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Cultural Interviewing

When we think of interviewing we usually think of a series of related questions designed specifically for an optimal response from the candidate.  Based on those responses and the "personality" of the candidate, we then make our decision on the appropriateness of the candidate for the position in question.

Rarely do we as the interviewer consider cultural diversity in the responses.  We expect the canned response to "What is your greatest weakness" to be "Well my weakness could actually be considered a strength..." .  Instead of a real live response.

Shalini Richards
MQ Editor
I had the opportunity just recently to be an interviewer for mock interviews being held at our local immigrant settlement association.  The candidates being interviewed were from all parts of the globe and were "applying" for their first Canadian job and being interviewed for it.  After the mock interviews, which were video taped, the candidates would sit with an employment counselor and be critiqued on their interview skills, from eye contact and posture to voice tone and language skills.  At the end of the day I found it very interesting to note, that the behaviours and the expectations of the interviewees were very different from the typical interviewee.

Candidates from other countries have many barriers they must overcome which we tend not to realize.  Ironically, I have found in the past many recruiters believe that if you are in this country then you must behave as is expected, in every situation, even if you are not accustomed to it.

For example, many candidates who have immigrated from the Middle East, have never been interviewed.  Amazingly enough to us, they have been recruited straight from their educational institution and have been hired based on their credentials alone.  While personality and behaviour are a factor in what type of position is being hired for, this is something that is evaluated by references and the comments from others.

Many candidates from the former Soviet Union tend to be very "matter of fact" when responding to interview questions.  Therefore, to conduct a behavioural based interview with a candidate from this area you may not get the response you are looking for.  Instead of a response which is based on personal feelings and emotions, you may get a response which is more scientific and specific to the functionality of what was done.

So here comes the tough we as interviewers take into consideration the fact that those candidates who have recently relocated to Canada do not yet share (and may never) the cultural norms that are held here?  For example, their speech patterns may be somewhat more precise than we are used to.  Or they may not be aware of some of the terminology or even slang that is used here in Canada.

Or do we as forward thinking interviewers educate ourselves to the cultural norms that exist outside of our Canadian cultural bubble?  I know, I know, we would like to think that we are all so sensitive to other cultures and that Canada is just a big "open door policy" country where we recognize all cultures and diversity equally...but reality is we are human and have just as many prejudices as anyone else does.  How many times have you heard from a recruiter or from an HR person about a candidate, "...Yeah they would be perfect for the job if they had some Canadian experience...".  Could someone please tell me what the difference is?!  I mean honestly, if we got our head out of the clouds long enough to look around, we would see that there are other countries which are way ahead of Canada in terms of technology, and in fact candidates who could probably teach us a few things!

As a second generation immigrant I get really steamed when I talk to candidates who have no Canadian experience but have considerable foreign experience and fell they have no where else to turn but to menial jobs.

Ironically this cultural bias even exists amongst Canadians. After all, there have been several occasions I have heard from candidates who have moved to Toronto to gain experience only to move back East, to be faced with the barriers of “Yeah but all of your experience was in Toronto, don’t you have any local experience?”
So who do we think we are? To sit back and judge and criticize valuable experience whether it be from Bahrain or BC?

Have Work. Will Hire

Working in an industry which is experiencing a skills shortage across the nation means you have to get creative with your recruiting practices.

For the past 6 months I have been attempting to get some guidance or assistance from the Canadian Immigration Department on how to recruit international candidates. What I have run into has been a maze of names, numbers and emails of people within the department, and even some from other agencies, who apparently don’t have a clue how to help Canadian businesses address the skills shortage in the trades industry.

I have been happy to do the research and find out where in the world the pool of qualified candidates reside. From there I would hope I could contact the department for some assistance on how to get my message of employment to these countries. But alas, I am faced with “…that’s not what we do” or “…maybe you should contact HRSDC, maybe they can help…” So that’s what I do, I contact HRSDC who inform me that they only assist those people who are currently residing in Canada and are looking for work. Well that’s just dandy…so here I am with available work, but no one qualified in this country to do it.

I have even tried some of the sponsorship organizations [those organizations set up to assist companies in bringing qualified candidates from other countries to Canada to work] but guess what? Most of them are funded by the Federal Government, and they cater mainly to “professionals” [IT, Medicine etc.] as opposed to trades. So, I am back at square one again, chasing the dream that someday the Federal Government will take note that there are not enough skilled trades people in Canada to do the work that needs to get done to keep this country going. So, they either need to entice Canadians into the industry or they need to offer some assistance to organizations to recruit outside of the country.

My last resort was to check with some of the recruiting agencies and pay someone to find me qualified candidates outside of the country. The challenge there is that very few organizations deal specifically with the trades. The majority of them also focus on the professional industries, which is part of the problem. It seems the market is saturated with professionals and the there isn’t enough work out there for them. However, the trade positions still get the bad rap of not being a steady career and therefore we run into the situation we are in now.

Unfortunately, we in the North American society still see construction or labor work as limiting and only suitable as a “job” as opposed to a career. Our European neighbors however, see construction and trades in a totally different light, and are therefore not running into the recruitment challenges we are facing.

So we are left with little choice but to try to entice Europeans to come and work in Canada in the construction trade which in all honesty they can do at home.

We have a lot of work to do in Canada to change the perspective of our society into believing that the trades are a viable and growing industry. Governments need to be behind this and support the education and promotion of the industry. Without the assistance of the federal and provincial governments we will continue this downward spiral of trying to find qualified candidates and having to recruit them from other countries.

Some educational institutions have taken on the responsibility of training and employing international candidates for employment in Canada, on their own. For example, Lambton College in Sarnia Ontario, has an affiliation with the Canadian Institute of Career Development in India to train candidates in India for potential employment in Canada. Those candidates then have the option to work in their home country or be sponsored by organizations in Canada looking for skilled employees. The Institute also has affiliations to assist candidates with immigration. What a great idea!

I guess what I find most interesting is that if the Canadian Government is aware of such a program (assuming they are supporting or funding in some way) then why have they not made the connection that maybe offering retraining for potential candidates in Canada may address the skills shortage as opposed to businesses having to hire outside of the country?

Bottom line—how does the Canadian Government plan on addressing the skills shortage issue in Canada? If you have any insight into this, please fill me in!


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