Common Cultural Barriers in the U.S. Job Search

Oftentimes, international students experience challenges in landing jobs in the U.S. because they are competing in an environment that is completely different than the one where they were raised. Not only can written and verbal communication skills present difficulties in attempting to translate thoughts in a non-native language, but business cultures, customs, and expectations vary greatly in different countries beyond the U.S. borders.

Companies in the U.S. want to be assured that their employees will represent them well. The following chart examines the conflicting values between expectations in the U.S. and other cultural values. These issues should be addressed in your education, hopefully before your job search starts. (Note: These conflicting values represent a cross-section from various cultures and not one specific culture).

  Expectations in U.S. Possible conflicting values of another culture
  • Assertiveness, openly discussing accomplishments
  • Follow-up with employers, thank you notes, etc.
  • Unless presented as part of a group activity, citing achieved goals, accomplishments and skills is viewed as boastful, and self-serving
  • Asking Employers directly about status of application may be viewed as rude
 Individual responsibility in finding Employment
  • Use of a wide variety of resources in identifying jobs (networking, career center, professors)
  • Networking by candidates: personal referrals can carry great weight
  • Jobs are found for the individual by government, school, or family
  • Dependency relationships in job search are fostered. One resource (ex. Advisor or employment agent) will find work for the job seeker with little proactive action by the individual
 Directness in communication
  • Open and direct responses to questions
  • Eye contact with interviewer, relaxed posture
  • Discussion of salary and benefits only when initiated by interviewer or at time of job offer
  • Candidate asks questions about the job at the end of the interview
  • Eye contact, especially with persons of higher status is disrespectful
  • Appearance of criticism must be avoided
  • Asking open-ended questions about the job may be seen as rude and inappropriately direct
 Career self-awareness
  • Demonstration of knowledge of self, career goals and how they relate to job
  • Discussion of long-range career goals
  • Ability to be self-directed
  • Jobs are assigned by government or family or determined by school or test score
  • Individual must be flexible to accept whatever job becomes available without regard to their career goals
 Informality in interviews
  • Congenial interviewing environment that encourages openness, some joking, and exchange of information
  • Sitting with a person of higher status requires deference. The job applicant is very polite and does not ask questions or provide information that may indicate lack of respect for interviewer's position. Handshaking, touching, using first name, crossing legs, etc. are inappropriate.
  •  Must arrive 5-10 minutes before appointment
  • Personal relationships are more than time. Anywhere from 15 to 2 hours lateness from agreed meeting time is not insulting.
 Effective resumes and cover letters
  • Error-free, one-page, concise, and attractive outline of relevant job experience, skills, accomplishments and academic credentials
  • Personalized to reflect each individual's strengths and capabilities
  • Resumes are a detailed chronology of academic and formal work experiences and not a tool for self-promotion
  • Often contain personal information about family, marital status, a photo, parent's occupation, etc.
 Individual equality
  • Race, sex, and age are legally not supposed to affect the interview process
  • Politeness and respect are shown to all employees a candidate meets, whether receptionist or CEO
  • Males and older persons may expect to assume dominance in interactions with females and younger persons
  • Level of organizational hierarchy may determine the amount of respect an individual is given
  • Attitudes on gender, race, and other personal characteristics and how they impact hiring decisions may vary from culture to culture
 Research prior to interview
  • Obtain as much information as possible about the company and position prior to the interview. Demonstrate awareness of organization in cover letter and during the interview
  • Research about organization may indicate excessive and undesirable initiative or independence.

Last Updated: 8/11/16