There are two concepts of the American hiring process that surprise many international students: likability and fit. These two concepts are important to learn in order to get hired by a US company.
Likability: Likability is a personality trait. Employers want to like the person they hire. When they are interacting with you, they are thinking, “Will I like spending time with this person for 40 hours a week?”
Fit: Employers want to know how you fit into their company culture. For example, the startup culture is very different from corporate culture. Startup culture is generally faster paced, less hierarchical, with a lot of flexibility of job responsibilities. Compare that to corporate culture, where it’s much more hierarchical, positions are more rigid, and changes move slow. If you’re a student who has only worked in corporate jobs and you apply to a startup, an employer will think “Can this person fit into our startup culture?” During an interview, they are evaluating your conversation skills and personality. They’re thinking “Does this person understand our company culture? Are they a fit for our company culture?”
For some international students who want to work in the US, this feels like a popularity contest. That’s accurate. Sometimes they say “If there is a competent candidate who can do the job, shouldn’t that be enough to get hired?” The answer is complicated. The hiring process is a human process with many flaws. The desire for likability is flawed. But this is how US employers hire, so it’s important to learn how to be likable and show you are a fit for a company.
To demonstrate likability, focus on creating warmth. Make anyone you meet feel welcome around you. Think about how you’d like them to remember you after you leave. By creating warmth and a friendly experience when interacting with you, you can leave a positive impression that you are person that people want to work with every day.
To show you’re a fit for a company, show an employer that you’ve researched their company. Show them that you’re interested in their products or services. Talk about what interests you about their working for their company. Ask curious questions about their company culture at the end of every interview.
Remember: you have an advantage as an international student. Your perspective and experience makes you different from average candidates. That difference helps you. People will be naturally curious about you. They will want to get to know you. You have a chance to share stories and ideas from perspectives that are new to people in the U.S. When you make people think, you make them remember you.