Last week I profiled Dan Sirota, a successful businessman who uses his love of food to get ahead. Dan is a person who takes great pleasure in international cuisine and sharing meals with colleagues all over the world.
But how does he know how to behave in a culturally appropriate way in each culture he visits? How does anyone know that?
You know that you have to behave appropriately. But what that entails varies everywhere you go. And you have to communicate to potential employers that you are the candidate that can figure this out.
So do you have to know every bit of etiquette in every place that you might happen to travel to? No!
You have to know how to observe & absorb, participate & initiate, and most of all:
you have to know how to illustrate that you know how to do those things with specific examples.
Here’s an excellent example: Dan Schwabel’s Personal Branding Blog featured this post about “6 Tips for Handling Lunch or Dinner Interviews“.
When a language student reads that, the first thought should be “Yes! But all of that is culturally relative.”
You have to watch & observe to see how to behave at a meal in any given culture.
Here is a specific example that might come to mind if you study Spanish (and this is exactly the kind of specific examples you need to have ready to use in you job search materials and interview prep):
the article says to keep “elbows off the table.” While that may be a good rule to follow in any context, it is also important to know that in a lot of cultures putting your hands in your lap at the table is bad manners. Possibly obscene. What are you doing under the table that requires your hands in your lap?!
In some cultures it is important to keep your hands visible at table level during a meal. So while it may be true that it’s always good manners to keep your elbows off the table, it might be equally important to keep your forearms on the table so that your hands are visible.
That kind of simple, short, clear example gives the specific details that show you are culturally aware. In any job search or interview pre materials you have to be ready to back up what you say with specific examples. It probably won’t be “keep your hands visible during a meal,” but it could be!
The important thing is that you are ready to illustrate your international experience and cultural knowledge whenever and wherever appropriate. The best preparation is to always step back and think about how you might do that: when you stumble upon an article like “6 Tips for Handling Lunch or Dinner Interviews” or when you are in a career services workshop, think critically about the advice you are receiving: are there culturally relative elements being presented? Can you think of a clear, simple, specific example to illustrate that relativity?
Always be ready to show why you are the stand out candidate: because you understand that knowing other cultures isn’t memorizing a list of facts that you can regurgitate, but rather knowing how to observe & absorb, participate & initiate, and synthesize & articulate these experiences.