A Checklist for Success in International Recruitment

This post is part two in a participatory project by Global Health Corps (GHC) alumni aimed at contributing to the leveling of the international recruitment playing field. (Check out part one here.) GHC provides a 13-month stipend based fellowship and leadership development training for young professionals ages 30 under, through placement in roles with organizations promoting health equity in East and Southern Africa

Virginia Roncaglione


Photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters

If you’re applying for a job with an international organization or company, it can be tough to know how to best position yourself as a competitive applicant, especially for candidates who have not had the opportunity to live or study abroad. Read on for an overview of some of the steps we’ve found helpful to ensure that you submit the best possible application, minimizing the occurrence of avoidable human errors. Note that this checklist should by no means be a substitute for your own research on how to succeed in an application process. There is a lot of great material online which is worth exploring, but this tool can provide you with a framework to conduct your research.

Overall (and most important) consideration

Application processes are intensive, and often require much effort and dedicated time. This is why, as you set out on each stage of the application process from the application writing to interviewing, you should ALWAYS develop an action plan on how you will execute the job. Decide on a timeline, giving yourself plenty of space for the completion of each task. Set personal deadlines and strive as much as possible to meet them. Anticipate roadblocks and make mitigation plans.

Writing the personal statement

  • Provide concrete examples of how you meet the requirements of the job. Show that you have experience in the key functions of the position you are applying for by describing with some level of detail past projects where you applied them. We suggest using the S.T.A.R. method: a framework for describing experiences and skills providing information on the Situation, Task, Action, and Results for the example used. Using this method is always seen by recruiters as a sign of a strong applicant, and some international organizations require their applicants to use it.
  • Check that your content is appropriate. Ask someone with a different cultural background than yours to review the content of your application and share feedback. If this is not possible, keep in mind that the following topics are sensitive across the planet, and it would be even more important for you to get feedback if you decide to discuss them: religion, politics, sexual orientation.
  • Check your grammar and syntax. Asking a friend who is a native English speaker to check the final draft of your application (both resume and personal statements) is often the best strategy for this. A good alternative is to use free software such as the free version of Grammarly, or the embedded spell and syntax checking systems of Microsoft Word and Google Docs.
  • Monitor the word count. The ability to abide by the application requirements is seen as a sign of how well you will follow instructions in the position you are applying for. Ensure that your word count is within the limit (if one is specified) and that your cover letter stays within the limits of a page (yes, you can use the narrow margins). On the flip side, ensure you are taking advantage of the space you are given to articulate your value.
  • Check that you copied and pasted everything. If you are developing your content in a text editor (as we recommended, to help with grammar and syntax), ensure that you copy and paste all of your text into the application portal. When copying and pasting, it is especially easy to forget behind the punctuation at the end of a sentence, but its absence may be seen as a sign of lack of attention to details.
  • Print out your application. Where possible print the draft application and review the printout to check that you have pasted all the material correctly. Reading a printed document also helps you checking on completeness and accuracy of your essays.

Getting good references

  • Give your references plenty of advanced notice. Since writing a quality reference takes some time, tell your references about your application as soon as you decide to go for it, don’t wait to finish it. One month is a great advanced time, and two weeks is the minimum you should give them. If you are unable to provide advanced notice, acknowledge the tight turnaround and offer whatever assistance they may need to ensure that the submission is timely.
  • Discuss what you would like your references to highlight. Some referees appreciate you giving them a sense of what aspects of your experience and/or character you would them to highlight. Ask the referees if this information may be helpful to them. This will likely speed up their submission and remove some of the burdens of the task.
  • Remind your references that the deadline is approaching. Don’t assume that your referees will remember your application details. If you have asked them to submit the letter for you with adequate preparation time and a week or two before the deadline they have not submitted the documentation yet, send them a short message to check-in on the status of the application and to offer your assistance.
  • Thank your references for their help. After the referees submit their letter, send them a thank you note. This is especially important if you asked for a quick turnaround, and if they write references for you regularly.

Looking out for an assignment

  • Prepare for a potential assignment. Many application processes will require you to undertake an assignment to show your technical skills. Some employers will send you the assignment material and give you a deadline to submit the completed work. Others will ask you to do a timed test after the interview. Either way, don’t be blindsided by this, and make sure you submit everything on time — following the same advice provided on application writing above.

Preparing for the interview


  • Ensure that you have your time right. When interviewing with people who live in a different time zone, double-check that you have the right time. You can use a time and date calculator, and keep an eye on daylight savings changes in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Test that the equipment that you will need for the interview works. If you are using the internet, find an interviewing place where you have a reliable connection. Likewise, if you are interviewing over the phone, find a place where you are fairly sure to have reception. If this is not possible, as it is often the case, tell your interviewer at the beginning of your conversation, and make a contingency plan with them should the line/connection become unavailable.
  • Arrive at least ten minutes in advance. Being early sends a positive message, and if there is any challenge with the equipment it allows you to mitigate it or send a timely message to your interviewer that you are experiencing such issues.


  • Research the most likely questions. On the basis of the organization and the job description, understand the core requirements for the position in terms of 1) Technical skills; 2) Behavioral competencies; 3) Personal values and motivations (in alignment with the organization’s mission).
  • Revise and study your subject. If the job description includes technical skills that you already have and use every day but don’t talk about it verbally a lot, a quick brush-up on how to present them is always useful. If the position involves concepts that you are less familiar with (i.e. you have done M&E for health programs throughout your career and this position involves M&E of educational programs), do take some time to explore the key issues of the new field. Studying this beforehand helps you develop the context of how the skills you already have are applicable and transferable to the new role. If needed, this also helps to develop/refine technical language that is appropriate to the field at hand.
  • Understand with whom you will be interviewing. If given the names of your interviewers, look them up online to understand their role within the organization as well as their backgrounds. This information is helpful both to tailor your answer to align with their lens or role within the organization and to connect with them more easily.
  • Prepare concrete examples of times when you demonstrated the competencies that the job will require. Prepare an answer for each of the most likely questions described above, as well as a couple of examples for each requirement listed in the job description — using the S.T.A.R. method, when appropriate. Write each example down and create an archive that you can re-use any time you have an interview, allowing you to avoid creating new examples every time.
  • Prepare a couple of questions for the interviewer(s). Nearly every interview concludes with the interviewer opening the floor for you to ask questions or clarify anything you might have said in the course of the interview. Prepare a couple of appropriate, thoughtful questions that go beyond information you can simply learn on the organization or company’s website.

Listening and speaking skills

  • Develop active listening skills. It’s very important to listen carefully. Properly paying attention to the questions and answering each pertinently will be judged as a sign of how well you understand and follow directions as an employee.

Active listening can be developed through the following:

  • Take a short pause prior to responding. This will enable you to fully take in the question being asked and increase your chances of providing a relevant response. In order to do so without leaving an awkward silence, you may say something like: “That’s a great question, can I take a minute to think about it?”
  • Give the interviewer what they are looking for. If tasked to give one example, give exactly that — nothing more and nothing less. For example, when tasked to give two of your strengths, don’t be tempted to add in your weaknesses or vice versa.
  • Rehearse potential answers while timing yourself. Ensure that answers are less than four minutes long at the very maximum. You can use a chronometer or a timer. To prepare for video conference or live interviews, consider video recording yourself or rehearsing in front of a mirror to check your expression and delivery.
  • Conduct a mock interview. This provides you with an opportunity to practice for an interview with a career mentor who is able to provide feedback on your performance during the mock interview. This helps improve your interviewing skills so you’ll be well-equipped to handle an actual interview and make a positive first impression.

After the interview

  • Send a thank you note to your interviewers. Don’t forget to send a thank you note to your interviewers within 24 hours from your meeting. This is an opportunity to further highlight your interest in the position and the key strengths you bring to it. It is also a venue for you to rectify anything that you realized you would have liked to say differently or to add something that you forgot. If you don’t have your interviewer’s contact information, send the note to whomever you corresponded with to arrange the interview and ask them to relay the message.
  • Follow up asking for updates. Provided that the organization you are applying for does not have an explicitly stated “no applications follow-up policy”, after a week or two from the interview you have not heard back from the organization, consider sending a follow-up note to the person you have been exchanging with about your candidacy. You can briefly restate your interest in the position, and ask for updates on the recruitment process.

Virginia Roncaglione was a 2013–2014 Global Health Corps fellow in the U.S.

Global Health Corps (GHC) is a leadership development organization building the next generation of health equity leaders around the world. All GHC fellows, partners, and supporters are united in a common belief: health is a human right. There is a role for everyone in the movement for health equity. To learn more, visit our website and connect with us on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook.