“Sumak was a dream candidate. He graduated from MIT with a Masters degree in electrical engineering. He had 3 years of experience working for a large defense and commercial electronics firm, and he was willing to relocate. But he insisted on sending me resumes filled with photographs of his family. He even sent me some currency from his home country because I had mentioned that I thought it colorful. He told me and the potential hiring manager all about his family connections back home and how those might be useful to us, and when he learned that I was single, he insisted that I at some point meet his sister! I was actually afraid to recommend him for fear I would be in trouble.” – Senior Recruiter, large defense contractor
“Rapinee was sure she would be offered the position we had open because she had the highest GPA possible from her home university, which was rated the best in her country. She also came from a titled family and her father was a very important businessman with government connections. She was reluctant to interview at all and answered my questions in a superficial manner. She thought she should just be offered the position! I was so angry (although I did not show it) that I immediately decided not to pass her excellent resume on.” – Director of Technical Recruiting, Semiconductor firm
These two vignettes illustrate issues that can arise when recruiting someone from another culture. While most North American recruiters have a basic understanding that people are different, most assume that the person being interviewed has been “westernized” and knows our operating principles.
It is usually a shock when either overt or subtle behaviors begin to show how different our cultures can be. Even recruiters who have lived abroad and have experienced other cultures are often caught off guard by the actions of candidates who seem very much like us and have excellent academic and experiential credentials.
I teach courses in cultural competency and have lived and traveled extensively in other countries for half of my life. I speak other languages and I am married to someone from another culture. Still, it is often surprising how often I react in negative or positive ways to the cultural differences that are increasingly part of our life.
Those of us who are in urban, coastal areas work with people from other cultures on a daily basis and are often deluded into thinking we are cultural experts. Yet, we get surprised as much as anyone else. As organizations expand their recruiting to other countries and as different cultures mix, being culturally competent is critical to recruiters’ success.
North American recruiters tend to operate under a number of assumptions and unspoken rules. Here is an incomplete sampling of some of them:
- Interviews are more or less formal affairs and exchanging personal information or getting “chatty” is frowned upon as unprofessional.
- Degrees are only important for a short time after graduation. By the time someone has been out of school for 3 years or so, the kind of work they are doing and where they are working plays a greater role in deciding who to hire.
- Where someone went to school, where they are from geographically, and who their parents are plays little role in selection.
- Family is not discussed during the recruiting process except in a general and superficial manner.
- The fact that a candidate has been a favorite of the boss or that s/he has received special praise or recognition internally is either frowned upon or of minor importance.
However, each of these may be deemed very important to those from other cultures. Many cultures place great importance on family connections, titles, and schools. Bringing these up in the interview is expected and necessary in order to gain the favor of the recruiter.
Anthropologists divide cultures broadly into those that are collectivist and those that individualistic.
Collectivist cultures are family- and group-oriented. We in North America are brought up in a very individualist culture where accomplishing things independently of others is considered a virtue.
However, in collectivist cultures, such as those in most of Asia, the opposite is true. So showing your commitment to the family and the group is important to them.