Tips for Job Interviewing across Cultures

The United States. Germany. France. The United Kingdom. Kenya. United Arab Emirates. South Africa. China. India. Australia. Russia. Mexico. Norway. Spain. Turkey. Japan. Philippines. Brazil. These countries and many more far-off places may be a workplace destination for someone on the wing — perhaps you.

A flow of workers has always moved around the globe particularly in sectors such as banking, mining, nursing and, more recently, IT. Today’s employment practices make international exchange of talent even more vigorous — speeded up with internet job searches and technology-rich smartphones.

To jump-start your understanding of cross-cultural interviewing norms, here are generalised observations about conditions you may encounter in far-off interviews. The following verbal snapshots are a starting point for your further research aimed at understanding specific mores in individual nations, regions of the country and individual companies:

  • Important protocol variations: Find out in advance how much interviewing formality to generally expect in a particular nation before moving on to pinpoint research about the region and the company. The tone of the interview may be more or less formal than you’d expect at home.

    Joking in an interview is risky enough in your own country. In another land, you may seriously offend if the interviewer interprets your humour as a sign that you won’t take the work seriously or that you’re a superficial clown.

  • Personal questions and privacy: In many countries, laws discourage privacy-penetrating questioning that may lead to discrimination. However, employers in a number of other nations have no qualms or legal restrictions about asking personal questions of candidates. Understand in advance that you may be expected to answer questions about your age, health or marital status.

  • Critical language skills: Language fluency is a main component of cross-cultural adaptability for professional employees. An inability to speak the language or understand accents is going to prove an almost insurmountable obstacle to being hired.

    English is the lingua franca of international commerce and, in some countries, you may be able to stick with it to be hired. In most cases, though, you’ll get greater approval by speaking the local language, bad grammar and mispronounced words notwithstanding.

  • Self-promotion Western style: People in most Westernised countries are taught to ‘sell and not tell’ when interviewing for employment, to emphasise accomplishments and minimise shortcomings. But in some cultures, being too assertive in tooting your own horn is perceived as being nervy, brash and brazen.

    In those cultures that prefer an understated performance, employers may want you to volunteer only the skeleton facts of your education and work history, such as previous schools, previous employers, years of employment, job titles and responsibilities.

  • Appropriate dress and grooming: Although local conventions in dress and appearance continue to affect how candidates dress for interviews in a number of countries, most professionals now dress in suits or other business wear. The default mode is conservative.

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