Cultural Interview Technique


February 24, 2011

Culture by AagaardDS

In continuing the theme of yesterday’s post on using an interview technique where you do not look directly at the interviewee for most of the discussion, I had a very interesting and poignant comment from a reader.

“I use this technique when “interviewing” (interrogating) my teenage son. He talks much more openly when we are side by side driving along in the car, for example, rather than face to face and eye to eye.

In some cultures, including a few of our own Native American ones, looking face to face and eye-to-eye is considered disrespectful.  Looking down away is a sign of respect, (which is) very disconcerting for us, I know.  So, side-by-side interviewing might be a good technique to use with immigrants that are still in transition. Looking face to face and eye-to-eye is a notoriously difficult adjustment when you are from a culture that doesn’t do it, and making that adjustment doesn’t happen overnight.”   Mary

Mary makes a great point.  Not only can a side-by-side interview be very effective with a teenager or anyone who may seem to be on the defensive, the implications for people of other cultures is huge.  In fact, this goes beyond the eye contact during the interview.  Brazen Careerist ran a great article back in 2009 addressing cultural differences in the job interview.

I’d love to hear from anyone who recruits in other parts of the world  where eye contact may be considered disrespectful.  What are the ways you alter your interview style to match the expectations and accepted nuances of the culture?



  • Trish,

    Good post. I hadn’t really considered it in my rural part of the US, but it is definitely thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great twist to this theme. We have a diverse workforce here in Florida, and I’ll be curious to hear how others address this issue.

  • What about allowing for silence in an interview?

    The teen reference certainly caught my attention. I have two and two more in the making. I learn so much from them. Interrogation leads to grunts, sarcasm or exactly what they think I want to hear, stated as tersely as humanly possible. If they could speak in “texting” they would.

    I’m trying a new format. Question, answer, silence. The result? More answer. I tend to be so quick to think I know what someone said, as I instantly interpret it in the context of me. Then, I want to validate, argue with or elaborate on the thought. Yet, when I silently ponder the answer, I get so much more.

    If my western brain can tolerate silence, others (even teens) will fill it. Amazing how much more comes bubbling forth.

    Having worked in India, China, Singapore and Japan, I found that not to be the prevailing case, though. Silence doesn’t seem to feel so awkward in those cultures. I’m looking forward to reading what others see on this topic.

    Thanks for getting us thinking again, Trish.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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