International Recruitment - The cultural slap!
Anyone working with colleagues from other countries should have Erin Meyer's "The Culture Map" as mandatory reading. It is a handbook to understand and deal with cultural differences within the international business world, and in this time of globalization and virtual networks, it is increasingly important that you can deal with cultural differences. Erin describes the differences along eight dimensions to explain the influence of the differences. In particular, I found the nuances very enlightening. For example, both Americans and the Dutch are very direct in their communication, but when it comes to negative feedback, the Americans score lower. The Dutch, on the other hand, are at the upper end of the scale. The examples she gives are also very recognizable: when two Dutch people in an international setting give each other feedback in a very direct way, the rest of the staff present might be shocked and think that they are arguing. They will be equally surprised when they find these same two gentlemen enjoying a beer together later that evening. Their “argument” will not have negatively affected their relationship in any way. So how do you select candidates from abroad and what can you expect once they’re here?
When selecting international candidates
It is important to test the candidates' Cultural Awareness. Almost every day we speak to South African candidates who would like to come to the Netherlands to work as an IT specialist. We check what they expect from moving to another country, what they think will be the most difficult aspect of the move and integration, what do they know about the cultural differences between the countries, and so on. By asking these types of questions we get a basic idea of how prepared people are to move to another country, the Netherlands in particular. The next step is to make it far more personal – we want people to do some soul-searching. Emigrating, after all, is a big step and we want it to be successful as we invest a lot of time, effort and money into it. If, for whatever reason, it is not successful it causes quite a number of complications. At the least, we want to check if someone is aware of how he/she deals with difficult situations and setbacks. After all, it is not all going to be easy even though we try to make the process as smooth as possible.
The directness of the Dutch is always a topic of discussion during our interviews. Everyone knows that we do not beat around the bush. When asked what they think about this and how they deal with it, many of them indicate that they really appreciate it.
What happens once they arrive
What can you expect once they arrive and start working here? I have been able to guide many South African IT specialists in their first few months in the Netherlands and it turns out that daring to give your professional opinion is difficult for many. In their own country, they are used to functioning in a more hierarchical structure where you do what the manager says for fear of being punished otherwise. They really need to learn that their opinions are properly valued. This also comes up very often in evaluation interviews with their managers who are very satisfied with the quality of the work delivered by the professional. When he or she is allowed to get more involved in the discussions and meetings earlier in the process their opinion is always appreciated. South Africans are by nature very polite and have learned from childhood to respect seniority, be it age, experience or position within a company. The outspokenness of the Dutch children amazes them enormously. After all, we have been encouraged to have an opinion.
It's these kinds of differences that make our work so interesting. Someone can look Dutch, even have a Dutch name, and speak Dutch, but because their roots lie in South Africa, they think and act from a completely different frame of reference.