7 Mistakes That Can Sink International Professionals in US Interviews – and How to Avoid Them


Many international executives [foreign-born executives or entrepreneurs from China, India, Russia for example] who either come to the US to work or are looking for a new job while in the US [in particular in Silicon Valley in IT] don’t fully understand the US interviewing process. It is, as in many countries, multifaceted; the steps involved can be difficult if not mastered ahead of time. Here are some pointers to be aware of and pitfalls not to fall into.

#1. The US interview [when looking for employment overseas] format is probably different than the one you are used to from your country; you should understand what questions can be asked, and which ones are not legal here and how to respond to them.

Sometimes interviewers ask you illegal questions in an interview. While some of the questions can become legal, once you are hired (they answer some kind of federal questions), you are not obligated to answer them during your interview; these questions can be about your age, your birthplace, your race, specific questions about when you graduated from high school or college, what language you speak at home, etc.

The best way to answer them, is to stay pleasant, keep your answers general – smile – and say that you will be glad to fill in the information, once it is needed for employment records.

#2. First impressions come from your smile, handshake, and the ability to make small talk.

Many people who haven’t grown up in the US, find it hard to start the interview process, because they’re uncomfortable entering the room, smiling, giving a firm handshake and then finding something to say that will add to a first, good impression.

This is an easy process to practice with your spouse or an American friend (but you have to practice!). Look the interviewer in the eye, give him/her a respectable handshake with a smile and have a one-liner prepared that you can say at the same time. “Thanks for seeing me today, you must be very busy with this interview process” is an easy line to start with. Have a few more sentences prepared that you can use to fill in the time until the formal interview starts. I know I keep saying “smile” this is an important element in being seen as “likable” in the US.

#3. Excellent communication skills are important, especially if you are looking for a higher-level position where you have board and customer interactions.

If you have an accent and people who don’t work with you regularly ask you to repeat what you say, make sure that during the interview you speak slowly and enunciate all of the words well.

If you have quite a heavy accent, it’s advisable for you to work with a specialist who’ll help you become easier to understand. In an informal accent study in Silicon Valley for which I had recorded 6 foreign born professionals, none of the people who spoke with a heavy accent would have been hired by the CEOs for whom I played the recordings.

This is an issue you need to take care of as it could make a difference in getting a job or not. By the way, this unwillingness to hire didn’t come from any racist undertones but because people wanted to get a job done fast and didn’t want to have to explain things over and over.

#4. HR representatives are usually the first to interview you. Be prepared for the kinds of questions they are going to ask you (and the answers they are looking for).

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why are you interested in this company?
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • Are you a team player? Have you been in a leadership role?

There are many websites such as monster.com as well as blogs, books, or just google it, that are just focused on interviewing where you can pick up a longer list of interview questions. The important point is that you have to prepare and practice the answers with family and friends so as not to get stuck when you hear the questions in the interview.

#5. Stand out from the other candidates by giving a really good example to every point you make. Why else will the recruiter or HR representative remember you?

When you answer the questions, you want to have your examples thought out ahead of time. There is an acronym to keep in mind: C-A-R

C- challenge; what problem did you face?

A- approach, what skills did you apply to the problem?

R- results; what happened because of your actions or approaches?

Not only should you follow the CAR or PSR [problem, solution, results] path, but if you can, put in relevant numbers to make your example memorable. Americans learn to do this early on, so they are often, as one says, “a hard act to follow.”

#6. Get to the point- fast!

The most important difference among international job applicants and Americans is that many international applicants have a hard time getting to the point. When the interviewer asks you a question, answer it directly. You don’t have to go back to the origins of a certain quality or behavior and then describe how it relates to today, just answer with the CAR model in mind.

People in the US don’t have a lot of time or patience to listen to long-winded answers and if you speak too long, the interviewer will stop listening.

#7. Ask relevant questions of your interviewer. Don’t assume you have to talk during the whole interview.  Give the interviewer a chance to speak and show him/her how good your listening skills are and that you thought about the questions ahead of time. For example, a good question could be, “If I am picked for this job, what will I need to do in a year to get an excellent performance review?” 

The most important element in the interview process is to be prepared.
Understand what recruiters expect to hear and have your answers and examples ready. And then put your best foot forward and have a good time; this is your time to shine and show what a good fit you are for the job.

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