The American Job Search and Cultural Roadblocks: Don't Get Derailed!

Is there a barrier to your American job search?

Are you familiar with American cultural attitudes, behaviors and work-related expectations?

Job search is complex enough, if you are in your home country and in a familiar context. It is much more challenging if you are an international job seeker, in an new and unfamiliar country. (Format from GSU International Employment site)

Self-Promotion: You must be self confident and assertive when pursuing your job search. Confidently, tell employers about your skills and experience. You will need to be proactive in calling employers, setting up meetings and following up.

Directness in Communication: In American business', people expect open and direct questions and answers. Ensure that your handshake is firm and that you have good posture. You may be asked questions, within an American job search context, which would be inappropriate or rude in another cultural context. You need to familiarize yourself with the local norms as well as what is legal or illegal to ask during an interview in the US. Practice your communication skills. Note: review standards for Americans body language. Typically Americans have about 65% direct eye-contact during conversations. This is in contrast to cultures where eye contact is proscribed by norms such as age, role or seniority of position. Many of my Asian and First Nations clients have told me that this level of eye contact, is considered rude in their cultures

Self-Disclosure: Some cultures consider personal questions about your strengths and weaknesses, style of leadership or problem solving ability to be inappropriate. However, in the U.S., these types of questions are very normal and are acceptable. Be prepared to answer these questions during an interview.

Intercultural Competency: You will be expected to explain your career choices, career direction and how they match the job you are seeking. I would encourage you to use the STAR technique to formulate interview answers (Situation, Task, Action you took and Results). This will ensure a complete and comprehensive answer.
Individual Responsibility in Finding Employment: In your home country, you may already have an extensive network of family and friends, who can help you in your career. Additionally, jobs may be assigned by a centralized job center or by the government. However, in the US, finding a job will be your responsibility and you will need to create new networks to promote yourself.

Preparation for Interviews: You will need to research industries, sectors, employers, salary rates and trends. Familiarize yourself with the typical education, experience and/or licensing requirements for your field. Licensing is frequently the most challenging aspect of an American job search. It is very likely that you international work experience will not be counted as experience, by local licensing board. You may have to start the licensing process all over again. Punctuality is expected in an interview, arrive 10 minutes before the scheduled interview.

Language Barriers: You will be expected to interview in English and must be proficient. Employers must be able to understand what you communicate and have confidence that you can commicate well with coworkers and clients. Practice speaking English, listen to English shows on the TV or radio, and/or take additional classes. Some candidates, who are fluent, but have a strong accent, also take accent-remediation lessons.

Two-Way Stereotypes: Your employer may have stereotypes about you and you may have stereotypes about them. This can interfere with successful, cross-cultural communication. You will need to explain why you want to remain in the U.S., for career reasons. Emphasize the additional value you can add to an employer and the workplace due to your international background. American interviews tend to be faily egalitarian and race, sex or age should not affect the interview.

Bottom Line:  You must work much harder than domestic students to find a job.

In order to sell yourself, you will have to close the cultural gap. Look for opportunities in the hidden job market, speak others from your home country with have jobs in the US, seek out college or university employment after graduation, consider graduate school, or maybe return home and achieve success with your American education. Remember you have a diverse range of problem-solving skills. You are prepared for international business and can increase the diversity in a company’s marketability. Remain active and prepared to devote much time and effort towards your job search.

Author: © 2009 - All Rights Reserved - Sharon Cohen, MA, CPRP, Global MBA Career Advisor and Career Transition Specialist, Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.

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