Tips For Interviewing International Candidates

Last Updated on February 16, 2020 by Estrella

Tips for interviewing international candidates
Tips for interviewing international candidates. Image by Matthew Henry from Burst.

If you are recruiting international employees for your company, sometimes you may run into cultural behavior that is unfamiliar to you. For example, why is their handshake not firm? Why don’t they smile? And why don’t they get to the point when they answer your questions? If you have ever come across situations like these, here are some tips for interviewing international candidates.

Interviewing international candidates

If the international candidates you are interviewing are already exposed to Western cultures for some time, then they might already be familiar with the interpretation of certain non-verbal behavior here. But if they haven’t, it is possible that they might miss the basics that we take for granted–firm handshake, smile, eye contact, etc.

A firm handshake may not be universal

Recently, I was demonstrating to some international clients the etiquette in American interviews. The first thing I checked was their handshake. I had to reassure almost every person that they won’t hurt my hand if they were firmer. One client shared that in her culture, men shake hands with women holding just the tip of their hands, even in a business situation. A few others simply feel that it was polite not to squeeze my hand too tightly.

What if these clients did not have the opportunity to practice their handshake with me before interviewing with an American company? How would their prospective interviewer perceive them with their gentle handshake? Would they have lost their opportunity even before the conversation?

Eye contact and cultural interpretations

Another area was eye contact. Not just during the handshake, but during the mock interview as well.

When we practice shaking hands, some of my clients did not make eye contact with me. I speculate that this is due to respect. Once, a grandfather from Vietnam told me a story about his grandson, who was born here.

“My young grandson looked directly at me when I talked to him. How disrespectful!”

I remember in some cultures, when teachers or elders speak to the young ones, eye contact from the young is not appropriate.

In some cultures, interviews are not even common. So, interview etiquette so common to many Americans may not be practiced in other countries. One of these is smiling.

Smiling at interviews may not be common

It is also possible that the interviewer is perceived to be in a “higher” position. Smiling may come across as being too familiar, as if an equal. Again, the concept of showing respect.

You can set these interviewees at ease by smiling more yourself, and spending more time to break the ice at the beginning. This could encourage the candidate to relax and talk more. In fact, if you are able to conduct the interview more like a conversation instead of question and answer, you would more likely get the information you want. This is especially true for candidates who have not interviewed much, especially in the U.S.

One more thing. Avoid the question “Tell me about yourself.” It’s not a common interview questions in many cultures. International candidates really do not know what kind of response you are looking for.

Perhaps offering tea or coffee at the beginning of the meeting would help the candidate feel more at ease, as this connotes hospitality. And your conversation would take on a more relaxed note.

These are just a few tips if you are new to interviewing international candidates. If you have specific situations you are wondering about, feel free to email me at

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to help ESL employees understand company benefits.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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