If you’re interviewing for a job in the UK, you’ll want to brush up on professional British protocols. Brits are known for their subtle sense of humour and withholding mannerisms, which aren’t always easy to interpret as a foreigner. This guide will help you navigate job interviews that come your way in the UK.
No matter what country you’re in, you should always do some due diligence on the company to which you’re applying. Look into:
- The company’s organisational structure
- The company’s history and evolution
- Major practice areas and clients
- Any available quarterly reports, blog posts, or case studies
- Anything recently newsworthy about the company
- An overview of company culture, salaries, benefits and interviews through websites like Glassdoor
You should also understand British body language. Here, less is definitely more. Brits aren’t known for speaking loudly or out of turn, and if your culture is accustomed to overly familiar behaviour with strangers, remember to scale it back in the UK. Try to maintain a professional demeanour.
Once you’ve received an interview, it’s a good idea to practice before the actual event. Even if you’re by yourself, you can practice answering sample questions out loud. That way when your interview rolls around, it won’t feel quite like the first time, and hopefully some of your interview jitters will dissipate.
If you’re living abroad, some companies will be willing to do a Skype interview with you, especially in the earlier stages of the interview process. For younger companies, startups and other more flexible sectors, they might choose to conduct Skype interviews even if you’re in the same country. For these cases, make sure you have a good pair of headphones and you’ve tested your computer audio and video in advance.
You can’t generalise about what British companies look for in a candidate, since every company is different. However, most companies will be looking for someone with relevant experience, a can-do attitude, and a professional demeanour. Here are some common interview questions you can use to prepare:
- Tell me about yourself and your experience so far
- Explain a time you faced a challenge in a previous job. How did you handle it?
- Tell us about a time you took on a leadership role.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What is your greatest strength/weakness?
- Why do you want to work in this industry/for this company?
There will come a time at the end of your interview when your interviewer will ask, “So what questions do you have for us?” The questions you ask in an interview are important. They can signal that you’re clued in to the role and the company, and that you’re taking the opportunity seriously. You want to use the questions the signal your competence and interest in the job. You also want to interview the interviewer a little bit. This is your opportunity to get an inside look at what life inside the company is really like, and how you would fit inside the team. Here is a good list of questions to use as a springboard:
- What is your favourite part of working at X company?
- Take me through a typical day in your role.
- Who is your ideal candidate for this job?
- What would your ideal candidate take charge of in their first 8 weeks on the job?
It’s important to note that interviews aren’t the best time nor place to ask about salary and benefits. It’s generally seen as inappropriate to ask about these details before an offer is made. Once an offer is made, you should definitely do your research and figure out all of the minutiae, but some interviewers will take it the wrong way if you seem merely interested in salary and benefits, as opposed to the actual role.
Interview etiquette in the UK is fairly standard for a western country. In formal settings, you should dress in business clothes, come prepared with good questions, and think before you open your mouth to speak. At more informal interviews - for example at a startup - you can expect a more chilled out atmosphere. In informal settings, it’s more important to be yourself and get a feel for how you’d fit into the company culture.
In Britain, the most common form of greeting is a handshake, whether the interview is informal or not. Also, British people are quite aware of personal space boundaries. When meeting someone for the first time, take caution not to stand too close to them or make prolonged eye contact.
If you’re interviewing for a banking, consulting, or professional services job, you should err on the side of business professional. Wear a suit and a collared shirt; if you’re a man, wear a tie. If you’re interviewing somewhere smaller or less formal, it’s okay to ask about the interview dress code before you go in. Your contact will be happy to fill you in on office dress codes.
Most British companies will expect you to negotiate your salary offer, especially if they’re a bigger company. However, politeness is highly emphasised in the UK. Every step you take should be approached with extreme politeness. The company will expect you to have good reasons for why you’re negotiating, and solid evidence to back up your claims.
When you’re negotiating your salary, make sure to express appreciation for the offer and enthusiasm for the position. You should ask for time once you receive the offer, before kicking off negotiations. That way, you’ll show that you’ve given the offer serious consideration.
Once you’ve accepted an offer, you’ll want to open a bank account in the UK. But if you’re just moving to the country, you’ll have to be careful if you’re exchanging money from one currency to another. Traditional banks often mark up exchange rates in their favor, costing you more than you realize with every transfer.
For a cheaper alternative, you can use TransferWise - the new financial service for international people. TransferWise is building a better, cheaper, fairer system for anyone who lives, travels, or does business across borders. TransferWise even offers borderless multi-currency accounts that allow you to manage and exchange money in several currencies at once in addition to offering a fair exchange rate - the same one you find on Google or XE.
If you’re from outside of the EU, you’ll need a visa or a work permit to work in the UK. Currently, as of writing, EU citizens can work freely in the UK. No matter where you come from, however, moving countries can come with a large amount of bureaucracy. The UK government’s website can help you answer questions about what type of visa you’ll need if you do need one.
At the end of the interview, make sure to thank your interviewer, smile, and shake their hands. It’s customary to send a quick thank you note or email when you get home, to reiterate your appreciation.
Interviewing for a job can be nerve-wracking, but you don’t have to be unprepared. The more you know about the company and the role, the better you’ll feel about whatever questions come your way. Make sure to be polite and professional while letting your personality shine through.