Published: Nov. 1, 2019

U.S. Cultural Norms

It’s helpful to be aware of the cultural norms for interviewing in the United States as an international student. Keep these cultural norms in mind when preparing for an interview.

If it is not culturally appropriate for you to shake hands with a person of another gender, you can let the interviewer know that. One way to do that is by placing your hand on your heart and saying, “I’m sorry, but my religion doesn’t allow me to shake your hand.”Find additional ideas here
  • Greeting: Employers tend to be informal and use first names (follow the example set by the interviewer); expect a strong handshake and direct eye contact.
  • Small talk: It’s often expected that you may engage in some small talk with various people as you walk with them to different areas or if you go out for lunch during your interview.
  • Personal space: People in the U.S. typically prefer more personal space than people in other countries; allow at least 2-3 feet when standing and speaking with someone.
  • Nonverbal communication: Your body language will communicate a lot in an interview. In the U.S., it’s expected that you’ll smile, make direct eye contact, keep an open posture, and display confidence
  • Professional dress: What to wear can depend on your industry, but you’ll typically want to dress more formally rather than less as a sign of respect to your interviewer.
  • Individual role: Individualism in the U.S. is highly valued so you’ll want to include your individual contributions when talking about how you worked on a team.
  • Ask questions: Be prepared with some questions to ask your interviewer at the end; it will demonstrate your interest in this position and is expected by the employer. Employers expect that you’ll ask questions at the end of the interview. It’s considered a sign of interest in the position.

Employers expect that you’ll ask questions at the end of the interview. It’s considered a sign of interest in the position.


Interviewing is hard enough, but interviewing in another language and culture means that practicing becomes even more critical. Try these tips to practice in a variety of ways.

  • Prepare 5-6 examples of past experiences that you have ready to apply to a few different behavior questions. Some scenarios to consider include:
    • Working in a group to accomplish a goal
    • Going over and above what’s required
    • How you handle conflict in a group
    • How you’ve demonstrated leadership
    • When you’ve made a mistake or failed
    • When you’ve faced a setback
    • How you handle multiple competing demands/priorities
  • Practice answering common interview questions

Talking About Your Work Status

Knowing how to talk about your status as an international student is an important part of the interview process.

  • While you don’t necessarily need to address your work authorization in a first round interview, don’t wait until you get the job offer to inform the employer on the process of your work authorization.
  • Learn about your work authorization and educate the employer on the process for hiring.
  • Focus on the benefits that you bring as an international student, such as your intercultural competency, diverse perspective, or language skills.
  • Don’t ask for sponsorship during the interview, but also don’t hide the fact that you’ll need sponsorship after your current work authorization runs out