After presenting a session of the webinar “Surviving the Job Interview Lifecycle,” I received a question from a job seeker about how to handle interview etiquette when it conflicts with one’s religious practice. As a Muslim job seeker, she was struggling with how to maintain her religious beliefs while still projecting herself as a strong, engaging candidate with employers.
While America is often praised for its cultural diversity, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every hiring manager or recruiter is aware of how to best acknowledge and respond to cultural differences. Job seekers with different cultural backgrounds may experience unintentionally disrespectful behavior during the hiring process, creating obstacles to their job-search success. However, don’t feel discouraged, because you can control the situation.
Here are three steps to minimize cultural confusion during your job search:
- Identify and determine which roles, organizations and companies would be a good fit for you. It can be hard to balance religious and cultural principles or practices within America’s various work cultures. If wearing specific attire out of modesty or religious observance is part of your identity, there’s no reason to abandon your beliefs unless it’s for a position that would require it (e.g., scrubs for health and safety, hardhats). Be sure that as part of your company research, you look into employers who foster a working environment that respects your education, skills and abilities as a professional.
- Understand American cultural norms and body language. Some cultures discourage eye contact, others approach accomplishments as “we” focused instead of “I” focused, and many feel it’s appropriate to volunteer personal information such as marital status, nationality or height and weight. No matter what you are used to, spend time familiarizing yourself with what U.S. employers look for in a candidate. Awareness of any cultural differences gives you the opportunity to adopt the ones you are comfortable with and find an appropriate way to acknowledge and prepare for the ones you are not. Things like direct eye contact, a firm handshake and confidence in your value to the workplace are attributes that most U.S. employers are looking for in candidates. Find the happy medium between these expectations and where you feel your most confident.
- Reach out before an interview to communicate your values. Interviews can be stressful for any job seeker, but ensuring your beliefs and practices don’t offend or negatively impact the interviewer’s perception of you can add to your worries. After you’ve been contacted by an employer for an interview, you can proactively disclose any information you’d like to about your cultural or religious practices so that there’s no confusion or miscommunication once the interview begins.
On the call with the job seeker I mentioned above, I recommended that she could reach out to the prospective employer to say something along the lines of, “I am looking forward to meeting you. I want to take this opportunity to let you know in advance that for religious reasons, I am unable to shake hands with men. I hope you understand that I mean no disrespect and that I look forward to speaking about this opportunity and how it’s a fit with my background and skills.” By being proactive, you’re showing sincerity and being courteous, setting the interview off on the right foot.
Once you arrive at the interview, body language speaks for itself. In lieu of a handshake, consider another way it would be appropriate to acknowledge one another, such as a polite nod, which the hiring manager may then comfortably reciprocate.
What has your experience been with cultural diversity in a job search or the workplace? Do you have questions about your own situation? We’d love to hear them! Just add your question or story in the comment box below or visit #AskCB.