5 interviewing tips for international students

Notes of interviews from 2017 cherub Scarlet Li. Photo by Claire Luo

Cherubs hit the ground running when they arrived in Evanston, interviewing strangers in person and via phone all over the world.

International students often encounter challenges contacting and understanding sources in the United States because of linguistic and cultural barriers. For example, interviewees sometimes lose patience if they don’t understand the questions, and international students struggle to ask follow-up questions.

However, international students have the advantage of seeing things from a different perspective than U.S. students. For instance, international students know how events and policies in the United States are perceived abroad and how to report on an international level.

Here are some tips for international students to ace interviews.

1. Make friends with cherubs from the United States

International students may have difficulty finding U.S. sources for some stories because their family and friends back home can’t help them. With a base abroad, international students should buddy up with U.S. students and ask for help.

“Whatever your topic is, make good American friends,” said cherub Scarlet Li of Beijing. “They have people they know who might be experts in the area that you are researching on.”

2. Don’t be afraid of your imperfect English

For international students, especially those less comfortable speaking English, the language barrier often makes them nervous about talking. But international students should express themselves clearly and logically. Being confident and professional is key.

“When I did interviews, I was pretty nervous that my English was not very good,” said Tiffany Fahlnaes od Gothenburg, Sweden. “But later I found it’s important to be who you are and be confident in yourself.”

3. Take advantage of your own culture

While the lack of U.S. culture might prevent international students from understanding background information for interview topics, knowledge about their own culture will interest their sources and offer them unique perspective when reporting.

“For the Fourth of July interview, my source seemed to open up more and be more willing to talk with me,” said Allison Ma from Shanghai. “So I think you should embrace the cultural difference.”

In addition, when writing feature or trend stories, international students can find topics related to their culture. Joan Gwak, who is from Seoul, South Korea wrote how the rap scene in her home country is gaining more attention from teens and young adults.

4. Research and prepare well beforehand

Cherubs often have to talk with people about U.S. politics, which might be unfamiliar to international students. For instance, one of the first interview assignments this year was to ask people on the street whether Democrats would win enough seats in the 2018 midterm election to take control of the House.

It would help international students to learn about U.S. culture and history before arriving in Evanston so that they have a basic understanding of both. Also, it helps to practice the questions with U.S. cherubs before the interview.

5. Don’t pretend you understand what the sources said when you do not

It is not a shame if international students cannot understand what their sources are talking about. However, pretending they do understand and continuing to ask questions will hurt an interview.

“An interview is not a question following another question,” Ma said. “You should actually explore more details and try to get deep stuff out of your sources.”

International students should also ask for explanations when they encounter words they do not understand.