Congratulations, you landed a job interview! Being employed is a big part of integrating successfully into American society. We know that you have a lot riding on this interview, so we want to make sure that you can go into your interview feeling confident and prepared.
This article will explain the American interview process and list a few examples of some common interview questions. Be sure also to check out our article How To Ace the Job Interview for tips on making a good impression, particularly if you’re still working on improving your English.
The American Job Interview Process
In the United States, each company has its own set of guidelines on how to determine if a candidate is the right fit for the job. A company’s guidelines will assess whether you have the knowledge and skills necessary for the job, and also ensure that you fit well into the company culture.
In most cases, a typical American job interview process has two steps, a first and second interview. However, for some positions that require a more specialized skill set, your interview could go beyond this standard two-step process and include practical tests of your knowledge and skills. Keep in mind that the interview process could vary depending on the company and industry.
We highly recommend that you research the company’s interview process so you can be prepared for whatever they’ll ask of you. If you can, ask current and former employees, or conduct internet research. Websites such as glassdoor.com can be helpful in giving you an idea of what the company is like and what they may expect from you in an interview.
American Job Interview Etiquette
Interviewing for a job can be stressful, no matter the circumstances. Interviewing for a job in a different country, with a different language and culture from what you are used to, can be downright overwhelming. However, remaining calm, confident, and friendly during your interview can improve your performance tremendously.
When answering questions, be sure to smile, and feel free to take a moment to think before answering the question. If water is offered to you before the interview, accept it. Taking a sip of water before answering a question could provide you with some time to think through your response.
Below are a few tips to help you perform your best during your interview.
Maintain eye contact.
Natural and steady eye contact gives the impression of confidence. In the United States, confidence is an essential trait for a prospective employee. Maintaining eye contact also shows the interviewer that you are interested in what they are saying, and it is also a sign of respect.
Use positive body language.
When you first greet your interviewer, offer a firm handshake and a smile. It is acceptable to shake hands with someone of the opposite sex. While you’re seated, sit up straight and avoid crossing your arms—these actions can make you look uninterested and defiant. Be sure not to check your watch or phone, and keep your phone on silent. Open body language tells the interviewer that you are actively engaged and interested in the conversation, that you value their time, and that you are respectful.
Upsell your qualifications.
Many cultures don’t encourage boasting about yourself. In the United States, you will be expected to talk about yourself in an interview—although you should try to avoid being obnoxious. Be proud of the work that you have done throughout your career and share your accomplishments with your interviewer. It could show your interviewer what sets you apart from the other people vying for the same position.
In an American job interview, you won’t be considered boastful or arrogant if you tell your interviewer about your successes in your previous jobs, such as the issues you resolved or the changes you initiated that benefitted your previous employer. Did you help your last company save money? Can you quantify how much money you made your company? Have you won any awards? Your interviewer will want to know specific facts and numbers on how you performed. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments—let your interviewer know how you can contribute to their company.
Use examples with a concise beginning, middle, and end.
Americans are known to be time conscious. If your interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself or explain a past work situation, keep your answers concise—don’t ramble on. Your responses should include a beginning that explains the situation, a middle that describes the problem or task, and an end that shows how you resolved the problem or completed the task.
A good way to help you form a well-rounded answer to interview questions is to use the STAR approach:
Situation: When an interviewer asks you to describe how you would act in a specific situation, think back to a real-life example.
Task: Explain the problem you faced or the task you were given.
Action: Talk about what actions or plans you put in place to resolve the problem or complete the task.
Result: Tell your interviewer about the outcome of your completed task.
Focus on the positive.
Some common interview questions require you to explain potentially negative situations, like a time when you were faced with a problem, how you dealt with an uncomfortable situation, or why you left your last job. These are not opportunities for you to speak negatively about a past job or someone you’ve worked with. Your interviewer is trying to gain insight into what you may have learned from a negative experience, your problem-solving skills, and how you can handle pressure. Instead of highlighting the negative, focus your response on the positive aspects of the situation—how you overcame a challenge or learned from your mistakes.
Common American Interview Questions
In a successful interview, you should feel that you have articulated your knowledge and skills, and explained how you could benefit the company, while also demonstrating your personality. The overall tone of your interview should be positive and enthusiastic.
An American interview may appear more relaxed than what you are used to—it will probably be an easy-going two-way conversation, but you should still prepare. One of the best ways of preparing is by practicing interview questions.
Listed below are some common questions that you may be asked during your interview. These are high-level general questions, and might not be what you’re asked in your interview—but you can still use them to practice, because your answers could help you respond to other similar questions.
Tell me about yourself.
Your interviewer is not asking you to tell them about your spouse, children, favorite TV show, or favorite hobby. In fact, for legal reasons, your interviewer cannot ask you about personal information. Your interviewer wants to know about your career. Take this opportunity to talk about your past job responsibilities and your future career goals. Explain why you chose this field, what you hope to accomplish, and what keeps you motivated to continue in your line of work.
What are your biggest strengths/weaknesses?
Even if your interviewer doesn’t ask you this specific question, it’s still helpful to know the answer, because you can use this information to answer other questions. For example, if your biggest strength is your analytical skills, you can use this opportunity to talk about how you were able to break down analytical data to identify and solve a problem.
When you are asked to identify your biggest weakness, your interviewer is looking for examples of how you recognize your faults and demonstrate self-improvement. Keep your response focused on your job performance, and not about personal weaknesses like credit card debt or a bad driving record.
A good example of this could be, “I spend more time than necessary on a task that could be delegated to someone else. Although I’ve never missed a deadline, I understand that my time could be used more efficiently. I’ve made efforts to resolve this by setting timelines for myself to move onto the next task and aim to be more confident when assigning the project to my team members.”
In this example, the speaker has identified their weakness in time management and explained how they are solving the issue.
Why are you interested in this position/company?
It is important that you research the position and the company before the interview. Even if you have applied for many jobs and had many interviews, the interviewer wants to know that you are invested in this job and that you’ve taken the time to understand what you are being interviewed for. You could talk about an article you’ve read about the company that impressed you, or about how you think your skills can be used at this company and give examples.
Tell me about a time when you were under great pressure. How did you cope? What was the outcome?
This is just one example of a behavioral interview question that you may run across in your interview process. Your interviewer is looking for real-life examples of how you handle yourself in stressful situations. This is a great time to use the STAR approach we mentioned earlier—explain how you handled the high-pressure situation and how you ensured a positive outcome. This article on How to Answer ‘Tell Me About a Time When…’ Interview Questions might help you prepare for these types of questions.
What is your greatest achievement?
This question is another example of when it is ok to brag about your accomplishments. The answer to this question can set you apart from all the other candidates, so you must answer confidently. Lead the response with a summarizing statement, something along the lines of: “My greatest achievement was saving my company hundreds of working hours by developing and implementing an internal tool.” From there, use the STAR approach to provide details of the situation.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is an especially important question for you if you are looking for visa sponsorship. Your interviewer wants to ensure that you are invested in this company for more than just a sponsorship and that you aren’t looking to leave after a few years. Convince them that you are invested in your success in the company and the United States.
Why should we hire you?
This is your opportunity to explain to your interviewer why you’re the best person for the job. Provide precise examples of your previous experience, skills, and achievements that match the job that you are applying for. This is also a good time to talk about your soft skills. Some examples of soft skills are the willingness to work as part of a team, organizational or communication skills, and self-motivation. Again, keep your answer concise and focus on your unique skills and attributes. Your journey as a non-native candidate provides you with unique experiences that you can benefit the company.
Do you have any questions?
In some cultures, it may be strange for an interviewer to give you an opportunity to ask questions. In the United States, you are welcomed and encouraged to ask your interviewer questions. You are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you, and asking questions about the job shows your interviewer how much you are interested in the position. Come prepared with a list of questions but be flexible because some of them may have already been answered during the interview process. Your questions should be thoughtful—they should be about the company, but not something that can be easily answered by a quick look at their website.
Some examples may be, “Tell me about the day-to-day activities in this job role” or “Can you tell me about a problem you have right now that you need someone in the position to solve?” You should not ask in your first interview about the salary and benefits package. That is usually frowned upon in the United States. Those questions will usually be addressed later in the interview process.
At the end of your interview, be sure to shake your interviewer’s hand confidently and thank them for the opportunity. Also ask them about the next steps in the interview process to show them that you are interested in the position. Follow up the interview with an email to thank them again. Your email should summarize your qualifications and why you are a perfect fit for the position.
Check out our article How to Land an “H-1B Sponsoring Job for details on when you should bring up your visa status and questions about sponsorship.
The first interview may only be the first of many interview steps before you land your dream job. Stay positive. Regardless of this interview’s outcome, keep in mind that this was a great learning experience. The interview process can be tough, but you are tougher and have come so far already.