How to Navigate Interviews as An International Candidate

You just got a call or an email from a recruiter: you’re invited to an interview.

You’re excited but also nervous at the same time. How am I going to talk about my status as an international candidate? 

The most common question is often about when and how to approach the topic of H1B sponsorship. The answer is not as straightforward and can depend on a number of factors. The first thing you need to know is that recruiters can be generally divided into three categories:

  1. Recruiter A is familiar with common immigration statuses and knows how to handle hiring foreign nationals. Oftentimes, an additional in-house expert can be brought into the recruiting process for further support.
  2. Recruiter B has some knowledge of immigration statuses but is often unclear about the specific process or details. This applies to MOST recruiters as immigration regulations are highly complex and change frequently.
  3. Recruiter C has little understanding of immigration statuses and experience hiring foreign nationals.

Without knowing for sure that you are talking to Recruiter A, you should generally assume that you need to be the person most knowledgeable about your immigration status during the interview. Here are three strategies to help you to position yourself for a successful interview experience. 

Do your research in advance

Every career professional would suggest doing your research on the company and people you’d meet during the interview. Specifically, for an international candidate, you are looking for a company’s record in hiring foreign nationals. Read employees’ profiles on the company webpage or LinkedIn and identify possible demands for foreign nationals’ expertise. If a company hired and sponsored foreign employees on H1B in the past, you are more likely to run into Recruiter A or B. If that is not the case, you may find a company more willing to accommodate your situation if they’re looking to expand an overseas market or develop a new local clientele who speak your native language.

Deliver a concise pitch on your work authorization status

At any point during the interview process, you may be asked about your work authorization status. Be aware that employers are not allowed to ask about the specific visa type according to the anti-discrimination provision; however, whether or not you hold US work authorization is a legitimate question. A simple response can be: “I can legally work in the US for X number of years and I will require an employment-based visa if I were to continue to work for your company.” Depending on where you are in the process or who you are talking to, you may be expected to explain more about your work authorization status. There is no need to beat around the bush. Be honest and upfront. It’ll help save time for both parties and move the process along. For many of the STEM extension eligible students in the business school, it’d be a good idea to emphasize the length of the work authorization without the company petitioning for H1B.

Remember the bottom line: meeting the hiring needs

A successful candidate always focuses on the hiring needs of the position and presents themselves as the right fit. Whether you are asked the work authorization question at the first HR screening call, or at the end when you’re one step away from the offer, your goal is to demonstrate why you are the best person for the job. The further you go in the hiring process, the more leverage you have to advocate for yourself. 

You are the whole package. Being international is part of the package that brings unique experience and perspectives to the team. If an employer shies away from hiring foreign nationals due to budget constraints, fear of losing talent or limited knowledge of immigration regulations, it is their problem to solve not yours. 

By Sonia Liang
Sonia Liang Associate Director, Career Strategies Center MSBA Career Coach Sonia Liang