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LarryBy Larry Jackson, NCA Assistant Director of Student Career Advising, serving students in McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science and the science fields in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Welcome to the Alumni Career Q&A for International Students blog series! Each month, NCA will feature a Q&A with former Northwestern international students about their experiences navigating the U.S. job search process. The goal of this series is to help current international students understand what they can do to successfully plan their career and excel in the job search.

In this month’s edition, NCA solicited feedback from three international student alumni:

  • Chinese Master’s graduate from Biotechnology program working in consulting
  • Indian Master’s graduate from Mechanical Engineering program working in engineering
  • Turkish undergraduate alumnus from Industrial Engineering program working in consulting

Here are their responses to questions related to interviewing and networking for positions within the United States:

1. As an international student, what cultural differences did you experience during the U.S. interview process?

“Nothing significant during formal interviews, but I found small talks were very challenging as I felt it’s the key to establishing a connection / chemistry with interviewers.” 

“In the U.S., engineering recruiters focus on your technical expertise as well as how good of a fit you would be for the team. Most of the interviewers will ask you about your hobbies to understand if you could jell with other people or if you are a well-rounded person.”

“The entire interview process in the U.S. is so much more competitive and intense compared to my hometown Istanbul. For consulting recruiting specifically, I recognized that case studies in the U.S. are focused on measuring a candidate’s ability to apply specific examples to overall industry trends. I also found the U.S. interview structure to be much more punctual and organized. This speaks to overall cultural differences between the two countries.”

2. What resources did you find helpful in preparing for U.S. job interviews?

“NU Career Services (i.e. Northwestern Career Advancement and Engineering Career Development) and peer feedback on top of practice, practice, and practice. Because I was preparing for consulting interviews, I also found the book Case in Point to be extremely helpful.” 

“Engineering recruiters focus on your resume unless you are going for consulting interviews. The key is to know the stuff mentioned on your resume thoroughly.”

“I used the Case In Point textbook as my main print source. I paired up with one of my friends who was also going through consulting recruitment and we went through all example cases in the book as if we were doing a real interview. I also tapped into the Harvard Business Review case examples online. Additionally, I made use of NCA for overall recruitment guidelines and tips.”

3. How did you use networking in your job search as an international student?

“I believe networking is the only effective way for international students like me who didn’t have a robust background [in the field]. I mainly used LinkedIn and local professional associations to network with people. I connected with a few hundred people working in consulting and requested an informational interview. I probably talked with 30 of them and one of them helped me land my current job. Networking could let people know you beyond your resume. It’s like you setting up your 1st round interview by yourself and you can also get a lot of great information to tailor your resume and cover letter.”

“The key to a successful job search is networking. Knowing the right people can make the process faster and successful. I would contact friends you make in classes, your professor and try LinkedIn.” 

“Networking is so important both before and after recruitment. During the job search process I reached out to consultants and expressed my interest in the profession. I also connected with recent Northwestern graduates who became consultants. This helped me learn firsthand what it meant to become a consultant right after college. Networking also allowed me to introduce myself, build relationships, and help recruiters put a face to my name before the official recruitment timeline started.”

4. What advice would you give current international students about networking?

“Be tenacious, patient, and genuine. About being genuine, networking is not about finding someone who can pass your resume to HR (it should be a natural outcome). It’s about learning about the job and figuring out if it’s a mutual fit. So if you are not genuinely interested in the job, then don’t your waste time there. You will have a much better chance when applying for a job you truly like.”

“If you are invited to any event, make sure you never say ‘No.’ Go and meet people.”

“Always network. Meet people wherever you go. You will learn a lot from them. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Get your name out there and make the recruiters remember you. Networking will make you stand out in a pile of very competitive candidates.”

Stay tuned for next month’s blog post on job and internship searching!