Job interview tips for international MBA students

Job interview tips for international MBA students

A joke goes around that when an interviewer asked a job candidate why he wanted to work for the recruiting company located in a seaside city, he replied without hesitation: “I want to work here as I really love going to the beach and playing in the sand!”

Of course, expert recruiters would root for a more appropriate, though less colorful, answer, “I admire and identify with your corporate objectives, and I feel this position would give me opportunities to improve my existing skills and develop new ones.”

But in this article to discuss usable job-interview tips, we should start at the beginning. So here’s the first tip, or cardinal rule, if you like: arrive early for the interview, by about 15 minutes. Late is not better than never.

At an interview, remember to greet people, make eye contact, and talk politely. Never be frivolous by trying to crack jokes inappropriately in an effort to relieve tension. Dress professionally, give a firm handshake, make eye contact, and respect personal space.
 

Job interview tips for international MBA students

Sample questions and answers for practice

 

Speak clearly

As an international candidate, you may, in your anxiety to do well, tend to speak too fast. Often, you may not be understood, and the interviewer may ask you to repeat what you said. This might make you even more nervous.

Experts point out that it is no crime for a candidate to speak slowly at interviews, and that this is even preferable. The objective should be to be clear, concise, and persuasive.

International candidates seem to face this problem more, though they may be just as eloquent as domestic candidates, interviewers say.

Read more on improving speaking skills.
 

Engage the interviewer

Sometimes, at a job interview, you may find yourself drifting away and not listening to the interviewer and responding. This happens mainly because you are worrying about the next question or about how good your answer was to the previous one.

Drifting away would force you to request the interviewer to repeat her question. So, listen closely, but also engage the interviewer with questions for clarification and additional information.
 

Be ready for small talk

Interviews are serious business, all right, but the interviewer may create a light-hearted moment, to which you should respond appropriately.

Because of cultural or personality traits, some candidates fail to warm themselves up to small talk and may embarrass themselves and the interviewer or create awkward silences. Some quick-thinking to connect with the interviewer in these situations may be called for.

You can craft some lighter moments yourself. One example is of an interviewer who asked a candidate whether he would like a cup of tea. The candidate said, “Thanks, but I just had my own specially brewed tea at home with ginger, lemon, and a few secret ingredients.”

This attempt at small talk by the candidate helped set a pleasant tone for the interview, making himself look interesting at the same time.

Another way to bring in some small talk is to find out beforehand, if possible, who your interviewer is going to be, and do some research on her. Do you have something in common? If you do, latch on to the common ground between you.

However, don’t come across as a stalker. For example, don’t say, “I saw on your personal Instagram that you like cupcakes.” We are talking tact and subtlety.

You could make some “professional small talk” by asking the interviewer what he likes best about the company or whether it organizes informal events such as trips out of the city. This is also your chance to interview the company.
 

Do your research

As an international MBA candidate, you will doubtless be smart enough to research a recruiter-company before your interview. Find out about the company’s values, key players, recent events, clients, products, and if possible, the person interviewing you.

You should also try to become familiar with industry-related words and phrases that may come up during the interview, especially if the company’s business is not directly related to your areas of specialization.

Learn how to ask alumni for help with internship and jobs.
 

Talk about your achievements

While doing your MBA, you must have met many confident and eloquent classmates and overcome some of your own unwanted humility, but you may still carry some of your past cultural lessons about the importance of being modest. However, in many countries, including the US, it is no sin to speak of your accomplishments.

In fact, you are expected to do so. But you can learn to be expressive about your achievements without sounding brash. Prepare a list of points and practise speaking from it to a friend until you sound positive and confident.
 

The three-point rule

Remember that most people find it difficult to remember more than three points about anything clearly, especially in a tense, formal situation.

So, when preparing for a job interview, try to pick out just three resume highlights, three top reasons why you deserve the job, and three ways you can add value to the company.
 

Share your international experience

Leaving home to another country to do a demanding program such as the MBA is not something everyone can do. You should, therefore, value your ability to converse effectively in a language other than your mother tongue in a formal environment. [Read how Foreign Language skills can help in MBA placements]

You can draw attention to your cross-cultural communication skills and ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds and adapt to new environments.

You will also have had unique experiences as a foreign student, which you may get a chance to share with the interviewer. If you do this well, you may be among the most interesting candidates.
 

Two critical questions

The two most important questions in a job interview are the first question and the last, point out experts.

The first question and answer takes up the first two minutes of an interview when the interviewer gets a gut feeling whether you are a good candidate or not.

The last question and answer is your chance to leave a positive, lasting impression, as what you say will likely remain in the interviewer’s mind longer.

Usually, the first question is “Tell me about yourself.” Now, the interviewer is hardly expecting you to paraphrase your CV. The hidden question is “Why should I consider you suitable for this job?”

An international MBA graduate could say:

I am a fresh b-school graduate with deep interest in data analytics. I did an MBA with the specific purpose of pursuing my interest in consumer behavior and marketing. My experience as an international student gives me the ability to work with diverse teams in different cities. I can also play the role of a leader using my assertive as well as persuasive skills, which I feel I proved in my three internships. I was captain of my football team, and I have played the guitar since my school days. I am confident that I can bring the same kind of discipline to my job.

Prepare for this question even if you feel you know yourself well enough. Talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Remember that your communication skills are also being tested.

The last question is usually “Do you have any questions for us?”

You could ask, “What are the top three skills that would help someone achieve success in this job?” or “Could you describe the work culture of this organization?” or “If selected, what would you expect me to achieve in the first few weeks or months in this job?”

At the end of the interview, you should thank the interviewer and ask about the next step of the recruitment process.
 

Other likely questions

“Do you know where you are headed in five or ten years from now?” Here, you should clarify your goal and how you plan to achieve it. Talk about your dreams, too. Show that you can work hard to realize them.

“Have you done your SWOT analysis on yourself?” This question aims to evaluate your specialization, skills, and work ethos.

“What can you bring to the company?” Highlight your pluses but also shape your minuses in such a way that they don’t negatively affect your candidature.

“Why us?” If you have done your research, you can say why you are interested in the company. You will be familiar with its people and business. Prefer facts to flattery. Can you use something that the CEO said in a speech? Can you offer a valuable insight to a business aspect of the company?

Why this job/this city? As mentioned, a love of beaches and frolicking in the sand won’t cut much ice here. Say how the job on offer will give you the opportunities to learn and grow and throw new challenges at you.

“What can you bring to the job?” Even if you don’t have the specific qualifications required, you can still mention the skills that you picked up during an internship or a part-time job. Highlight your transferable skills such as communication skills, technical ability, and analytical ability.

“What is your biggest strength/weakness?” Mention a strength that is relevant to the job on offer, such as organizational skills. As for weakness, be honest, but say how you are trying to overcome it, for example, improving technical skills by attending an online course.

Other questions include how you develop your subject and general awareness, what you like to read, how you manage your learning curve, whether you have worked as a team leader or member, your contribution to team efforts, whether you are a fun person, etc.
 

Tricky questions

Using behavioral interview techniques, the interviewer may ask you about a dicey situation that you faced at work, what specific task had to be completed, what skills you employed to complete the task, and what the outcome was.

Problem-solving questions may refer to a crisis you faced as a team leader or member and how you resolved the issue. For example, suppose your team was in charge of developing a training program for new employees, and there were differences about whether the trainees should be trained individually or in small groups. You resolved the problem by discussing it over an informal lunch where a decision was taken with the support of all the team members.

“Tell me about one of your projects that didn’t go well and how you handled the fallout” or “What has been your greatest failure and what have you learned from it?” “How do you resolve conflict with a peer/supervisor? If a directive from your boss goes against your principles or ethics, what would you do?”

Remember to bring out your resourcefulness and the equanimity you showed in difficult situations. You needed to be assertive, but you felt the best way to end conflict was by using your interpersonal skills and through consensus.

If you were previously employed, you may be asked why you want to quit that job. Never criticize your previous company or colleagues, but only say that you are looking for new challenges and opportunities.
 

Visa questions

Although it is illegal for employers to ask about your immigration status, they can ask you whether you have work authorization to be employed in the US and whether you will need visa sponsorship sometime.

Understand your work authorization options under your international student status completely and answer questions appropriately and confidently. If necessary, be ready to explain your work authorization options and the company’s role in facilitating hiring, as all recruiters may not be well-versed in them.

Companies change their visa sponsorship rules, and you must clarify whether the company you are interviewing for provides sponsorship.

Don’t lose time going after a company that doesn’t sponsor, instead of pursuing one that clearly sponsors.

Questions such as how old you are, whether you are married, whether you are a US citizen, your religion, and place of birth are illegal for US employers to ask. You can try to deflect such questions unobtrusively or give an honest but assertive answer, such as “My spouse supports my interest in my career.”
 

Practice makes perfect

As you prepare for the big day, remember that practice is more often than not rewarded. Be ready to expertly answer at least ten questions.

Attend mock interviews and practice before an audience of family and at least some friends who are capable of providing constructive criticism. Record your performance and see whether you were relaxed, confident, and enthusiastic. Find out how your college career center can help you.
 

 

Managing online MBA hiring during COVID-19

With the Corona virus affecting every facet of MBA life, we were curious to know how the top business schools are helping their students tackle the challenges of online recruitment in the post-COVID era.

We got in touch with Maureen Carpenter, Assistant Dean, MBA Career Center at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
 
MCB: How has COVID changed the way companies approach MBA student recruitment?

MBA hiring COVID-19Maureen: Employers quickly pivoted to recruiting entirely in a virtual environment once the pandemic began.

In response, we created a “Virtual Recruiting Summit” before the fall semester started for all students. Held over a series of 4 days, it featured learning sessions on topics such as virtual networking, interviewing, career fairs and zoom etiquette.

We engaged employers and student leaders as co-leaders of the sessions to ensure authenticity and effectiveness. As a result, our students have been prepared to compete as top talent for full-time and internship positions in the virtual environment.

Virtual recruiting is here to stay; perhaps not at 100%, but certainly as a cost effective alternative to reach a broader audience and more diverse candidates.

For instance, traditional networking events and employer presentations will be a mix of virtual and in person, and the well-known concept of “Core Schools” will be expanded to include virtual “Core School” relationships.
 
MCB: How has the ‘new normal’ impacted international students?

Maureen: This year, international students have been able to participate in recruitment events even if they are not physically in the United States. As employers invited students from multiple schools to their virtual events, our students had access to more employers than in past years.

The university has been collaborating across programs to increase the career programming for our international students. The virtual environment has facilitated the expansion of services as it has removed the space limitation that previously existed.
 
MCB: What can international students do to maximize their chances of getting a job?

Maureen: At all points during the recruitment cycle, students need to be able to articulate their value add to a potential employer. Our team works closely with each student to tell their story and highlight their transferable skills.

This is the time of year when we turn our attention to “Just-in-Time Recruiting”. The process is the same in both the in-person and online recruiting environments.

Students start by refreshing their target company lists, and immediately re-energizing their networking efforts. By doing this, they are ready to apply for full-time roles and internships in early March leading to placement success in May.

 

Tips for video interviews

Employers may conduct first-round interviews through phone or video calls. Here are some tips to handle them. Video calls first.

Take care of your surroundings: Cast yourself in a professional-looking environment, avoiding personal effects such as wall posters behind you. Speak to noisy neighbors in advance.

Look good: Never start a call half-dressed—you may have to get up for something and may expose yourself. Have a shower and put on your best business attire. Read job interview dress code for males and females.

Know your device: Practice a call with a friend once or twice to familiarize yourself with the hardware and software. You don’t want to be fiddling with the device during the interview. Position the webcam in such a way that it shows you from your best angle.

Don’t look at yourself but into the camera: Ward off the temptation to keep admiring your own picture that appears in a corner on the screen. Look at the camera and the interviewer.

Sit straight and speak clearly: If you sit straight, you will be naturally relaxed and less anxious about the interview. Speak clearly and in a somber tone without shouting to be heard.

Prefer verbal communication to non-verbal, since facial expressions and hand gestures may not be picked up in a video call.
 

 

Phone interview tips

  • Find a quiet place to have the conversation.
  • Prepare by having your CV, cover letter, and job description before you.
  • Keep a notepad handy to take down points.
  • Stand up, if you are comfortable, as you may feel less nervous.
  • Smile; even if your interviewer can’t see you, you will sound better if you smile.
  • Speak clearly.
  • Thank the interviewer at the end of the conversation.

 
Also read:
Interview questions for investment banking jobs with answer tips
How to get an interview at McKinsey, Bain, BCG
Case interview sample question and answer tips
How to prepare for case interviews
Management consulting cover letter
 
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14


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// Sameer Kamat
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube

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