How to face job interviews as an introverted expat

  • young girl at job interview
Published on 2024-02-26 at 10:00
Introverted expats face a double challenge in interviews. First, their reserved nature might make them uncomfortable with interviews in general. Second, the language barrier and cultural differences in a new country add an extra challenge when it comes to facing an interview. Strategic preparation before the interview can still make them have a successful interview. Here are some tips.

Learn about the corporate culture and interview etiquette in that country

It goes without saying that before going for a job interview, you should research the workplace/company – its history, principles, mission, target market, etc. But in a foreign country, you should also research the corporate culture in general. Unspoken norms about professionalism might be different from those back in your home country.

Let's take, for instance, handshakes. In North America, a firm handshake communicates confidence and trust. However, in China, Japan and France, a handshake might be expected to be lighter and more brief. Gender norms in the Middle East make it taboo to shake hands with an interviewer of the opposite sex – in that case, only a verbal greeting accompanied by a nod is enough. In Thailand, it might be more appropriate to put the hands together (like in prayer) and bow lightly – a type of greeting known as “wai.” 

If you are not used to physical contact with strangers as an introverted or shy person, you can practice handshakes in advance with a friend. But first, you need to know if contact will even be necessary or appropriate.

Practice for the interview with friends who are locals

Wherever you are, at home or abroad, it's always a good idea to rehearse an interview 2-3 times with friends before the actual day. When in a foreign country, it's best to do that with friends who are locals (or expats who've been there so long that they're also now considered locals) – rather than with newly-arrived expats, or with your friends/family back home via video call. 

This is because locals are much more likely to understand small cultural nuances – body language cues, preferred words, cultural expectations around humility and self-aggrandizement, etc. If the interview is in the local language, a local friend could also correct your pronunciation, grammar, and language register (i.e., how formal or informal a word/phrase is) during the rehearsal. If you struggle with reacting to culturally-bound social cues because of shyness, rehearsing with a local will help you familiarize yourself with these cues and feel more at ease on the big day. 

Have fallback strategies in case you struggle with stress during the interview 

Everyone gets nervous and blanks out – it's human. And certain factors will always be beyond our control. You may get stuck in traffic on the day of the interview, accidentally drop coffee on your shirt along the way, or lose internet connection. The interviewer might be in a grumpy mood. We cannot control all of these factors, but we can control how much they destabilize us. Here are some simple fallback strategies for these situations:

  • Learn some breathing exercises to help your body relax. They are discreet, so you can do them anywhere, even in the elevator at the site of your interview. 
  • Bring a spare shirt in your bag in case the one you are wearing gets stained or ripped along the way. You might have 10-15 minutes to change in the washroom. If you are wearing heels, also bring a spare pair of formal flats (e.g., black ballerinas) in case you break the heels or your feet get sore (it might be more difficult to concentrate during an interview if your feet are hurting!)
  • Note down some inspirational mantras, as well as bullet-point answers to common interview questions, on your phone or in a small notepad. You can read these on the way to the interview if you feel like you are starting to panic or forgetting words.
  • Prepare some smart and diplomatic answers to use in case you don't know how to reply to an unexpected interview question. You could say something along the lines of “That is a very interesting question, unfortunately I haven't researched this topic/concept/issue well enough. The potential to learn and grow is one of the reasons I'm excited to join this company. I will definitely look more into this topic/concept/issue/situation before my first day at work.” Having a few answers like this prepared will prevent you from stuttering, staring blankly, saying something completely unrelated or rudely brushing off the unexpected question.

Communicate through your outfit and body language, not only words

As an introvert, if you are not naturally comfortable with words, you can still communicate in non-verbal ways. Many employers judge potential employees based on the way they dress for the interview and if they show up on time. So, to create a good first impression without having to say a single word, be punctual. Secondly, dress to impress. Researching the dress code in the corporate culture of this specific country will definitely help, and so will asking friends who are locals for feedback on your outfit.

The corporate dress code can vary a lot between countries and even industries. Smart casual, which mixes formalwear with more relaxed and trendier pieces (e.g., a colorful shirt with no tie and classy black jeans), has become the norm in many countries. This is the case in Australia and the UK. However, other countries, such as Japan and Brazil, have a very formal and conservative corporate dress code. A suit is usually expected in these countries. Tech startups and other workplaces with a younger labor force around the globe also tend to have a more relaxed and creative dress code than, say, banks or government agencies. Whichever the dress code is, dress to create the right impression.

Other non-verbal ways to create a good impression are also quite simple: a smile, good posture, eye contact and the appearance of being invested in what the interviewer is saying. When you practice for the interview with a friend who's a local, don't forget to also practice your body language. This will make your body language look much more natural and spontaneous – even if it's actually been strategically planned – on the day of the interview itself.