Tips for Effective Cross-Cultural Interviewing

In this article Marianne Kayed provides advice on how to get the most out of a newcomer candidate during the interview process . (This article was originally published in the Ottawa Business Journal.)

By Marianne Kayed

Looking to hire? How do you avoid missing out on great talent?

Let’s look at this scenario… the pressure in the room is palpable – both parties are exchanging information and assessing their ‘fit’ for an employer-employee relationship.  The recruiter– we will call her Barbara , says, “Tell me about yourself.”

Across the table, Samir, an expert civil engineer and a newcomer to Canada begins his response with “Sure… well… I am the youngest of six children, married and have two young children.  I was raised in the outskirts of Tehran…”

After learning the details of Samir’s ancestry and family life, a discouraged Barbara glances down at the interview guide in front of her.  She has written nothing on her paper.  The interview concludes shortly thereafter, and Samir doesn’t receive a call back.

Everyone involved in a job interview strives to get it perfect. As an employer you obviously want to hire the right person for the job. Current demographic trends indicate that immigration is increasingly accounting for net growth in the Canadian labour force. This presents opportunities for employers but at the same requires that employers review their recruitment processes and tools in other that they do not miss out on great talent.

As an employer/recruiter it is important to recognize that:

  • Some newcomer job-seekers have never been in a job interview before.

A job interview can be daunting for even the most experienced job seeker, but for many new immigrants, responding to interview questions is a brand new skill that has to be learned.

  •  Interviewing may be a language minefield for the interviewee.

Just think of the difficulties you might have trying to understand questions and ’sell’ yourself quickly in such a stressful environment using a language that is not your mother tongue.

  • Culture can have a strong influence on the way someone responds to an interview question.

Some of the information that interviewees are typically asked to provide may be considered inappropriate in certain cultures. For example, identifying personality traits or promoting oneself may be seen as impolite, even as bragging. Likewise, identifying a weakness could be seen as losing face.

Here are a few tips and resources that you can use:

  • Review your interview guides for unintended bias
  • Rephrasing interview questions can help unearth the potential of candidates
  • At the beginning of the interview, take time to provide thorough information about the scope of the interview
  • Avoid using jargon or acronyms
  • Note that nonverbal signals vary across cultures. For example, nodding in some cultures, signals disagreement (Greece, Iran, Turkey)
  • Eye contact patterns vary by culture and should not be used to assess truthfulness
  • The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks has practical employer resources covering a wide range of topics including occupational language analyses (OLAs), cross-cultural interviewing, and more
  • Hire Immigrants Ottawa delivers employer-oriented Cross-Cultural Competency training sessions for employers, managers and human resources staff

So let’s consider an alternate ending to Samir’s interview…

After realizing that Samir hails from a culture that is collectivist, where family lineage, status, and composition weigh heavily in a candidate’s character assessment, Barbara revisits her interview questions and recalibrates… “How did you become interested in engineering?”

Samir responds with excitement, sharing how in his first year of university, he handily won a bridge design contest that he had entered on a whim, “My design was selected in first place, ahead of 300 other entries.  I have loved my work ever since.” Barbara smiles, struck by his passion, and notes the impressive accomplishment on the sheet in front of her and continues with the interview.

I invite you to visit and explore a world of employment-based resources that will help you to avoid missing out on great talent.

Marianne Kayed is a Senior Manager at the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks in Ottawa. She has experience in integration, professional regulation and second language acquisition of immigrants and helping build the supports to enable successful transitions.

Hire Immigrants Ottawa works with local employers to help them effectively hire and integrate skilled immigrants into their workplaces.