Expat’s Guide to UK Job Interviews | 12 Essential Tips

Since being an expat in the UK for the last 8 years, I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great UK job interview. I want to share everything I’ve experienced so you can have a successful (and easy) UK job interview.

1. Arrive early (but not too early)

British people really pride themselves on being on-time, but being too early can be just as bad as being late.

10 minutes early? Fabulous.
45 minutes early? Way too early.

Obviously being early is better than being late, but don’t go into your interview more than 10-15 minutes early. If you’re more than 15 minutes early, find a coffee shop to wait in, or walk around the block.

2. Plan out your journey

Double-check how you’re getting to your interview: walking, driving, public transport?

If you are taking public transport, make sure to check the times – timetables will be different depending on the day of the week (ex. your job interview is a Monday morning vs a Saturday afternoon).

When planning your journey, aim to get there early (but again – not too early!)

Expat’s Guide to UK Job Interviews | 12 Essential Tips

3. Portfolio? Resume?

Should you bring evidence of work, exam results, or a portfolio? It really depends on the job.

If you’re interviewing for a graphic design job, it might be wise to bring a portfolio of past work. If you’re interviewing for an admin role, bringing in your exam results from 5+ years ago is likely pointless.

If in doubt, ask whoever you’ve been corresponding with whether you should bring anything.

Typically you shouldn’t need to bring another resume because they already have it – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to contact you for an interview in the first place. If you’re still struggling to write a good resume, check out this post with my top UK resume tips.

4. Do some research

It’s not expected that you’ll know everything about the company you’re interviewing with, but knowing nothing looks bad.

Read up about the company (and the position, if possible) online. Even a simple glance at the company’s website should give you some insight into who they are and what they’re about.

It’s in poor taste to arrive to the interview, they ask you some questions and you have to clarify with them: “Oh wait, what job is this for again?”

You want to show that you’re eager and this job is important to you.

5. Visa stuff

What makes you different from another candidate is that you’re an expat and you need to prove that you can legally work in the UK.

Currently that’s done via BRP: your Biometrics Residence Permit. It’s a photo-ID that is linked to your visa and you would have collected it in the UK when you arrived (or when you renewed your current visa). It looks like a driving license and contains all the details about your current visa.

However, the UK Gov is phasing out this card as of Dec 2024. So your current card will “expire” but your visa will still remain valid until its own expiry date. All visas approved after this date will not be accompanied by a BRP.

Your potential employer should be able to check online that you have a valid visa instead of using this card, but the UK Gov will need to provide guidance on how this will be done by Dec 2024.

If you still have a card: make sure to bring it to your interview.

6. Pick a question

Often interviewers will ask you at the end if you have any questions and I find it’s always helpful to have one ready.

I wouldn’t ask something about “how quickly could I expect a raise” or things about benefits, pension, etc. Those can be saved during negotiations after you’ve been offered a position.

Asking a question at the end of the interview is more about showing that you’re paying attention and you’re eager. Maybe a question will come to you naturally through the application process, or through Googling about the company. Some examples are:

  • Can you tell me about the team/department I would be working with?
  • How soon can I expect a call if I am shortlisted?
  • Is there anything more that you would like me to clarify about my experience or qualification?
  • Are there any opportunities for growth/training in this role/company?

7. What to wear

This will depend on the job you’re applying for, but Business Casual is always a good option.

For instance, I’d wear black trousers (not jeans) and a nice “work” shirt – maybe a nice sweater with a collared shirt underneath, or a button up shirt. Nice, business-type closed toe shoes. Nothing with my toes out and not running shoes, either.

In my experience, I wouldn’t wear a full suit and jacket, but that might be appropriate for your job sector.

8. What happens at the interview?

It can be stressful not knowing what to expect at your interview as the formality can be drastically different from one employer to another. I’ve had really casual UK job interviews but I’ve also had more formal ones, too.

I’ve had interviews where one person is present and others that had more of a team asking questions (perhaps the HR Manager, plus the Department Manager for that particular role, etc).

Some interviews were extremely casual chatting with some basic questions, other interviews had me complete a mock work task “if you had to do this, what order would you do it in? How would you approach this particular task?”

It’s impossible to know what you’re interview will be like, but it won’t be anything you’re not capable of doing.

9. Fake it ’til you make it

Whenever I had to do something stressful or nerve wracking like a job interview, my Dad would always say: fake it ’til you make it. Fake the confidence. Eventually you’ll feel confident because you’ll know what you’re doing, but in the meantime, fake it.

British employers want you to do confident. Not cocky, but confident in yourself and your abilities. Prove to them why they should hire you over a British person.

So if you don’t feel super confident in the moment… just pretend.

10. Tell us about yourself

Some businesses love using the “so tell us about yourself” prompt, but I know a lot of people stress out about this one: what’s the best way to answer?

I’d prepare something ahead of time if you’re nervous.

Think about your hobbies, interests, previous jobs and life experience. Try to pick things that might be relevant to the position or at least put you in a good light.

DON’T SAY – I love playing video games until 3 am!

INSTEAD SAY – I love to travel and my favourite place recently was a trip to Greece. I love history so it was really neat to experience it first-hand.

DON’T SAY – I’m really introverted and I love staying indoors… (even if it’s true)

INSTEAD SAY – I’m originally from Canada but I just moved to the UK to be with my British partner. It’s been a really rewarding experience already and I’ve been learning so much!

If you can’t think of anything to say, I’d definitely lean into the fact that you’re foreign. You might be the only non-British person they’re interviewing! Tell them why you moved here and how it’s going.

11. How many interviews will there be?

The amount of interviews before the employer reaches a decision really depends on the job.

Typically entry level jobs may only be one interview, but more complex roles will be different.

This could also be a question you ask at the end of the interview: “Will there be further interviews, or what are the next steps?”

12. What happens next?

I’ve had it a few ways:

  1. They never called me back, not even to say I wasn’t chosen.
  2. They called to say I wasn’t picked.
  3. I was called in for another interview.
  4. I was offered the job.

It can be so hard waiting to hear back, but there’s not much you can do after an interview but wait. I always try to ask when I would hear back, so it gives you a general idea: it could be within 24 hours, or they might say they have interviews next week. At least it gives you an idea.

With a little bit of practice and some confidence, you’ll be hired in no time.