How to help migrant candidates succeed

There are a number of strategies you can use to get the best out of your migrant job candidates. These include creating a positive environment, showing empathy, using effective questions and helping candidates with their responses.

The following strategies have been identified and tested by interviewers and migrant job seekers, drawing on the analysis of authentic interactions by the Language in the Workplace Project team, Victoria University of Wellington.

1. Create a positive environment

Small talk at the start of the interview can help the candidate feel at ease:

"Thank you for coming to talk with us today."

Explain the background to the interview process and the purpose of the questions asked:

"Today we will be using ‘behavioural’ interview questions. This means that we want to hear about specific examples from your past."

Explain the process of the interviewer writing notes:

"I will write a few things down as we talk. Don’t pay attention to me; I am still listening to your answers."

Value work experience gained overseas, as detailed in their CV:

"I see you had a similar job in Singapore. Would you mind telling me about it?"

Show genuine interest in their background and ask non-scripted questions which relate to their CV:

"Looking at your CV, I see that you have certainly had a lot of international experience. Which country did you prefer?"

2. Show empathy

If the candidate seems to be struggling with their answer, consider providing support:

Candidate: "Sorry, I am stuck."

Interviewer: "That’s fine, take all the time you need."

Repeat and respond positively to the end of their answer.

Candidate: "And I worked there for ten years."

Interviewer: "Ten years, that's a long time!"

3. Use effective questions

Make links between your questions to help the candidate follow your point:

"This leads me on to my next question..."

Explain the purpose of the question:

"I'm asking you about how you deal with conflict at work to see whether you can deal with normal levels of workplace stress effectively and professionally."

Explain the question with some background information about the working environment:

"The reason I ask this is that in New Zealand you will be expected to cover a number of roles. We may not have the same level of support as you expect. Have you got an example of how you worked with a small team?"

Elaborate your questions in a number of ways. Rephrase the question rather than repeating it if the candidate looks like they do not understand:

"What would you bring to the position? I mean, what skills have you got that would suit this job?"

Explain what you are really looking for. Ask the candidate to try again, giving them a possible scenario:

"That's a good answer about working with a tight timeframe. But I was asking for an example of when you had to persuade a client. For example, when you had to get an external client on your side."

Explain the vocabulary you use in a question:

"Tell me about a time when you showed initiative at work, for example, when you had an idea and suggested a new way of doing something."

Clarify the question when the candidate has started off on the wrong track, rather than waiting until they have finished their answer:

"Actually, I'm not sure that you fully understood my question. I would like to hear about a specific time when you dealt with pressure, and what you did about it."

Give the candidate the opportunity to add more to their answer:

"Any other strengths?"

Give the candidate the opportunity to say more about themselves:

"I have asked a lot of questions. Is there something else you would like to tell me about yourself, that I haven't asked?"

Make the interview more like a conversation by asking probing questions that build on the candidate’s responses, rather than moving onto the next scripted question:

Candidate: "... the clients were very happy."

Interviewer: "So why were they happy?"

Candidate: "Because we produced the materials on time."

Interviewer: "What sort of materials."

Acknowledge that non-native English speaking candidates might find it difficult to respond to questions about negative experiences or to disclose negative aspects of themselves. Explain why the question is important in New Zealand and what kind of answer you expect:

"I'm asking about your weaknesses because it's important for me to see if you are open to feedback and aware of where you could improve."

4. Help candidates with their responses

Persevere with the candidate to get them to answer the question more precisely:

Interviewer: "Why does working at the museum appeal to you?"

Candidate: "It's a friendly place. A nice environment to work in."

Interviewer: "So is that why you applied for this job?"

Avoid a question where the implication is not stated:

Interviewer: "What about the museum interests you most?"

Candidate: "Sorry, what about the museum? The exhibits or the facilities?"

Interviewer: "I mean, is there something about working in the museum that interests you professionally and could be an area you would like to focus on?"

Acknowledge relevant evidence even if it is in an answer to another question:

"You mentioned that you managed a team of three people. This is very relevant to the supervisory experience I mentioned earlier."

Use encouraging body language, such as smiling and nodding. Use encouraging phrases:

"Oh right. Yeah. Absolutely."