A Changing Face of Global Interviewing
Old-style job interviewing for foreign nationals is getting an update, too. Interviewing styles are no longer as tightly bound to the customs of individual and disparate nations as they were only 20 years ago.
Back then, job interviewing customs between cultures could be strikingly dissimilar. Day and night! Now interviewing mannerisms are becoming more alike across the globe. Why? In a word, modernization.
Western-style employment practices, sparked especially by American-based multinationals, are narrowing variations in how candidates are interviewed and evaluated in many countries. Employers everywhere want all job seekers to have technical knowledge in their fields, and they look for cross-cultural adaptability.
The interviewing strategies I present throughout this book are widely applicable for mobile professionals in the global workforce. So says Jim Lemke, this book’s technical reviewer and a hiring executive with a recent decade of international experience.
Lemke explains, “Multinational corporations are looking to expand in developing countries and need bright young professionals with Western training who have the required work qualifications and who know how to present themselves.”
Ron Krannich agrees that interviewing conventions are on the move. President of Impact Publications (www.impactpublications.com), an international publisher of career and travel books. Dr. Krannich observes that, with the exception of small and medium-size companies, especially companies that don’t operate in the world’s major cities, today’s employeeselection interviews are looking more alike than unalike.
Dr. Krannich says, “The world’s employers increasingly expect to see the ‘sales’ model that Americans use in job interviewing. I use the term to mean confidently emphasizing positive accomplishments rather than making neutral or negative statements.
“But here’s an important caveat: Be careful not to come across as overly aggressive in nations your research shows are traditionally more accustomed to low-key interviewing styles.”
Looking at Remaining Cultural Norms
Although poles-apart interviewing styles are in decline, that trend doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared entirely. They haven’t.
Handshakes are an example. In the United States, a healthy grip as you pump hands is considered a friendly and straightforward gesture for women as well as men. But in Muslim countries, including Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, unmarried men and women do not touch. This cultural issue presents a dilemma for a Saudi woman candidate being interviewed by a male in America.
Eye contact is another point of difference between cultures. When interviewing in the United States, candidates are expected to make a lot of eye contact, showing honesty and sincerity. Failing to look your interviewer in the eye can be perceived as a sign that you’re evasive or you’re lying. In Latin America, too much eye contact may suggest a lack of respect or a challenge to authority.
If you’re a professional worker who hopes to add far-off places to your resume, it’s never too early to begin planning your moves. You’ve got plenty to plan in your efforts to convince a foreign interviewer that you “get” the host country’s culture and that you fit right in.
Interviewing across Cultures
To jump-start your understanding of cross-cultural interviewing norms, here are generalized 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 humor as a sign that you won’t take the work seriously or that you’re a superficial clown.
- Personal questions and privacy: In the United States, laws discourage privacy-penetrating questioning that may lead to discrimination. However, employers in a number of 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 crosscultural 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 American style: Americans are taught to “sell and not tell” when interviewing for employment, to emphasize accomplishments and minimize 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 impact 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.
Tracking Down Country Research
Develop a job search plan for each country of interest. The plan needs to include foundation research for most interviews. Add to that base and customize it with information about cultural subtleties for each target country, region of the country, and potential employer of interest. Because hiring customs in the world’s nations are still evolving, seek the latest data by researching online and by networking your way to people in each target country.
The following websites provide information for your cross-cultural job search:
- Going Global (www.goinglobal.com): Visit this site to find countryspecific annually updated interviewing advice for 30 countries. A sample content page for each country is free; you can download the complete guide for a country for a modest fee. You may be able to read everything free at a library or college career center.
- Job-hunt.org (www.job-hunt.org/international.shtml): Discover links to resources for international job postings where you can dig up country-specific interviewing intelligence.
- Monster.com (www.monster.com/geo/siteselection): Choose from a number of job search engines aimed at international jobs.
- The Riley Guide (www.rileyguide.com/internat.html): You can learn a lot from this link to international job resources, including how to execute an international job search.
- Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com): Check out this site for articles and books about working, studying, traveling, living, and volunteering in countries other than your own.
International social networking
Tapping into personal and professional online networks to discover the rules of the road in foreign interview rooms is easy — a bit time-consuming, but easy. Here are a few suggestions about tracking interviewing conventions the digital way. If you were a marketing professional who wanted to work in Denmark, for example, you’d take the following steps.
- Start with contacts you already have.
Your contacts know people you don’t know, and their contacts know people they don’t know, and so on. Send a brief e-mail message to each contact, stating your desire to prepare for a job interview in Denmark. Say that you’d appreciate any of the following kinds of assistance from the recipient:
- To help you directly or to forward your message to a personal contact who can help you in your quest for knowledge about the interviewing protocols and customs common in Denmark.
- To help you arrange a more substantial informational interview with a resident of Denmark who, like you, is a professional or businessperson. In an online informational interview, whether by e-mail or through Skype (with a video cam), ask a series of questions that you write out before the interview. Remember, you’re exploring only typical job interviewing in Denmark at this informational interview — you’re not investigating every aspect of the job or employment there. You can, of course, arrange for a follow-up interview if your Denmark contact is agreeable.
- Check out professional member organizations in the field of work you seek.
Post your request for current information about interviewing protocols in Denmark for your profession on a forum, chat room, or blog. You probably have to be a member of the organization to access the organization’s site.
- Try popular business-oriented social network tools.
Conduct a keyword search on a site such as LinkedIn (www.linkedin. com), Facebook (www.facebook.com), or Twitter (www.twitter.com). Use a term that’s relevant to your objective — say, “Denmark corporate marketing” or “Denmark human resources” or “Denmark manager” — to see whether you can connect with social media users who may be able to provide the latest interviewing information.
Preparing for the Global Job Interview
Whether your interview takes place in a cosmopolitan city, a little-known
town on the slopes of a mountain, or your home bedroom on a smartphone,
the secret to your global search success is preparation and practice. In addition
to getting the country-specific environment right, you have to sell yourself
as an ideal candidate for the position you seek.