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Character traits employers want to see in their interviewees, country by country

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Financial services is a global industry, and the chances are that you’re not British just because you’re applying for a job in London or American if you’re interviewing for a job on Wall Street.

This presents a potential problem – the tactic of ‘self-presentation’ during interviews is largely based on how you should behave trying to impress an employer in the U.S., but the reality is that if you’re from foreign climes you’ll be following different cultural norms. Obviously, this has implications for your chances of securing the role. New research* by a variety of universities globally has looked into what constitutes the ‘desired image’ of candidates depending on the culture of the employer.

It used a variety of criterion, ‘assertiveness, emphasising individual excellence, accommodation and pointing out obstacles’, to look at how interviewees behave in different cultures. The first two, which largely involve exhibiting confidence in your ability to do the job and pointing out your superiority to other candidates are the more obvious ones that most people would consciously big-up in interviews, but getting the balance right depending on where in the world you are is important, suggests the research.

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It’s not the first study to point to the importance of cultural differences in interviews. A 2013 study highlighted the importance of eye contact in certain countries – notably Japan – while British interviewees were more fixated on the mouth. Meanwhile, more recent research suggests that narcissists generally perform better than most in interviews.

However, this study took in responses from 3,500 students across ten countries – Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, Russia, Turkey, and the United States. Here’s a distillation of the more salient points for markets where financial services is prominent.

United States: Sell, sell, sell

U.S subjects scored highly in all aspects of the test, suggests the research, because of the culture of ‘selling yourself’ during interview. However, perhaps predictably, assertiveness, emphasising their individual qualities and accommodation all scored higher, with pointing out any obstacles – or potentially criticising yourself – decidedly less prominent. Also, a telling factor among American subjects was that ‘authenticity’ wasn’t particularly valued. In other words, if you can’t do something, pretend you can…

Norway and Germany: Let it all hang out

Those in Western Europe were less likely to indulge in conscious ‘self-presentation’, instead deciding to emphasise their independence and autonomy. During job interviews it’s likely that candidates from these countries will point to their uniqueness, rather than trying to satisfy ‘in-groups’. Any managers also shouldn’t expect immediate deference, with candidates generally viewing superiors as peers rather than authority.

Hong Kong: The importance of face

Candidates in Hong Kong were concerned with the concept of maintaining ‘face’, something with could be broadened out to most Asian countries. In the study, this meant they were scored more highly on ‘pointing out obstacles’ than most parts of the world. This means, essentially, that candidates were more likely to describe to interviewers how they overcame the problems and how this would aid them in their future career. This is a pre-emptive measure, pointing out how external factors hindered performance and, importantly, how they got through this and could do the same in the future.

*Intended Self-Presentation Tactics in Job Interviews: A 10-Country Study

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