Interviews, some people love them, some people hate them. From a personal standpoint, I used to enjoy attending interviews as the challenge of trying to convey myself as the most ideal candidate was entertaining to me.
However I can’t image how I would have felt attempting to do that in a culture and environment different to the one that I know. This is something that instils fear into many international students navigating through the UK graduate recruitment process and many ultimately end up failing.
So in this article I will explore some of the reasons besides the obvious one of trying to communicate in your second, or in some cases third language in an attempt to shed some light on the subject.
There is a huge misconception regarding what it takes to pass an interview in the UK and what graduate employers are looking for from candidates that reach this stage.
You may be surprised that there is no secret formula or hidden knowledge only available to those who are lucky enough to come across it. I have worked with many employers from different cultures over the years and the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the interview stage of the graduate recruitment process, all employers a generally looking for the same things.
They keys to being successful at the interview stage, be it for a graduate position or otherwise are having an understanding of 3 things:
The company that you are applying for
The position that you are applying for
How to effectively express through your speech how your qualifications & experience match the job specification
I see so many international students not taking the time to actually research the company with whom they are applying with. Unfortunately many of you tend to follow your friends instead of think for yourself and simply apply to vacancies with companies because your friends have applied there.
Imagine if you were the hiring manager and you had a graduate reach the interview stage, and you asked them,’ Tell me what you know about our company?’ If they can only regurgitate what is on your about page how much would that impress you?
When you apply for a graduate job with an organisation, never do it because all your mates at university are doing it, or simply because the company is one of the biggest and well-known.
Research them for yourself and find genuine reasons for why you think they would be a cool organisation to work for. Look at the work that they do? Who are their customers or partners? What areas of the globe do they operate in? What current projects or service lines are they undertaking? What is the company’s history? What are their plans for the future?
There is no excuse to not find information about a potential employer that you find appealing so that you can relay that information at the interview stage. Usually the bigger the organisation, the easier it is to find information, and if you can’t find anything you like, then maybe you should not be applying to them in the first place.
Now this is up there along with not having an understanding of the organisation as one of the biggest mistakes made by international students that reach the interview stage.
There are far too many of you that simply skim read over the job description when it is the most crucial part of you coming across as the ideal candidate to a hiring manager. If you have a strong understanding of what will be required of you within the role, then you will be able to convey your suitability when explaining why you are a good fit for the job.
However I am still shocked at the amount of graduates I come across who lack a basic understanding of the job they are applying for. Don’t forget, the employer makes the job description available to you before you even apply.
When analysing the job description before you apply, you have to approach it as a kind of matching game.
So what do I mean by this?
You need to read through every duty and requirement that the employer has in the job description. Then one by one, see how many of them you can match to the skills you have gained in a previous job, or learned in your degree course.
For example if part of the job description for an IT role requires you to have knowledge or experience of a particular programming language, you need to be able to give real life examples of this from your degree course, previous job, or something you have done in your own time.
Now I am not saying that unless you are able to full fill every requirement of the job description then there is no hope. However the goal is to be able to say that you have the knowledge or experience to do as many as possible. The more you can do, the stronger candidate you will appear to be, and you will be able to explain this at the interview stage, but if don’t take the time to do this at the beginning you will come across like all the other candidates. OK but not quite the right fit in the eyes of the company.
Expressing your suitability at the interview stage
Now this is particularly difficult for international students and it leads on from the points that I made in the previous section about analysing and matching yourself to the job description. Being able to express your suitability for the job clearly and accurately are dependant one having an understanding of the job role but also having a strong command of the English language.
I hate to say it, and it at times feels like an unfair advantage that native English speakers have over international candidates but the reality is, if you do not have a strong enough command of English and are unable to articulate your points and comprehend clearly, then no amount of research is going to help you the interview stage.
This is something that I see happen all the time. I will come across an international student who is the perfect fit on paper where as they have the right experience, graduated at the top of their class at university, and has conducted all the required research on the company as well as the role, but then when they attempt to answer questions, it becomes apparent that their language skills aren’t strong enough.
So how do you know if your language skills are up to the task? After all, you manages to complete your degree in an English speaking country did you not?
They key to address this is to practice your interview skills with someone who is able to assess your answers and give you honest feedback on how well you express your answers. That doesn’t include your friends!
Whether it is a personal career coach or you opt to use the career service at university, you need to get an honest and professional assessment of your verbal communication skills in an interview setting. Believe me when I say that it will save you a lot of time wasted when seeking a graduate job in the UK.
If you are unsure or have doubts, I suggest that you try to do this as soon as possible so that you have to arrange regular interview coaching practice so that you can improve your level before you reach the interview stage with a real graduate employer.
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