Cultural differences in job Interviews
A company´s employees are one of its most important assets. As employee performance is one of the defining factors of a company´s success or failure, finding the right combination of applicable skill and team fit is imperative in positively driving at business forward. This is easier said than done, as the practice of interviewing comes with many variables. In this paper, I will explore these variables on a cultural level, defining and deciphering how various cultural aspects influence the interview process and candidate evaluation.
Culture is an unwritten set of rules and norms within a society. A compilation of different experiences, attitudes, understanding of meanings, symbols, religion, values and many more modelled by history and general traditions as well as social norms and mass media. (Hofstede, Hofstede und Minkow) Therefore, culture is a system of shared knowledge.
Business communication implies sharing information between business partners or colleagues. A company´s employees need to share information to achieve their company goals, they also need to share information of their services or products to potential clients.(Dictionary) Therefore, business communication is used by professionals to achieve their business goals.
Culture types: Japanese culture
The Japanese culture as a high context culture is known for people who tend to rely on their status, history and relationships. It is common that the decision-making process is a collective initiative to benefit the group. Therefore, all information is typically shared with the whole group. This results in each member understanding and knowing information outside their daily work. That is deeply rooted in their structure and hierarchy and the reason why the communication between members of high-context cultures is very succinct. Those in charge are responsible for all actions of their subordinates.(Khare) It is typical for the society to avoid conflicts as well as to hide and repress feelings rather than to express them and risk offending someone. Well-grown personal and professional relationships are extremely important in high-context cultures, but particularly in the Japanese culture, as relationship must be on a certain level to do conduct business.
Job interviewing in the Japanese culture
Japanese job interviews are often multi-staged as well as group-oriented. It is typical for the interviewer to asks several personal questions during the interview. These questions can range from inquiries about age, to family status, how long does the interviewee plan to stay, what are his future goals and personal career ambitions, etc. The interviewee´s answers should be simple and clear without any glorification. During the interview it is possible that the interviewer repeats the same question several times to test the interviewees consistency and gasp of detail. Furthermore, an interruption of the interviewer or a question about the length of a normal work day could be an indicator for something in the interviewee´s personality that could be considered counter-productive to business. Moreover, if the interviewee shows impatience with personal questions, that might be also a negative point for the interviewer. Interviewers in Japan typically go through the interviewee´s curriculum vitae point-by-point. It is important that the interviewee is well prepared in their knowledge of company culture, its employees, and company history. An interviewee must listen well during the interview, and Japanese interviewers consider impressionability and exchange of ideas an important attribute in potential candidates. (Leri)
Culture of the USA
The U.S. culture is a low-context culture and drastically influences their business communication. Decision-makers may be responsible for the overall result of their team or business unit, but they may not be responsible for each individual action of their sub-ordinates. They highly value independence and individuality. Therefore, business teams or units encourage and empower each individual member to work pro-actively and independently. This results in a higher level of information control, particularly the content and flow of the information. This means an employee only receives information relative to their own work. It is typical that Americans are more informal, calling everyone from the janitor, to their superiors, to the CEO by their first names. Business relationships are more focused on problem solving and the task at hand on the level of faith between the partners. Still, many deals and agreements are initially sealed with a handshake rather than with a complex contract. There is a level of trust that is felt to be necessary within business relations. Insisting on a complex written contract that covers all potential issues and liabilities before you start working together could easily be viewed as awkward and unprofessional.
Job interview in the culture of the USA
A job interview in the United States is all about selling oneself. The interviewee should be able to sell the benefits and skills he will contribute to the company. In general, the tone of the interview is mostly optimistic, positive and enthusiastic. Therefore, the interviewee should avoid making negative comments about their own abilities, experience or his background. It is not well received to show humility or hesitancy. The interview itself may be more future-oriented. It is common for the interviewer to ask questions about career goals and plans. A typical question is where the interviewee sees himself in five years. Most interviewers appreciate if the interviewee asks about the direction and vision of the company as the expectation is to align with and support those goals. Moreover, it is good if the interviewee tells the interviewer he is a “team player” and thrives in a team-oriented atmosphere. Taking credit for solving problems or developing new initiatives or ideas is highly valued. The interviewee should quantify his own professional results, for example: How much money did he made or what volume of sales he archived or how many clients he managed in his former company. It is not usual for an interviewer in the USA to review the interviewees curriculum vitae point-by-point. It is more likely that the interviewer asks questions out of the rank order to check if the interviewee is flexible and how quickly he responds. Interviewers are often looking for people who “think out of the box”. The interviewers are expecting quick and honest responses. The interviewee should avoid answers with too many details or too much background information. If an interviewer is interested about a certain topic, he will ask more about it. Indicators for answers that may be too long or contain too much detail are, for example: The interviewer looks very often on his watch or interrupts the interviewee during an answer. Therefore, efficiency and time management are highly valued in the United States.(Leri) It is common practice for the interviewee to send a “thank you note” to the interview partners a few days after the interview.
German culture is a low-context culture and well known for punctuality, privacy, a high priority on structure and correctness. Hard work and getting things done as effectively as possible are attributes which are very common for Germans. Within companies, information is well structured through meetings, conferences, documentations and email lists. Team leaders are responsible for managing and allocating resources, such as time, materials and information, in a way that allows each member of the team fulfill their tasks in an efficient way with the best outcome. Each team member is responsible for using the given resources in an efficient manner to make his contribution to the team’s overall success. The style of communication is direct, short, and on point. In the German culture, it is normal to be formal when approaching their colleagues. Using a colleague´s last name and title, e.g. “Dr. Schulz”, is very common. Germans differentiate personal and professional relations. Therefore, it is not necessary to have a personal relationship to work together. Especially in a business context Germans are not happy with surprising or unexpected situations. Taking away the opportunity to be prepared makes them feel uneasy.
Job interviews in the German culture
In Germany, job interviews are often structured in multiple rounds with both managers of different levels and individual team members. German interviewers consider an interviewee competent if their career is a result of careful planning. Therefore, having many jobs in a short period of time is not positively viewed. But it is an appropriate reason to leave a job if it was not challenging for the interviewee or he reached the promotion (positional growth) or financial limit. It is also an acceptable reason to change jobs when it is impossible to use one´s developed skill set and knowledge. For a German interviewer, it is important to receive a logical answer from the interviewee when it comes to change of jobs. The curriculum vitae is often reviewed point-by-point. It is common that the interviewer asks interviewees for the important achievements in their last position. Therefore, it is necessary that the interviewee tries to answer focusing on his personal achievements and contribution to the former company rather than criticizing the former company or management.(Leri) It is typical to ask personal questions about special interests or hobbies to get an understanding of the private person and assess his fit within the team. Interviewers often like attributes of patience, consistency, and persistence, which they focus on verifying during the interview process.(Leri)
Similarities and differences between the mentioned interviews
From a cultural perspective, Germans and Americans are closer together than Germans to Japanese, but there are similarities and differences on both sides. Germans are well known for a direct communication with each other, where Americans would feel offended by such directness in similar situations. This is a direct contrast from Japanese culture, as in Japan, they would never communicate in such direct manner. Japanese and Germans are more formal by calling their business colleagues by their last name, whereas Americans call colleagues by their first name. In Germany, people strive to be much more productive in shorter amount of time at work and tend to be unavailable in their spare time. In America and Japan people work longer hours and are also tend to be available for work-related activities in their spare time. In all three cultures, teamwork is approached differently. In Japan, the team makes decisions by consensus, and they work termless on the task at hand. In Germany, there is a well-prepared structure determining how tasks are shared across the team to solve it effectively. In the USA, people work as a team, but the members work individually and independently from one another. Therefore, in Germany and the USA, information is only provided and shared as much as is necessary to complete the task. In Japan employees are flooded by information in the open-plan office. To do business in Japan there is a well-grown level of trust in the personal and business relation between two companies required. In Germany no trust coming from a grown relationship is needed for doing business with other companies as they focus on what and how the company offers their goods and service at which price and conditions only. In the US, it is common to have a small level of relationship established too but not to the same extent as in Japan. Usually a conference call at the beginning of the negotiations to get to know each other is enough.