4 Steps for International Students to Excel at U.S. Interviews

Speaking clearly about your past achievements will lead to success in grad school or job interviews.

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Be confident and don’t shy away from highlighting your personal and career accomplishments with a U.S. interviewer.

As an international student, you will most likely have at least one interview during your time in the U.S., whether it is for graduate school, an internship or a job. Many international students that I have talked to are concerned that language and cultural barriers may hinder their abilities to do well in interviews.

However, I think international candidates have equally good chances of getting the job or being admitted to the college of their dreams as native speaker candidates. Here are some general tips to follow to ace your interviews.

1. Research and prepare well beforehand: This is the tip that many career coaches give to everyone, including native speakers.

It sounds like common sense, but it is surprising how many candidates make the mistake of not knowing about the companies or schools they are interviewing with, or why they are applying for certain positions. If you are prepared to answer basic questions, you will likely gain more confidence as the interview goes on.

Preparation also allows you to familiarize yourself with words and phrases that may come up. A friend of mine interviewed an international candidate who misunderstood phrases that have a special meaning within the insurance actuarial business. This caused some confusion, and the candidate did not get a follow-up call.

[Learn how to pick up job skills from studying in the U.S.]

2. Speak slowly and clearly: One disadvantage you might have is that English is not your first language, and it might take a little extra effort for your interviewer to communicate with you. Make it as easy for them to understand you as possible, even if it means speaking much slower and louder than your usual voice.

As long as the interviewers are able to communicate with you, the language barrier should not be a problem. Their goal is to hire someone who is most suitable for the open position, and they will likely make an effort to get to know you and assess your abilities.

[Avoid making these five college admissions mistakes.]

3. Don't be afraid to talk about your past achievements: Some international students, including myself, find it difficult to talk about their accomplishments due to certain cultures' emphasis on modesty and humility. However, your interviewers will not know how great you are for the job or the school unless you tell them first.

You can still be modest while also coming across as confident and positive.

Start by listing your accomplishments on paper and practice talking about them, maybe even to a friend. After a few times, you will feel more comfortable talking about yourself and will be able to convince your interviewer that you really are as great as your mom thinks - just don't bring up your mom at the interview!

[Check out some internship tips for international students.]

4. Be yourself and share your experience: The fact that you are an international student might actually be a huge advantage, as it shows your ability to adapt to a new environment, your independence and your excellent language skills.

Remember that being able to communicate in a different language is not something everyone can do.

Also, you are likely to have a lot of unique experiences that could make for great stories to share with your interviewer – you might even be the most interesting candidate whom they have talked to all day. So be confident and believe in yourself, and you will do great!

Tra Ho, from Vietnam, received full financial aid to attend Colorado College in 2004. She graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with a degree in mathematics and is currently working as an actuary for a consulting company Washington, D.C.