that you already work there. That’s the secret sauce. You need to be so familiar with what’s going on inside the company that they start to think you’re a member of the team they haven’t met yet. Use the catch phrases and exact mission statement/s that you find. Bring up an obscure reference in a blog or video that excited you. And don’t wait for them to ask. Just bring it up and talk about it.

Lastly, schedule informational interviews with employees – they know best what’s going on inside the company and may be willing to share these insights with you. This may seem extremely inappropriate for readers from other cultural backgrounds. It might seem wrong to you. But in the US, this kind of outreach and connection is considered not just appropriate but often necessary, especially given that many jobs are not even posted and companies often try to fill them through referral. It will feel strange and possibly rude at first, but it’s not seen that way in this country. (Incidentally, that article I linked to mentions asking former employees, but it’s equally ok to do so with current employees.)

2.Make sure your responses are well-organized

It’s true that you need to practice but if your answers to the common or behavioral questions are long- winded or incoherent, you’re not going to make it very far. For the common questions (Tell me about yourself?, Why do you want to work here?, Why are you interested in the role?), use the following templates:

For “Tell me about yourself,” use a past, present, and future structure focusing on either educational or job-related experience that aligns best with the role and the company’s mission and goals.

For other questions, you should start by saying something like, “that’s a great question,” or “thanks for asking, etc.” Then say, “I have a couple reasons / a few reasons. First ________, Second,________, Lastly,_____” For each of these, state something from your experience that best matches the question and the job post. For example, if the question is “Why are you interested in this role?,” you would choose 3 of the most important points from the job description and then provide brief summaries of how you achieved something similar for each. “In my last position at Workday, I increased user engagement by 68% over a 3 month period and user subscriptions by 4x in the same time period.”

The important thing to remember is that you need to be concise here. No rambling. You don’t want to spend more than a minute and a half for each of the so-called common questions. It’s possible that they will ask you questions. It might turn into a longer conversation. That’s wonderful – you should be looking for opportunities for more expansive dialogue, but for these questions, keep it short and sweet.

Remember that one thing they’re probably look at is how effectively and succinctly you’re able to communicate. If your answers are more likely to be up for a Nobel Prize for spoken word or literature, you might need to trim them down a little.

3.Remember that the US is a low context culture (and that personal initiative is valued)

My last point here has to do with the kind of communication culture that pervades in the US. Intercultural scholars describe what we have here as “low context.” This means you need to get to the point. You need to be as clear and direct as possible. Don’t allude to something indirectly and expect the listener to understand it. They might but you can’t depend on it. You need to spell it out for them. If you are excited about the job, say so. If you’re looking forward to helping them on this new project you’ve been reading about on their website, say that. Don’t wait for them to ask in every case. Spell it out for them because otherwise, they’re not going to get it.

Also, show initiative during the interview – highlight times in your experience where you demonstrated leadership and decision-making. Bring up topics or ideas from your research that you found compelling even if they don’t directly ask about it. They’re likely looking for candidates who can think and act independently, so show them evidence in the interview that you can do that. Don’t be passive. Oftentimes what Americans view as attractive and dynamic feels awkward or inappropriate to people from other cultural backgrounds. Practice pushing your comfort zone a bit and don’t assume that what feels culturally wrong to you always is.

Oh and one last thing. Make sure you engage in some small talk. Try to connect around something unrelated to business. It’s a great way to build rapport. Lighten up and have a sense of humor. American business culture is characterized by levity and a friendly atmosphere, even if it’s not entirely real.

And remember, a job interview in the US is a conversation, not an exam. And it’s not an interrogation either. 😉 So have fun and enjoy meeting those new people.

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