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Global Interviews Require Adapting to Local Cultures

by Clif Boutelle, Public Relations  

Job and promotion interviews in foreign countries are not the same as in the United States

Whether domestic or international, interviews are a key component of any hiring or promotion decision, but conducting them is an acquired skill that often eludes many hiring managers, says Scott Erker, senior vice president of Selection Solutions at Development Dimensions International.

Erker and co-presenter Matt Redmond of Fannie Mae will focus on interviewing across cultures during the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s 5th Annual Leading Edge Consortium, entitled “Leading Edge of Selection and Assessment in a Global Setting,” in Denver CO, October 16-17. 
As more American companies become involved in multinational operations, the recruitment and promotion of talent presents challenging opportunities for hiring managers and should not be underestimated.
“There are more expatriate managers assigned to key positions around the world than ever,” noted Erker. In many cases, they are responsible for developing and managing a team comprised of persons from a vastly different culture than their own. Although organizations create overall strategies, they have to be implemented locally. That makes understanding the culture, language, and people particularly important to the expat manager.
Erker noted that when it comes to interviewing, one size does not fit all and having local savvy interviewers can prove invaluable. Training those local interviewers to ask the kinds of questions that will elicit predictive behaviors and suitability for employment while still respecting local cultures and practices is a balancing act that expatriate managers often encounter.
Nevertheless, there are some universal best practices to interviewing. One constant is that past behavior predicts future behavior regardless of where you are in the world, Erker said.
The purpose of the interview is to compile information about the candidate’s abilities to perform certain jobs. The key to soliciting information from multicultural applicants is modifying behavior-based interviews to fit the local culture, Erker points out. In Asia, for example, it is best to give interviewees more time to talk about their team rather than themselves. “Asians are more team oriented, and it is considered offensive to talk about their own accomplishments. It requires specialized training to solicit information that will help determine a person’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.
His company, DDI, provides a wide range of behavioral interviewing tools for organizations around the world.
Erker brings to the consortium a global perspective on interviewing stemming from his work with international organizations in developing personnel hiring strategies. He has managed projects and consultants in 18 countries and works with a number of Fortune 500 companies.
Resumés are important in the application process but have their shortcomings. “They can provide some information about the person, but they are often exaggerated. Steps in the hiring process that ask a job candidate to describe his or her capability need to be complemented by tools that require a demonstration of ability,” said Erker. He added that an interview should include opportunities, such as job simulations, to show job-related competencies.
He advocates structured interviews, where all candidates are asked the same questions and where the information can be categorized to reveal behavioral competencies. Evaluations then can be based on critical job competencies like teamwork, adaptability, and initiative.
Too often in cross-cultural interviews, he noted, applicants are looked at in superficial ways that do not really fit the job description: Are they too heavy, too skinny, too old, too young? Do they make a good first impression? Are they likeable? noted Erker. Also, too much attention is paid to technical skills.
“Our experience shows that people more often fail in the jobs for which they are hired not because of their skills but because they did not fit in with the team or culture,” he added.
Hiring managers need to include more depth and breadth to their interviews rather than skimming over basic questions, he said.
Last year, DDI conducted a survey asking hiring managers their thoughts about interviews and also questioning applicants for their reactions. Nearly 2,000 hiring managers and 3,500 candidates from the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom participated in the study.
Bolstering Erker’s point that managers need to provide more depth and breadth to their interviews was the survey finding that nearly 50% of managers made hiring decisions in 30 minutes or less, relying on their gut instinct about the candidates. Also, 64% of the managers felt uncomfortable with their decisions fearing they may have overlooked key information about the candidate.
“The best interviews take time, and judgments should be withheld until others have added their thoughts. Let the data drive the hiring decision, rather than gut instinct,” Erker said.
The weak economy has resulted in organizations being swamped with applicants, and employers face the difficult task of hiring candidates who are best fit for the job and who are not just looking for any kind of employment.
A poor hiring or promotion decision can have serious consequences, said Erker. “Hiring the wrong person can result in a disengaged employee who performs under expectations and that can have a negative effect on the work team because that person becomes a distraction to co-workers,” he said.
Also, wrong hires lead to retention and turnover problems, which can be costly to an organization. Hiring decisions can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to a company and deserve a great deal of due diligence, Erker said.
Hiring managers should be trained to ask the questions that best reveal a person’s abilities. Also, the interview’s tone needs to be comfortable for applicants, especially those in foreign countries, taking into account local cultures and practices.
But, perhaps most importantly, hiring processes should include assessments and job simulations that have the ability to “see through the motivated candidates veneer” and require the candidate to demonstrate his or her abilities, Erker said. This should be done regardless of where in the world the interview takes place.