Are You A Culturally Competent Interviewer?

When you interview a potential candidate for a job you may think there is not much more to it than assessing qualifications, how the candidate presents him/herself and (whether he/she would be a good fit. Well, it’s not that simple.  Did you know that there are cultural implications that can influence the answers to your questions?   Culture is the set of shared attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.  It is the behavioral interpretation of how a group lives out its values in order to survive and thrive.  This is different for everyone.

Cultural competence is the capability to shift cultural perspective and adapt behavior to cultural commonalities and differences.  In order to effectively and fairly assess a potential candidate, it is important that you are a culturally competent interviewer.

Develop cultural self-awareness.  Self-awareness is the first step to becoming more culturally competent.   Once you are more self-aware, you can begin to understand how we are different from others. What institutions, organizations and identity groups have influenced your attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, goals and practices?  How have these cultural influences created your worldview affecting: how you see the world, how you form opinions and how you judge others?

Understand the experiences of people from different cultural communities. Make a conscious effort to learn more about people from different cultural communities. Understand what influences their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that may be different from yours.  Stimulate your curiosity about others with whom you have had little interaction, especially those you tend to stereotype. Based upon one’s country of origin or racial/ethnic group, their cultural preferences may be different.  For example, Asian, Latino and African American cultures tend to be more group oriented and Euro Americans tend to think more from an independent or “I” orientation.  This may play out in an interview situation when the interviewer asks the potential candidate to talk about their achievements. Group oriented cultures may tend to speak to team accomplishments. If the interviewer is from an “I” oriented culture, he/she may be looking for individual accomplishments. Also, in some cultures it may be disrespectful to make direct eye contact when communicating with a superior, whereas in the US not looking someone in the eye is viewed as lack of confidence or uncertainty.

Be aware of your unconscious biases.  We all have unconscious biases and those preferences and biases impact most, if not all, of the decisions we make, including those regarding people.  Biases can come out during the selection process prior to the interview and during the interview itself.  For example, are there certain regions of the country or colleges/universities that you always seek your potential candidates?  Do your recruits always tend to have the same “look”?  Studies have been conducted revealing the following biases that come into play during the interview process:
  • Names: According to a study conducted by MIT, people with “black sounding” names, are 50% less likely to be called for an interview.
  • Type of Drink: Interview subjects were rated higher when the interviewer had a warm drink in his/her hand, rather than a cold one.
  • Weight: People being interviewed were rated lower when they were sitting next to someone in the waiting room who was perceived to be overweight.
Overcoming biases is not easy as most of them are not “conscious”. Question yourself and notice what influences your decisions regarding people.  Create your own metrics and understand your own decision-making patterns (e.g., similarities in people you hire or select).  Gather data about yourself by taking the free on-line Implicit Association Test, which helps you identify your biases, and then examine the patterns you see.