Recruiting across cultures    

One size does not fit all

Recruiting prospective employees is a different experience from one culture to another. A candidate from the USA may be confident and self-assured, while a person from Japan may appear aloof, or hesitant. This does not make either more suitable for a job. What matters most is being able see beyond their – and your own – cultural conditioning to assess the real person.

Recruiting across Asian cultures

In Asian countries, hierarchy is important and candidates are likely to defer to the seniority of the interviewer, or the most senior member of an interview panel. Self-promotion is generally frowned upon and interviewees may appear unusually modest or reticent, and may take time to formulate answers to your questions. Job openings often come via mutual contacts and the contact is expected to provide you, the employer, with some context about the person they have recommended.

In Japan especially, prospective employers judge candidates in many different ways: their likelihood of being a team player; their attire and manners; their willingness to put the company before themselves; and their track record – longevity with one employer is considered a positive. It is unlikely that a candidate will use humor, or interrupt an interviewer, and they should come thoroughly prepared, not just in their own specialism but in your company culture, background and the individuals at the top.

Recruiting across Europe

Within the EU, most member states have strict anti-discrimination laws and interviewers are not allowed to ask about a candidate’s marital status, plans to have a family, sexual orientation, religion or health. The same applies in the USA, where there are strict rules about appropriate questions that can be asked at interviews. Asking a woman if she plans to have children, for example, is not permitted; try this and you could end up with a discrimination case. Employers may, however, ask more roundabout questions like ‘Are you able and willing to work weekends?’ and ‘Are you available to travel at short notice?’.

In Europe, there are differences in interviewing technique from country to country, as one might expect. German companies (with the exception of marketing and advertising roles, or media) tend to prefer clinical, technical answers to questions and a solid resume, free of hyperbole, that shows a logical career progression and includes a photograph. In countries with a more egalitarian culture, like those in Scandinavia, and The Netherlands, you could expect candidates to talk honestly about their weaknesses as well as their strengths; ask an Asian candidate to do this, though, and they would be very uncomfortable, as discussing personal weakness would cause the individual to lose face. In Italy, although discrimination laws exist, a candidate’s ‘bella figura’ – a mixture of their confidence, charisma, demeanor and appearance – are important.

Recruiting across Latin America

In Latin America, good candidates will try to demonstrate warmth, humanity and social connections; people here use the past (family ties, education and so on) to establish context with another individual so beware of a candidate who does not like to talk about their background.

Recruiting across America

Interviews in the USA are an opportunity for the candidate to sell themselves, so expect a positive, upbeat discussion. Candidates will most likely be assertive and prepared to take credit for their achievements; they may come armed with statistics about how they grew their last department, or successfully cut costs, and so on. Modesty and self-deprecating statements are unlikely to feature. While a slick presentation can sound very impressive, try to read between the lines and follow up on your fact checking.

Recruiting across Arab and Islamic cultures

Finally, in Arab and Islamic cultures like the United Arab Emirates, interviewers need to observe local etiquette. It is polite to offer a candidate refreshments, and normal to indulge in a little small talk before the hard questioning. A male interviewer should wait for a female candidate to extend her hand for a handshake. Candidates may have secured the interview via nepotism, which is considered a positive, but you may need to work harder to establish whether they are capable of doing the job.


Boost your ability to work effectively across cultures with our online intercultural training tool. Organizations, individuals and trainers across the world use Country Navigator to:

  • Help their employees work better with their international counterparts
  • Improve relationships with overseas customers and suppliers
  • Enable multicultural and virtual teams
  • On-board expatriates for global assignments

Are you ready to improve your global business success? Click here to get started.

About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *