International University Interview Tips

International University Interview Tips

Helen Vaudrey

Updated February 15, 2022 Updated February 15

Preparing for a university interview is a daunting prospect for many aspiring students. Exam results and personal statements can only say so much about your suitability for a degree, especially on competitive courses, so it’s important to put your best foot forward during an interview.

However, when preparing for interviews abroad, simply slipping on your smartest tie and memorizing set interview answers may not be enough to secure a place at your desired school. Certain countries have etiquette customs that you would do well to follow when trying to charm your interviewer. Here are some of our top interview tips and etiquette rules broken down by country.

Tips for interviews in Japan

Etiquette rules in Japan extend far beyond a handshake. Japan is a country steeped in distinctive cultures and traditions, and the locals expect their customs to be upheld by foreign visitors – and we’re not just talking about using chopsticks for sushi here.

Tardiness is not tolerated in Japan. In Europe, some interviewers will turn a blind eye to an interviewee arriving five minutes late to a meeting if they mumble something about traffic problems or complain about delays on the underground system – yet this will not wash in Japan. Here, arriving on time for a university interview means arriving a good 10 minutes before your designated time.

When you first arrive for a university interview in Japan, shake hands with the members of staff present and make sure to keep eye contact with people as you greet them. After this, you will be invited to take a seat – but do not accept this offer until your host has taken his/her seat first. Small gestures such as this are appreciated in Japan and will show you to be respectful and courteous.

If a lecturer is present for your interview, then address her/him by their surname followed by ‘sensei’ or ‘kyouju’ – meaning teacher and professor respectively. Remember, using somebody’s surname is also important in Japanese etiquette. Try not to just address your teacher by saying ‘sensei’ – research your degree program and find out who will be conducting your interview beforehand.

Tips for interviews in Germany

To make a good impression in a German university interview, it is advisable to approach the interview in a meticulous way. Your progression to degree level in Germany should be as a result of careful planning – not the consequence of chance or random opportunity. Being able to follow a well thought-out plan and working at your achievements are both valuable attributes to Germans, and will stand you in good stead with professors.

Be prepared for initial introductions to be conducted in German. This is a sign of courtesy and shows you have put a little extra effort into your interview preparation. After the introductions, politely ask your interviewer if you can continue the interview in English (assuming you’re not a fluent German speaker). To do this, simply memorize the German for “can we speak in English please?” which translates as "dürfen wir bitte englisch sprechen?” You will impress and charm at the same time.

Tips for interviews in China

The Chinese people adhere to clear etiquette rules with the same amount of reverence as observed in Japan. Both cultures prize values such as politeness, courtesy and the respect of one’s elders – something students should bear in mind when meeting with professors and members of the admissions team.

Bowing or nodding is a common greeting in China; however, you may be offered a handshake. If you’re unsure about how to approach somebody in China, let them make the first move. When sitting down, it is also important that you have the correct posture. Crossing legs, slouching and crossing arms while facing an interviewer are all considered impolite. Sit up straight and do not let your concentration lapse. If you are being interviewed by more than one member of the university admission team, then you should slightly lower your head towards each of them while they speak to show your respect.

Be concise and to the point when answering questions in China. Try not to make your answers overly personable or emotive when addressing your interviewers and avoid using too many unnecessary hand gestures. It is important to appear reserved, humble and succinct when talking about your academic qualities and achievements.

Before your interview, determine whether it will be conducted in Chinese or English. If your Chinese is a little rusty but not a necessity for your chosen course of study, then it is still advisable to brush up on basic Mandarin phrases so that you can greet your interviewers in their native language.

Tips for interviews in the United Arab Emirates

The number one rule that generally holds true across the Middle East and most Muslim countries, is to never use your left hand for anything other than your own personal hygiene. So – unless you’re planning to groom yourself like a kitten for the entirety of your university interview – we would advise you to keep your left hand firmly by your side.

If attending a university interview in a country such as the United Arab Emirates, you must shake hands with your right hand, eat with your right hand and pass all documents with your right hand. Train yourself to keep that left hand firmly out of action!

Female students should take note that male members of staff will likely not extend their hand to you for a handshake. This is not a sign of rudeness; rather, it is considered the polite thing to do upon greeting a woman and is intended to be respectful. Male students should greet all other men in the room individually with a handshake – but make sure your grip is not too firm. Protocol calls for handshakes to be genteel and for eye contact to be maintained throughout the short exchange.

Interview questions will likely stick to the topic of your degree and will rarely drift into personal territory. Students should be fluent and confident about the qualities that make them ideal for the specific program, but should try not to sound boastful or make answers too longwinded. Asking questions is encouraged and welcomed, but do not cut your interviewer off while they are speaking or divert the topic of conversation too much to other things – this will be seen as rude and a waste of valuable time. 

This article was originally published in July 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

Helen is a business, finance and HE journalist based in London. She has written for The Independent, In Good Taste UK and Vinco Sport. among other publications. Helen has won national writing competitions in conjunction with Channel 4 and Media Trust and has appeared on The One Show.. She holds 1st Class Honours from the University of Salford reading Journalism.