5 Key Interview Questions to Ask International Candidates (and Why)

How can HR professionals recruiting international talent more accurately find out if a candidate is a good fit for the company and ready to deal with the challenges of living abroad? As Team Lead Human Resources at InterNations, a company with employees representing more than 43 nationalities, Christa Fellner, is well-experienced in this area. She shares her five key questions and explains why these are important.

Christa’s View on an Ideal International Talent Fit

For me a candidate is a fit if I see that there is an innate interest in other cultures and countries. It's good to see that the person has a natural curiosity and the mindset of discovering new aspects, professionally and personally, regardless of the country. The candidate needs to go abroad with the mindset that yes, they have a good foundation for success, but that having only their career in mind is not enough. Of course, it is beneficial, but it’s not just about climbing the corporate ladder abroad. Having this one-sided point of view can be very detrimental. It is super crucial that the candidate also realizes they need relationships outside of work and people to make them feel at ease, to help them understand local cultures, and to help interpret certain behaviors. It's important for the candidate to be open-minded to other perspectives and easily approachable. It’s much harder to have a good start abroad if there is not an openness to discovering all the treasures of working and living abroad.

Christa's 5 Key Questions

  1. Describe a time when you experienced a completely new situation, where you were not in control. What happened and how did you deal with the challenge?

    Why this Question? It is important to establish the mindset of the person and to see whether they are willing to accept that there are situations beyond their control. It tells you how flexible someone is to deal with unforeseen circumstances. This is especially significant when moving abroad for work and living in a new country where so much is unknown.

  2. You deliver a presentation to several stakeholders. All of them share their different perspectives on your presentation and ask critical questions. How do you react to this?

    Why this Question? This allows you to see how the person perceives things and deals with diversity of opinions. They could either see every critical question as a treasure, to help them improve — viewing it as constructive and a learning opportunity. Or, they become defensive and see it as attacking — being authoritarian about it. The way they react tells you how they collaborate. Especially with cultural differences abroad, there needs to be an awareness of and appreciation for different perspectives.

  3. You have to work with three colleagues on an important project. How do you start the process and go about it?

    Why this Question? This gives you insights to how the person operates within a team. How much do they involve their colleagues? What is their preferred type of collaboration? It’s fine it someone tells me they tend to be a natural leader as this also gives me a good understanding that they are self-reflective and know themselves. But, if someone starts complaining about something subtly and you can sense tension, it’s not ideal. Candidates also tend to avoid such topics. Then it's important to follow up with a next question related to it. Something like: Provide an example of when you had different opinions to your colleagues and had to come to a common solution. How did you reach common ground? Scenarios always help to get answers.

  4. What in your daily operations at work is motivating you or making you feel like you have accomplished something? 

    Why this Question? This question helps to get a deeper insight into the candidate's personality — to see whether they are more serious or more emotional, more task-oriented or more relationship-oriented. The intent is not to judge the answer, but to see the openness behind the answer and if they are keeping their distance or allowing you in. An alternative or follow-up could be to: What makes you feel stressed at work? Both questions can help to get a more holistic picture about the type of person and can really help to see if they will be a team fit. 

  5. What type of environment do you prefer to work in?

    Why this Question? This question allows you to see whether the person needs a lot of structure and sense of safety, or whether they have the ability to adapt and be flexible. Having this adaptability is quite crucial for someone who moves abroad for work. An environment like we have at InterNations, which is fast-moving, and you have to be flexible, could not be ideal for a candidate who needs a lot of structure. It’s not good to put someone that needs a lot of structure and guidance in a highly dynamic environment and, therefore, it’s probably not a good cultural fit. If the person doesn't show strengths of adaptability and flexibility, and if they need a stable environment, working abroad may not be for them. Just the nature of working abroad in itself is more stressful and is much easier for a person who is at ease with changing, can adjust and adapt, and is flexible.

Interested in more practical questions? 
Also read: 5 Questions to Ask Assignees to Determine Cultural Fit (and Why)

Christa Fellner, Team Lead HR at InterNationsAbout the Expert: Christa Fellner is Team Lead Human Resources at InterNations, the world's largest expat network. She lived abroad in Paris for two years during her graduate studies. This experience changed her way of thinking and interacting with people. With her background in recruiting and business coaching, she started to work for InterNations in 2011, and has built up the HR department in the growing organization. Together with her team, she is responsible for all HR-related topics — from international recruiting to personal development.