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What do foreign-born career seekers have problems with when looking for a job in the US?

They don’t know how to “sell” themselves; they talk around questions and don’t back up their answers with examples and interesting stories. Even when they are MBA students at Stanford looking for that special job.

Many foreign-born professionals are taught in their own culture, that “tooting their own horn” [which is an American saying] is not something they should do.

One must be humble to be appreciated; it is not accepted to brag!

This doesn’t work in the US. If you don’t learn to talk about your outstanding deeds, no one else will.

Americans are raised to know how to put forth their strengths; they “put their best foot forward.”

The French, for example, can’t answer a question directly [get to the point], but rather, they go around it. The French form of communication, like the Asian one, is implicit and indirect and it takes a paradigm shift to get to our explicit and direct way of speaking in the US.


The interviewer asks the question: “Tell me about a strength you have and how you have demonstrated it.”

A French answer might go something like this: “Well, when I was 15, I was in the equivalent of the Boy Scouts in France and I worked with many other young boys; we went on trips where we built tents from tree leaves and had to prove our skills at camping in the wilderness; then when I was 18, I was able to do the same thing with a group of university students, where I was the team leader…, as a graduate student, I am able to really focus on directing other students and have demonstrated this very clearly especially in study groups.”

I think somewhere in that statement was a qualification as a leader…

The practiced American answer would have been, “My strengths are in organization skills and in making quick decisions which I have demonstrated in my last 2 jobs in Company X by doing Y.”

Americans learn in school and in business to get to the point. You are asked a question here and you answer it. No digression, no long elaboration.

I don’t think that foreigners realize how annoying it can be to listen to someone groping for facts and answers and how detrimental such evasive speech patterns are to the interviewee.

What foreigners don’t learn either is to give anecdotes and examples to back up the points they are trying to make.

You have to go through all the possible questions of an interview and systematically write down and practice the examples and stories that apply.

Therefore, after many practice sessions [which you really need to put in] with friends or with a coach, and having learned to be concise, provide examples, AND to sell yourself, your interviews will go much better and you will be called in to speak to the recruiters in person. Which should ultimately lead to a job!

For more detailed information on the differences giving interviews in the US and overseas, please look at Communicating the American Way, where we give more examples and explanations on how to conduct an interview successfully [or come to Stanford University in the fall for a CS class I am going to teach].

If you have an additional interest in learning how foreign-born leaders have adapted to US business practices and made it in Silicon Valley, please look at They Made It!, How Chinese, French, German, Indian, Iranian, Israeli and other foreign born entrepreneurs contributed to high tech innovation in the Silicon Valley, the US and Overseas. or

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