I received a fantastic question from one of my viewers, Omid, regarding interviewing in different cultures. He asked:
I have experience with interviewing in my home country, but “the problem is our cultural differences. For example, in our culture looking in people’s eye for more than a second is somehow rude or it may imply that you have a question. Or in a professional conversation including an interview we do not smile too much because it may imply that we don’t consider the meeting a serious one. I lived in this culture for 35 years and it is difficult to change my attitude overnight. I successfully pass telephone interviews but my problem starts in face-to-face interviews with branch managers. I fill that we cannot make a personal relationship during the interview and not surprisingly I do not get an offer. I am working on it and try my best to smile, have an eye-contact all the time, but I love to have your advice.”
This is a fantastic question and one that I think a lot of candidates can relate to!
My first piece of advice is to Practice, Practice, Practice! You can try practicing with a friend or family member; your current boss or mentor; or you could even consider hiring a coach to help you through this obstacle. Although family and friends are easier to approach, you would likely feel more comfortable with them and as such, have an easier time making eye contact or smiling. Asking your boss may be awkward, however, if you have a mentor at work or through an organization with whom you volunteer, this person may be an excellent option. Finally, an interview coach is a great option for many people. Interview coaches are professionals who are skilled at conducting interviews and providing helpful feedback to help you improve.
My second piece of advice is to be up-front and honest. In the interview, you may get the question: “What are your areas for development?” This is the perfect answer. You can speak of your challenge with acclimating to the North American cultural norms of smiling in business meetings and looking people in the eye. Then speak to how you are working to overcome it. Then, ask the interviewer to help you during the rest of the interview in improving. Finally, at the end of the interview, ask the interviewer how you did with this obstacle and ask any advice they may have. Using this tactic will help you gain a rapport with the interviewer, potentially move the interviewer to have more empathy for your situation, and possibly provide you with insights on how to improve in this area.
Thank you, Omid, for your question. I’m sure this is on the mind of many people who also struggle with interviewing across cultures.
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