We may be living in a global economy, but the fact remains: There are some subtle—and some not-so-subtle—differences between the way a job interview is conducted in the United States and in Latin America.
To help you better prepare for U.S. job interviews, LatPro recently took time to speak with two experts in the field of employment training—experts who have made it their business to coach Hispanic job candidates and employers in cross-cultural interviewing techniques.
A career strategist and communications professional, Graciela Kenig is the author of Best Careers for Bilingual Latinos. Nelson A. De Leon is a bilingual recruiting consultant and the owner and founder of America At Work.
We asked our experts: What makes an employment interview in the United States different from one that might be conducted in Latin America? What expectations do U.S. interviewers have, and what does a Latino candidate need to know to succeed in this new environment?
Here are their top tips to help you avoid possible misconceptions and cultural pitfalls so you can get the job you want!
1. Take credit for your professional accomplishments
An employer expects you to “toot your own horn,” says Graciela Kenig. This can be awkward for Latinos who are more community and group-oriented, but it’s a crucial part of the U.S. interview.
Employers want to hear not only how you worked as a part of a team but also and very specifically what you did on that team and what your contributions were, notes Kenig. Discussing your individual accomplishments won’t be viewed as arrogant or egotistical. In fact, if you don’t point out your solo successes, employers will assume you don’t have significant contributions to talk about.
2. Make eye contact
Interviewers will be picturing you as a potential coworker during the job interview. They expect you to look them in the eye and act like a colleague. For some Hispanics, such direct eye contact may feel uncomfortable because it can have different connotations in Latin America, including attraction between a man and woman, a lack of respect, or a challenge to authority. All of these potential cultural implications must be set aside for the job interview. In the U.S., making good eye contact shows confidence; failing to look your interviewer in the eye will not only make them uncomfortable but also could be interpreted as a sign that you are being evasive or untruthful.
3. Be direct
“We Latinos tend to communicate indirectly,” says Kenig, “We need to give context to stories, and the story gets really long.” In the U.S. interview, however, you should get to the point quickly and focus only on the relevant facts. Kenig’s story strategy is SAR: Pick the Situation; relate the Action; highlight the Results.
Plunging right in and talking about the matter at hand may seem rude or abrupt to a Latino, but it won’t to the person doing the interview. They are busy, time is short, and you need to shine during the brief time you have in front of them.
4. Focus on professional and not personal issues
Just to break the ice, says De Leon, interviewers may ask a question, like “tell me something about yourself.” They are not asking about your childhood, your dogs, or your family.
The interviewer really wants to hear about you in relation to the jobs you’ve had in the past and the job you want. “That can be tough for Hispanics who want to ease into conversations about themselves,” adds De Leon. Practice answering these types of questions without including your entire life’s story.
5. Get rid of the “Yes Syndrome”
The Yes Syndrome is something De Leon identifies as an idiosyncrasy of Hispanic culture. As an interviewer is talking, the recruit may be nodding his head, saying yes over and over. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve understood everything. It does mean they’ve heard; they are listening, and they won’t interrupt for fear of seeming rude.
“It’s okay to ask questions,” says De Leon. “Ask, ‘Can you explain that?’ or just repeat back to the interviewer what you’ve heard: ‘You need A, B, C and D for this job.’” It doesn’t make you look stupid, as some fear. It makes you look and sound engaged in the interview.
6. Don’t be passive
This goes hand in hand with getting rid of the Yes Syndrome. If you are too humble or too reserved, says De Leon, you may appear uninterested in the job. Once you start asking questions, you show a good grasp of the job at hand. The smartest people don’t give the best answers, they ask the best questions, showing potential employers they can identify problems.
7. Beware tú vs. usted
Latinos are aware of the formality of the “usted.” But because English only uses “you,” be conscious that you don’t get too familiar with your interviewer. De Leon sees this especially with people who have grown up in the Latino culture within the United States. While a recruit should not be subservient, there should still be respect. And if you happen to be interviewing in a situation where you will use Spanish, stick with “usted” during the interview. Don’t lapse into using “tú” for the entire corporate culture.
8. Dress conservatively
“It’s always better to be overdressed rather than underdressed,” says De Leon, but what is dressy for going out on the town is not appropriate attire for the interview. Kenig reminds recruits, “Whatever you wear makes an impression and says something about who you are.”
Even if the day-to-day dress of regular employees is casual, you should choose conservative business attire for your job interview. A professional appearance shows that you respect the interviewer and are serious about the available position. Avoid anything that will detract from the interview, including too much jewelry, perfume, or aftershave. You want the focus to be on your abilities, not on an overpowering fragrance or distracting accessories.
9. Don’t be discouraged if the interviewer seems impersonal
Employers who don’t ask about your background, your family, your kids, and your church aren’t being rude, and it doesn’t mean they don’t like you as a potential employee. In the U.S., these types of personal interview questions are prohibited. “There are a lot of legal issues they cannot discuss or bring up first in an interview,” says Kenig. If the recruit mentions a spouse or children, the interviewer can follow up on it, but they are bound by law not to ask first.
10. Research the company before your job interview – and don’t forget your Hispanic connections!
It’s a big world, but our cultural connections can make the world seem smaller. In addition to more traditional research methods, use your cultural connections to gain valuable insights into a company. Within the close-knit Hispanic community, chances are good that you can find someone who has already interviewed with or worked for a particular company. Professional Hispanic organizations and their members can also be a wealth of information. All you have to do is ask!