Published: 17 Nov 2021  |  Category: Jobs & careers  |  Stage: We have welcomed a family

Interview preparation

Learn how to support refugees to prepare for job interviews

In many countries the process of applying for and getting a job is very different to the UK.  This is particularly true for the interview stage of an application when you have to present your skills, ‘sell’ your experience and strengths. 

This may be completely new to some and initially quite uncomfortable. Remember that some refugees may not have experienced a formal job interview before or where they have, this might have been after the hiring decision was made as an opportunity to present themselves. Below are some suggestions for how you can support someone with their interview preparation:

  • Start out by congratulating the job applicant! Reaching the interview stage of a recruitment process is a major milestone and an excellent moment to acknowledge the progress they have made
  • Discuss the purpose of a job interview and the role it plays in the hiring process and how these might be different between places of work
  • Ensure they know what to expect in terms of the typical interview process and norms in the UK. This could include questions, but also some cultural aspects of the interview – the dress code, timekeeping or a handshake at the beginning and end of the meeting
  • Provide guidance on how to prepare. You might discuss possible questions, potential responses, researching the employer/interviewer,  and preparing questions to ask the employer and going through logistics for the interview day 
  • Offer practice interviews it may feel awkward for both you and the person being ‘interviewed’ but this is an opportunity to run through how things will likely work in person, you can offer a safe place to practice
  • Help to calm nerves. It is normal for people to feel anxious or need encouragement ahead of an interview
  • Go over what to do after the interview. Checking in with a Group member afterwards can help someone to reflect on their experience. Encourage them to ask for interview feedback regardless of the outcome

Interview process and norms

Do remember what may seem obvious to you may not be for someone who hasn’t been interviewed in the UK before. You may need to go over points such as what to wear, what time to arrive for the interview and introductions and norms, such as shaking hands by way of greeting.

Tips for interview preparation

  • Outline that the interview process is as much about the person being interviewed as the company doing the interviewing
  • Culturally, a candidate may see asking questions as challenging the authority of the company interviewing them, whereas it’s a sign of interest and engagement in the UK
  • Many interviews take place online – help the candidate to plan what they will do if they encounter technical difficulties
  • If an interview takes place in person and the candidate does not shake hands with someone of the opposite gender, plan out how they will manage this, it’s ok to set out your boundaries!
  • Help the candidate revisit the job description and application they made prior to attending the interview
  • Don’t be fearful of discussing and helping the candidate to explain gaps in their employment, or why they moved to the UK – this is their story to tell, and you can help them find a way to do so that causes the least harm

Interview techniques

Helping refugees to see the interview from the employer’s perspective is key. Keep in mind that they may not be used to talking about themselves in public, particularly when meeting someone for the first time.  The idea of ‘selling’ yourself at interview could be unfamiliar or considered inappropriate in some cultures, and you may need to explain the concept in a sensitive manner.

It may be helpful to work with the person you support using some sample techniques to answer interview questions, such as the STAR technique to create a clear structure for interview answers:

  • Situation – describe the situation or challenge you faced
  • Task – talk through your responsibility in that situation
  • Action – explain how you’ve addressed the challenge, be specific and make sure you highlight the ideas that you had and actions that you took. Avoid using ‘us’ to describe what you have done
  • Result – share the outcome of the action you took. It may be a good idea to reflect on what you could have improved in your approach in hindsight

STAR is just one of the approaches you can use, there are others so use the one you feel comfortable with. If you want to read more about the STAR approach you can do so here.

Do take time to explain common interview behaviours such as looking the interviewer in the eye, and awareness of your body language.

Practice interviews

Many Experts by Experience such as Abdullah have found mock interviews to be excellent preparation for an interview. They can help candidates to become familiar with the interview process and provide an opportunity for them to practise their responses.

Having the job description and application will be a useful reference and you can think about common questions which may come up. The feedback you give afterwards is an important part of the learning process and should always be measured and constructive. Some of the questions you could practice are:

  • Why do you want this role?
  • What makes you suitable for this role?
  • Tell us about yourself and your work experience
  • What are your strengths?
  • Why was there a gap in your employment?
  • How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
  • Do you have any questions that you would like to ask us? (this will not be officially part of an interview, but it’s always best to have a question prepared to make the best impression)

Online interviews

Increasingly, interviews are taking place remotely. Make sure the refugees you are working with are aware of the differences compared to in-person interviews. Some companies will use Zoom, and other Teams or other online systems. 

Assist with technology setup, which includes access to a good internet connection and a working microphone/speaker/video. Rehearsing in the spot where they plan to do the interview provides a good opportunity for them to decide where they will conduct the interview and practice using the IT system chosen by the interviewer.  

Unsuccessful interviews 

It may be the case that the refugee is not taken through to the next stage of recruitment or is not offered the job.  Whilst this will be a disappointment, do explain that this does happen to everyone irrespective of their background.  Encourage them to ask for feedback from the interviewer on how they might improve in future interviews.  

Preparing for work

Following a successful interview, thoughts will quickly turn to starting work. Introducing the person you support to common UK work practices, etiquette and terms can help in improving their work-readiness, you may find the employment section of the Welcome to the UK booklet useful in doing this. It may be a good time to plan some more intensive ESOL sessions focusing on vocabulary specifically related to their new work. It will also be a good time to explain again UK’s taxes and national insurance contributions as well as use one of the benefit calculators to indicate the impact of wages on the benefits of the family you support.