Second-year MBA students shared their advice for acing the interview and navigating cultural differences

Earlier this month, five MBA students from the Class of 2018 hosted a panel discussion about the job interview process as an international student. Moderated by Brook Meissner, Senior Associate Director at the Career Management Center, the panelists shared stories and advice with a room full of first-year international students.

Here were the top five takeaways from their discussion:

1. Don’t be afraid to slow your rate of speaking.

Brook Meissner works in career management for international students

Brook Meissner, Career Management Center

Students of any background often find themselves getting nervous during interviews, which can lead to speaking quickly — sometimes too quickly for the interviewer to follow along. One audience member asked panelists if it was okay to speak slowly and even pause during interviews; panelists said this strategy was absolutely fine, and even preferable. “Talking slowly is not a problem. Be really clear and really persuasive,” said Mabel Gomez. “The main thing I’ve gotten feedback from employers on for international students is the rate of speaking,” added Meissner. “I don’t think domestic students are necessarily a lot more eloquent.”

2. Practice small talk.

For students from certain cultural backgrounds, making small talk in business situations may be an unfamiliar concept. “I used to work in Japan, and I don’t think they use small talk. It’s actually better not to do that,” said Shanshan Zhang. She worked with her LDP coach to prepare good small talk topics for networking events. Panelists also pointed that the students might be able to find common ground with interviewers who have traveled. For example, Leonidas Cuenca, who is from Peru, connected with many of his interviewers about their own trips to his home country.

3. Prepare questions ahead of time…

Shanshan Zhang tries to prepare at least three questions to ask at any interview, whether it’s a casual alumni call or a formal screen. Zhang likes to ask recruiters about their personal experience at the company and what they like about working there — information she couldn’t have researched on her own. Brooke Sakaria encouraged attendees to see these questions as an opportunity to find out if the company is a good fit for them. “Yes, it’s to interview you, but it’s also (for you) to interview the company. It’s a two-way street,” she said.

4. …but be sure to listen and engage with the interviewer.

International student panel

Panelists from left to right: Leonidas Cuenca, Rajesh Tummuru, Mabel Gomez, Shanshan Zhang, and Brooke Sakaria

While students should of course prepare their questions ahead of time, panelists also encouraged them to listen and respond to the interviewer’s answers, rather than worrying about the next question they’re planning to ask. “I almost compare it to a first date…you’re not trying to maintain the conversation for the sake of time,” said Rajesh Tummuru. “A lot of times you can find things to ask about related to (the recruiter’s) responses.”

5. Be proactive in clarifying sponsorship details.

Companies’ sponsorship protocols can change from year to year, so panelists urged attendees to proactively reach out to recruiters to confirm the details and be upfront about their sponsorship situation, whatever it may be. Zhang said she approached recruiters in person after on-campus info sessions, and Gomez contacted them via the recruiting portal. “Just make sure that you’re not cutting your time from something else that clearly sponsors for a company that doesn’t sponsor but maybe might make an exception,” Gomez said.