Job Hunting Advice for International Students: Language

By Ryan Li

International students: Are you currently looking for a job? Feeling confused? Directionless, helpless, hopeless, frustrated or filled with self-doubt? Then I may be able to help! Rather than addressing common resume writing and interview skills, this post will focus on overcoming the language issues many international students experience during the job search process.

Each person has their own work experience, employability skills, and personal situation, so this isn’t an all-purpose guide. But what I can provide is my own insight and understanding about the job lifecycle, from the perspective of an international graduate.

If you’ve already started looking for a job in Australia, you’ve probably noticed that you need to put in extra time and effort to overcome language and cultural boundaries. The bad news is, as international students we’re often naturally disadvantaged in these aspects, regardless of how long we’ve been exposed to the Australian culture. However, the good news is that these disadvantages do fade the longer we’re here! It’s important to carry this optimism into your job search, as it will help you overcome the inevitable difficulties that will arise.

Language Issue 1: Job Applications

Many international students struggle with inauthentic and unprofessional wording, as well as sentence structure. Since English is not our mother language, and it is such a difficult and fickle language in and of itself, it’s easy to misuse it without even being aware of it! Believe it or not, these factors can reflect really badly on your applications, as they can highlight your lack of familiarity with the field of job your applying for (regardless of the content contained in your actual responses). Luckily, a lot of these issues can be avoided in your resume, if you take the time to have a career consultation prior to applying for a job.

It is understandable that these challenges are relatively easy to overcome, as we often have more time and resources prior to first-round applications. However, it can be easy to overlook mistakes or be less prepared for the next step in the application process – the interview.

Language Issue 2: The Interview

In order to improve our language skills it’s important for us to expose ourselves to local and professional environments. However, when we have an interview coming up, many people suggest writing down answers to possible questions in order to practice. This advice is really quite old-fashioned, and involves you creating answers to questions based on the job description and your own application, before making your wording more localised and professional. Then you practice your answers until you can be confident you don’t simply sound like you’re repeating something you’ve memorised; focusing on your body language and eye contact.

While you may not lose marks for expressing your answers slowly in an interview, you will lose marks if your responses don’t make sense or are illogical. Many of us, as non-native English speakers, can get so caught up in ensuring our sentences are grammatically correct that we may tend to forget or overlook how our responses are structured.

Luckily, there is a structure you can follow for your responses in first round applications (particularly when responding to the selection criteria) and behavioural interview answers! The person who will be assessing your responses will be impressed if you can follow this structure in expressing your answers:

  • Situation – Talk about the background of a previous problem that you were facing, keeping in mind a specific selection criterion.
  • Task – What was the role you were assigned in that situation? What were the tasks, goals and expectations?
  • Action – What exactly did you do to achieve this goal and to contribute to solving the problem? Be sure to mention relevant techniques and skills you used – linking them back to the skills required in the job you are applying for.
  • Result – What did you achieve as a result of your contribution, in accordance with the goals and expectations in Task?

Yes, this is the famous STAR model, which is favoured and embraced by almost all interviewers (and likely, your future boss!). Following this model allows you to address the selection criteria, and basically tell your own ‘stories’ that support your skills, attract the audience’s attention and (most importantly) impress them.

In theory, you should also prepare as many stories as possible in preparation for the interview, on top of the stories you have told in written response. There are numerous articles suggesting that, increasingly, more interviewers are asking interviewee’s questions like: ‘describe a time that you did…’ – which is literally expecting STAR modelled stories from you.

However, the more stories you have does not necessarily mean you are better prepared. You have to make sure you use different stories and responses for each application you submit, targeted to the job you’re applying for. There are techniques you can use to determine which of your stories are best to use for each job – if you’re unsure, UTS:Careers provide expert consultations and workshops to help you out, if you’re not confident to give it a try on your own. Once you have these stories ready, all you have to do is memorise and practice them – just make sure you can say them naturally, and confidently (and don’t sound like you’re just repeating from memory!).

Using this advice and the techniques mentioned here can help us, as international students and graduates, be at less of a language disadvantage and feel more confident in our interviews.

Ryan Li is an experienced system coordinator with IT background sitting within UTS:Careers to work with faculties and units across UTS to enable system related requirements to be interpreted for technical solutions to meet the end user’s expectation.

Featured image courtesy of Pexels.

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