10 tips for a successful expat interview

May 21, 2019

Many expat roles offer benefits and allowances you are unlikely to find at home including:

  • Relocation expenses
  • Housing
  • Education allowances
  • Tax assistance or equalisation

Interviewing for an expat role may present some unique challenges, as candidates may be under more pressure and open to additional scrutiny.

Do not be intimidated by this. You have already been shortlisted for the role based on your skills and experience. It is also worth remembering a hiring manager won’t always choose the candidate with the most skills for the role. Most employers look for the entire package when hiring expats. Personality, confidence and passion for the role are other key components.

With strategic preparation and a tactical approach, you have every chance of being selected as the ideal candidate.

If you are interviewing for a role in another country, it is important to understand cultural difference. Cultural difference between Asia, Africa, the US and Europe can be significant. Researching business norms and etiquette in the country you hope to work as an expat is key.

In many expat interviews, the first round will be online. Online interviews allow hiring managers to speak to candidates no matter where they are in the world. As a candidate, an online interview can reduce some of the nerves associated with a face to face interview. However, you should:

  • ensure the location you conduct the interview is quiet and you have a strong Wi-Fi signal
  • be conscious of your surroundings and what is visible in the background
  • dress for the occasion, office casual at a minimum
  • look at the camera, not at the image of those interviewing you
  • do a practice interview with a friend or relative to pick up on any distracting movements

Most companies will provide you with information on the format your interview will take. If they don’t, ask the HR department or hiring manager so you can prepare accordingly. Expat interviews may be:

Competency based: Considered one of the most effective kinds of interview. Competency interviews move beyond what and when a candidate did something to the why behind the action taken.

Panel interviews: Used in later rounds, panel interviews allow multiple managers to question you as a group. There are many advantages to a panel interview including:

  • different perspectives on your suitability
  • speeding up the hiring process as multiple stakeholders can meet you at once

Sequential interviews: A popular choice in the technology industry, sequential interviews take place one after another. Each interview may be a different format or you may be asked similar questions by different people. To succeed in this kind of interview consistency of answers and enthusiasm are key.

Regardless of the interview type, clear, concise answers are key to expat interview success. A good way to ensure your answers meet these criteria is to use the STAR acronym to format them:

Situation: explain the problem or challenge you had to solve. Set the scene for those interviewing you.

Task: explain what your responsibility was relative to the situation.

Action: what did you do? What sequence did the actions take place?

Result: what outcomes did your actions lead to?

Framing the highlights of your career in this way will provide those interviewing you with a more focused answer.

If you are hoping to move to a new company, research them thoroughly before your interview. Look for interesting facts or challenges that they may be facing that you may be able to help with. Visit their social media pages, read reports and search for them in the news. Mention any recent new products, mergers or investments that you come across.

As the adage goes; you only get one chance to make a first impression so make sure it is a good one. As a minimum:

  • dress to impress, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed at an interview
  • don’t wear strong perfume or cologne
  • arrive on time, early if possible
  • be polite and friendly to everyone you meet on your way to the interview
  • research greetings, a handshake may not be appropriate in all situations
  • nerves are normal but ensure your hand is dry before shaking someone’s hand
  • remember to ask for water if it isn’t provided
Active listening during an interview will help avoid misunderstandings. Don’t start an answer based on what you thought the interviewer asked, ensure you are answering what they asked. If you aren’t sure, ask for clarification or more information.
Keep expat interviews upbeat and positive. Avoid mentioning anything negative about your current employer and try to find a positive spin for even negative questions. One exception is ‘what is your main weakness’. This is a question interviewers expect you to answer. Try to avoid stereotypical answers like perfectionism or working too hard. Instead use the STAR formula to discuss an area that is not your forte. Don’t forget to include actions you take to prevent your weakness hampering your work.

An interview for an international role should be a two-way process, ensure you have questions ready for the interviewer. Popular expat questions include:

  • Is there pre-assignment training provided?
  • What is the work culture in the expat location?
  • What do you see as the long-term goal for this assignment?
  • What would success look like in this role?

After the interview, send a personalised email to those who interviewed you. Thanking them for the opportunity and ideally mentioning something unique from your interview to help you stand out in their memory.        

Follow these steps in your expat interview and you could be expat living in no time.

If you are successful, don’t forget to look after your health while you are abroad with an expat health insurance plan.