Skilled immigrants come from many different cultures and backgrounds. Some are more and less similar to Canadian cultural norms. Below are some common cultural behaviours that can lead to misunderstandings and how to address them.
- Silence is not a sign of disrespect or lack of knowledge. Many immigrants speak English or French fluently but it may not be their first language. Silence may simply indicate they need a moment to process the question and formulate an answer in English. Interviewers must understand that when a candidate hears a question, he likely translates it into his own language, and then works to formulate a response in his second language. Should a moment of silence take place, allow the interviewee adequate time to formulate a response.
- Eye contact may be minimal. Some candidates may avoid eye contact with figures of authority as it is considered disrespectful in their culture. Other examples include differences in perception and understanding of time and personal space.
- Some immigrant candidates are modest. They can be humble about their accomplishments and are often uncomfortable talking about themselves. Rather than asking specifically for strengths or accomplishments, it may be best to ask candidates how they overcame obstacles or achieved results in previous jobs.
Below are some suggestions to ensure candidates’ talent is recognized during interviews:
- Interviewers should be trained in cross cultural communication skills. A well-trained interviewer is culturally competent and sensitive to a candidate’s background.
- Involve more than one interviewer in the process. A small panel of interviewers is preferable to a single interviewer because different people will be capable of assessing a candidate’s various qualities and competencies.
- Hiring and Retaining Skilled Immigrants – A Cultural Competence Toolkit: This toolkit, developed by BC HRMA, provides tips and information concerning culturally competent sourcing, hiring and retention practices. The toolkit has specific tools for screening, interviewing, testing and integrating skilled immigrants.
- Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks: The third section of the “Work Ready” resource on this website has some useful tips for human resources practitioners and hiring managers, including how to prepare for and interview skilled immigrants. This list of common interview questions, with tips on how to rephrase them, as well as the section on cross-cultural interviewing are especially helpful.