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Many foreign-born executives who either come to the US to work or are looking for a new job while in the US, don’t fully grasp the US interview process. It is, as in many countries, multi faceted, but the steps involved can be difficult if not mastered ahead of time.


Here are some pointers to be aware of and pitfalls to avoid:


1. Understand the US interview format.

The US interview format is probably different than the one you are used to; understand what questions can be asked and how to respond to them. Sometimes interviewers ask inappropriate questions in an interview. While some details are required once hired, you are not obligated to answer them during the interview process. These questions can be about your age, your birthplace, your race, specific questions about when you graduated from high school or college or what language you speak at home.

The best way to deal with such questions is to stay pleasant, keep your answers general, and say that you will be glad to fill in the information once it is needed for employment records.


2. First impressions count.

First impressions come from your smile, your handshake, and your ability to make small talk. Many people who haven’t grown up in the US can find it hard to start the interview process, because they are uncomfortable entering the room, smiling, giving a firm handshake and then finding something to say that will create a good first impression.

This is an easy process to practice with your friends or family. Looking the interviewer in the eye, give him/her a respectable handshake with a smile and have a one liner prepared that you 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 couple more sentences prepared that you can use to fill in until the formal interview starts.


3. Excellent communication skills are essential.

This is especially important if you are looking for a more senior 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 said, make sure that during the interview you speak slowly and enunciate all of the words.

If you have a heavy accent, it is advisable for you to work with a specialist who will help you become easier to understand.

In an informal accent study in Silicon Valley, where I taped 6 foreign born professionals and replayed to CEOs, none of the people who spoke with a heavy accent would have been hired. This is an issue you need to take care of as it could make a difference in your getting a job or not. It’s important to note that 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. Prepare for interview Q & A.

HR representatives are usually the first to interview you. Be prepared for the kinds of questions they are going to ask you, and understand 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 blogs and sites on the Internet that are focused purely on interviewing, where you can pick up a longer list of interview questions. Remember to prepare and practice the answers with family and friends so you are confident in your answers during the interview.


5. Offer concise and measurable responses.

Stand out from the other candidates by giving a salient 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 a simple formula to remember – it goes by different acronyms, but ‘CAR’ is one of them:

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 approach?

Not only should you follow the ‘Problem, Solution, Results’ path, but if you can, use relevant numbers to make your example memorable.


6. Get to the point - fast!

The most important difference among foreign job applicants and Americans is that foreigners often 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 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 your interviewer relevant questions.

You will not be talking during the whole interview - give the interviewer a chance to speak and show how good your listening skills are. Prepare questions before the interview, for example, “If I am picked for this job, what will I need to do in a year to get an excellent performance review?” shows that you think you have the “right stuff” to do an excellent job and expect the company to help you accomplish it.


In conclusion, the most important element in the interview process is to be prepared. Understand what recruiters expect to hear and have your answers ready. 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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By Angelika Blendstrup, PhD.  Angelika coaches high-level foreign-born executives in International Business Communications, Interviewing Skills, Accent Reduction, Presentation Skills and Personal Branding 2.0. She teaches at Stanford University on topics including cross-cultural communications, managing virtual teams, the art of interviewing successfully and how to do business in the US. Angelika holds a Ph.D. in Bilingual, Bicultural Education from Stanford University, speaks five languages and is the author of They Made It! featuring interviews with major foreign-born leaders of Silicon Valley, and co-author of Communicating the American Way, a guide to succeeding in US business communications.

For a complimentary consultation, please email angelika.blendstrup@gmail.com, or visit www.professional-business-communications.com

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