Surviving a Job Interview, Part 1

How the Process Works

Getting a job is one of the most important tasks you will face in your life. It is how you transition from the life of a dependent student to the life of an independent adult. Therefore, it’s important to know what to expect from your interviewers.

The first part of the process is called the pre-interview. This is everything involving your resume, your cover letter and any papers the employer wants you to fill out. Sometimes, this also includes a phone interview.

This is mostly about finding people who meet the minimum requirements. For example, the employer will often use the pre-interview phase for eliminating the applicants who don’t have enough education, people who aren’t qualified or people who are obviously not good employees. This means that when you get to the face to face interview, you are probably already one of the best applicants.

Most interviews take place on the company’s property. I have experienced job interviews in large warehouses, in an empty classroom, in tall office buildings, in the boss’s office and one time in a basement.

Most of these interviews are face to face with one person. However, I have also experienced interviews where one company representative interviewed 6 applicants at one time and another where I, alone, had to answer questions from 4 interviewers. Before this happens, you will probably meet a secretary or assistant. I strongly recommend you are nice to this person.

Most interviews begin with the interviewer greeting you and making some small talk. You can take this opportunity to relax, take hints from the environment and make a good impression on your boss. Usually after 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the interviewer will move onto the more serious questions.

Often employers will want to check and clarify the things on your resume. If you said that you graduated high school with a perfect score, for example, the interviewer might ask you how you accomplished such an amazing score. Often, they will also check your job history and ask questions about why you quit your old jobs. This is to check the accuracy of your resume and clarify anything confusing.

After checking and clarifying your resume and application papers, interviews often move onto questions designed to test you. Employers will often ask you to solve scenarios related to your job. For example, when I interviewed for a job in politics, my interviewers asked me to make a plan for dealing with a foreign country while working with a team. In another interview for a teaching position, the interviewers asked me to teach a demonstration class.

However, it’s not always so complicated. Sometimes, the employer will simply ask what you would do in a situation. For example, “what would you do if a customer was angry and threatened to sue the company?”

Another category of questions centers on how you have behaved in the past. For example, an employer might ask how you behaved the last time you had a difficult deadline or how you solved conflicts with coworkers in the past. The generic version of this is “what was the hardest challenge you faced at your last job and how did you overcome it?”

After the interviewer has finished asking questions about your past, behavior and strategies, they will commonly ask if you have any questions about the company. Don’t be shy. If you don’t know where the offices are, ask to see the offices. If you wonder about the hours, ask. If you aren’t sure what the company’s strategy is, ask the interviewer to clarify.

Once the interview has finished, the interviewer probably won’t say if you got the job or not. When you leave the interview, you can take the opportunity to collect business cards, thank the secretaries and assistants and look over the workplace.

It usually takes the company a couple days to decide whether or not they will hire you, but sometimes it can take several weeks. If the interviews were very competitive, they might even ask you to return for a second interview.

Cultural Differences

There are major differences in culture between the cultural West and Korea and those differences extend into job interviews. This isn’t as big a problem as you probably think, but there are some general strategies you can use to succeed in Western job interviews.

So, why aren’t cultural differences always a big deal? The truth is that your interviewer will know you are foreign. If you do something strange, they will probably just assume it is part of your culture. As such, it’s probably not worth your time to practice “acting American/Canadian/British.” However, there are some things you can do to overcome cultural differences.

  1. Be friendly – It’s not that hard to overcome cultural problems with a friendly person. If you are open, smile a lot and listen to others, the cultural differences between you and your new company can be resolved with minimal stress.
  2. Be open – You don’t have to pretend you are a native of the USA/Canada/England, but you should show that you are willing to adapt to their traditions. “I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn” is a great attitude for a job applicant to have. Don’t insist on doing things the Korean way when you work overseas. “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”
  3. Remember that you do not represent Korea – Very few people in the English-speaking world will see you as a representative of Korea. They will see you as an individual who just happens to have come from Korea. Even more important, do not act as if you need to spread Korean culture to your new job. People will ask you about Korea and they will ask you for ideas, but do not try to force your culture on others.
  4. Don’t have too many restrictions – Companies will ask you to do many, many tasks. The more of these tasks you can perform the better. An employee who needs special food, a special kind of office, special music or special supervision is less valuable than a flexible employee who will do anything.

So, what are the biggest cultural differences you a likely to see? The biggest is emphasis. In Western countries, employers tend not to care about your school scores. As long as you graduated from college, your test scores and class grades really aren’t important. Where in Korea employers commonly spend the interview asking about TOEIC and school grades, I have literally never been asked about my grades in an interview. Instead, employers will focus on how quickly you can think, how independent you are and how good your attitude is.

Further, I recommend you focus on appearing confident. Don’t apologize unless you’ve done something wrong. Korean manners can sometimes seem very submissive to Westerners. Look your employer in the eye, speak clearly and sit straight. You may bow if you like. This will be a little bit unusual, but most Westerners will probably like it.

One thing Westerners will not like is the “dead fish handshake.” This is when someone gives a super soft handshake. In Western countries, this is considered disrespectful. Don’t hurt the other person’s hand, but when you give a handshake, be firm and strong.

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