- If you’re seeking opportunities outside the United States, make sure you research interview protocol for that country or region. Check out the country guides at Going Global via BU CareerLink. These guides include both cultural and interviewing advice for more than 35 countries, from Argentina to the United Arab Emirates.
Tips for International Students Interviewing in the U.S.
Cultural norms can be tricky—differences often appear when you least expect them. Even if you’ve been in the United States a few years, protocol in interviews may be different from what you expect. While most people are accommodating and understanding of cultural differences, unintentional miscommunication can occur and may often hurt your chances.
All of the following might not be true for you, but read over the list and see if anything sounds familiar.
- Eye contact
In some cultures it’s not polite to make eye contact, particularly with someone in a senior position. In the United States however, a candidate who doesn’t look someone in the eye can be seen as lacking in self-confidence, hiding something, or uninterested in the position. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, try making eye contact when listening in particular; this is when it’s most important.
- Shaking hands
Your interviewer will expect to shake hands, as will most everyone you meet in the interview process. If you aren’t used to this, practice until you’re comfortable. A few tips: Don’t give a limp hand. You want to give a brief, firm handshake, but don’t crush the other person, either. If you’re not sure whether to shake hands with someone, you can wait until they extend their hand to you.
In some cultures, people aren’t allowed to shake hands with those of the opposite sex. If this is true in your case, you may explain this to the interviewer, but make sure to say that you’re very happy to have met the interviewer(s) and look forward to future conversation.
- Talking about yourself
In certain cultures, it’s considered impolite or boastful to talk up your own accomplishments. In a job interview in the United States, however, you will be asked about your accomplishments, and interviewers really want to hear you give a realistic and honest response. Don’t overplay, or underplay, your accomplishments, but don’t be shy about telling the interviewer positive things about yourself, either.
- Sending thank-you notes
Some students have said that in their culture, sending a thank-you note after an interview would be like trying to bribe someone, or influence their decision in an unseemly way. In the U.S., however, it would be impolite not to send a thank-you note or email after an interview. If the interviewer does not receive a thank-you, they will probably conclude that you’re no longer interested in the position, and you could well be dropped as a candidate. Important: do not send a gift to the interviewer; that would indeed appear to be a bribe.
- Talking about your weaknesses
A common interview question is: “What are some of your weaknesses?” This is a challenging question for many people. If you have a heavy accent, this is one area you might consider talking about. Acknowledge to the interviewer that your accent might be seen as a disadvantage and talk about what you are doing to address it. Of course, if your accent is not strong or if you have a different answer for this question, by all means use a different answer.
- Talking about your strengths
This can be difficult for some people, even for people originally from the U.S. One thing you have in your favor, however, is your proven ability to be flexible, and to operate in different cultures. You have already demonstrated your adaptability by moving to a new country for school, and perhaps studying in a language that isn’t your own. Not everyone can do that. These qualities can be very important to an employer, so when asked about your strengths, consider including these.