Cross-cultural Interviewing

Human diversity concept

Imagine that you have just received a positive response to your application for your dream job abroad and are invited for an interview. Your goal of course is to make a good impression and while you realize that your interview will take place in a cross-cultural surrounding, you may ask yourself one or more of the following questions:
• “How do I generally prepare for an interview and how does this one differ?”
• “How do I prepare for an intercultural interview in particular?”
• “Which cultures will be represented at the interview?”
• “How are they different or similar to my own?”
• “To what extent should I pay particular attention to the other cultures?”

As a potential job candidate being nervous during an interview is normal and a feeling, which is probably the same across all cultures. You can find some general advice on how to beat your interview nerves in our blog post called “10 tips to ace interviews” from a couple of weeks ago.

In this blog post, we’d like to share some tips with you which can help you in exactly these cross-cultural situations you could find yourself in.

With the world getting more and more culturally interwoven, cross-cultural awareness is an essential skill, regardless of whether you are working in a cross-cultural team in your home country, working overseas or dealing with a global customer. It is important that you learn about the culture of the country you are doing business with in order to avoid cultural mistakes and moreover to show respect.

There is no need for you to beat yourself up and try to learn everything about every culture there is. You cannot know everything about other cultures and your interviewer will know that. But you can come prepared for the interview, be open minded and interested in the culture of your counterpart. Your respectful attitude will for sure be recognized and your curiosity appreciated.

You can try to learn a bit about your interviewer’s cultural background but don’t exaggerate. Take a reasonable and targeted approach. Figure out which culture you will be confronted with and start getting to know it step by step.

The best way to get started is by considering the following questions and topics that matter when it comes to cultural differences:
• What values does this culture embrace? How do those values compare with those of your own culture?
• How do people make decisions, interact in relationships and display emotions?
• How does this culture treat time, schedules and punctuality?
• What are the social rules and boundaries regarding gender?
• How does this culture display and respect power? Which authority figures are revered?
• How do individuals relate to their employers?
• How do people in this culture communicate? How direct are they in what they say and mean?

Further topics to consider are:

People from different cultures abstain from eating and drinking certain foods due to religious and cultural reasons. Also manners and expectations can differ at the table.

Body Language and Gestures
In every culture certain gestures are considered to be mean or even totally taboo. A good rule of thumb is to avoid gestures until you are sure that they are suitable. Watch how locals use body language and follow their lead.

Clothing and Color
Some cultures pay careful attention to clothing and color. Certain colors are reserved for a specific purpose; this also applies to some colors of clothing that can be considered offensive in certain countries when used inappropriately.

Personal Space
Personal space is the distance that you keep between yourself and another person. It varies widely between cultures. Therefore, it is very important to understand the personal space requirements of a different culture in order for you not to be perceived as rude (by standing too far away) or pushy (by standing too close). Personal space also includes touching – find out how people greet each other, whether it is with e.g. a handshake, kisses, a hug or a simple hand gesture without touching the other person.

In summary, we recommend you to research the key differences that exist between the culture of your counterpart’s culture and your own, memorize them, be open-minded and show general interest in the cultural differences. Your interviewer will notice your efforts and appreciate that you took the time to learn about his/her culture.

To read even more about this topic, check out The Oxford Handbook of Oral History and the Seven Dimensions of Culture. (© 2015 Oxfor University Press, veröffentlicht im September 2012 and © 2015 provenmodels b.v.)

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