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My company is considering hiring a developer from India who has experience working on our product as a contractor. We want to interview him to determine:

  1. If he can adapt to the new culture
  2. If his personality/attitude fit our team

What sorts of things should we look at to determine if the hiring will be successful?

  • @JoeStrazzere Thanks for pointing that out. That sure is an option and is the idea. We will most likely hire him on a contract for now and then see how the trial run goes. – roadrunner Sep 3 '13 at 22:32
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    This is an interesting question but probably as important as interviewing the candidate is interviewing the person who will help the employee when he arrives here. You'll need a plan for helping the person adjust so that they can be successful here. – dcaswell Sep 4 '13 at 3:32
  • You do realize that you have very few options to just bring him here on a contract/trial run, right ? It will be too much of an expenditure on visa processing - even more so if your contract doesn't bind this guy – happybuddha Sep 4 '13 at 14:14
  • Hello kaushcho, and welcome to the Workplace! This is a great question that is unfortunately attracting a few close votes due to the formatting. I've edited it a bit to hopefully prevent more close votes and get you better answers. If you think I missed the point entirely, or otherwise screwed it up, feel free to edit it (I took out details on his evaluation, since you are asking about evaluating the cultural -- not technical -- aspects). Thanks for the great question and I hope you'll stick around! – jmac Sep 5 '13 at 0:33
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    Thanks a lot @jmac for the edit. I think you do capture the essence of the question I had originally posted. And I did find some useful answers. Thanks once again. I will definitely stick around! – roadrunner Sep 5 '13 at 16:55
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When testing for culture fit among candidates (and not just foreign ones) I have noticed that a lot of companies will take a less formal and more of a conversational approach to one of the interviews in their process. What this means is instead of an interview where you sit down and do a formal question and answer session you try to have a conversation with the candidate. Ask them questions and encourage them to do the same but try to have an actual conversation with them instead of just you asking questions and them giving a formal and likely well rehearsed answer. Usually you should keep the topics of the conversation relevant to the job but its ok to diverge a little. For instance in one these types of interviews that I had while looking for a job one of the guys interviewing me had a hobby in common with me so we talked about that for a minute or two before getting back to more relevant subjects. If you enjoy talking to this guy he's a good fit (culturally at least) for the job. On the other hand if your first thought is "wow what a jerk" you probably shouldn't hire him. As an added bonus since this is a developer you can also use this as an opportunity to gauge is passion and general knowledge of the technologies.

Some things to consider

The first thing you should consider is who he's talking to. A lot of guys are more than willing to talk to other developers around their level but get a bit nervous about what they say and how they say it around executive manager types.

Since this guy is from another country this test might work better if you can have somebody try to have a conversation with him in his native tongue.

This style of interview works best face to face but if this guy is in another country that might not be possible so doing it over the phone or via some sort of video chat program such as Skype is the next best thing.

  • Thanks for your valuable suggestion. I do like the idea of a conversation and we try to create a conversation like flow in our usual face to face interviews. But as this is a special case, we will sit down and consider a way to carry out this interview like a conversation. The possibility of having someone speak to him in his native tongue is a bit tough as he and I are not from the same part of India and most likely English is the only common language between us. (I would upvote your answer if I had enough reputation to do so). – roadrunner Sep 3 '13 at 22:42
  • It might be common and make some sense intuitively but, as far as I know, the academic literature suggests that unstructured interviews are not predictive of job performance. Also, it might seem unfair. – Relaxed Sep 10 '13 at 12:13
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Executive Summary

What sorts of things should we look at to determine if the hiring will be successful?

Focus on the person, not the cultural aspects. While it's easy to get hung up on the fact that an employee is from a different country, in reality the company culture is far more important.

Focus on:

  1. How he communicates
  2. How he works with a team
  3. How he deals with stress

Country Culture vs. Company Culture

There are so many factors on whether or not someone can adapt to a country:

  1. Can they handle the climate?
  2. Can they find a group of friends?
  3. Can they find a spouse?
  4. Will their family back home stay healthy?
  5. (etc.)

There is no way to control any of these factors. Even if you ask about them, it's one thing to say, "The summers here are really hot, are you okay with that?" and another thing to actually live in 100+°F (38+°C) weather for 3 months a year, or to deal with snow for the first time. There is no way to test whether someone can adapt to these things when hiring someone from overseas.

After over a decade of living and working overseas, I have found it almost impossible to determine who will still be around in a year. I have seen people with great language and cultural awareness give up and go home after a year. And I have seen people who I thought would go home after a year have made this their home a decade later (while still struggling with the language and culture).

In my experience, people with good jobs are much happier than people without them. So focusing on making the job a plus will greatly increase the chance that they stick around and are motivated to adapt.

So focus on the company culture rather than the country culture when you interview.

Two-way Adaptation vs. Forced Assimilation

Any working environment with different cultures is going to have some friction. Even cultures as close as the US and the UK, who share a language and a long history together have very different social mores.

For instance, the English love banter. You may look at the definition and think, "What's different about that?" yet virtually every time I see an American interact with the English for the first time in a social setting, they get offended. On the flip side, the English culture isn't as open as the Americans, and are often absolutely horrified by how loud and outgoing people are, even to people they have just met.

If you expect people to assimilate to your culture, you will evaluate their ability based on how well they are adapting -- not on their ability to adapt. You are measuring them against an impossible standard for them to live up to which will lead to dissatisfaction on both sides. Focus as much on whether your company can adapt to an international worker as you do on whether the international worker can adapt to your company.

Finding a Good Fit

A great way to see if they fit your culture is having a chat like Lee Abraham suggested:

instead of an interview where you sit down and do a formal question and answer session you try to have a conversation with the candidate. Ask them questions and encourage them to do the same but try to have an actual conversation with them instead of just you asking questions and them giving a formal and likely well rehearsed answer.

Each company has its own culture, and each team has a different way of working. Figuring out how the candidate deals with regular aspects of doing the job is the best way of figuring out if they will fit with your team. The three main areas are:

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork
  3. Stress/Pressure

Here are some sample questions/topics you can bring up in the interview to get a good idea of the candidate's 'soft skills':

Communication

Find out how the person communicates. Do they take an active role? Are they more passive? Do they ask for help when they need it? Do they expect to be micromanaged? Do they express disagreement openly?

Teamwork

Find out how the person works with others. Do they expect to play follow the leader? Do they work better with a flat structure? Do they like bigger teams, or prefer working alone? Do they create social bonds with team members to build trust, or view it as a practical professional relationship only?

Stress

Find out how the person deals with problems. Do they hide the issue until it becomes obvious? Do they panic when things get tough? Do they work better under pressure? Do they have a habit of giving up? Do they depend on others to lead them through a tough time, or do they become more self-reliant?

3

Unless your employee is required to deal directly with customers, adapting to different cultures probably shouldn't be the primary prerequisite.

People adapt different ways. Some go the Expat route and never fully adapt, others embrace where they are.

I would put that down as employee training required if you believe them to be a good fit for your company.

The primary areas of training would be.

  • Sections of your culture that they need to be aware of that can cause offense (to them or people from your country).
  • Dealing with homesickness.

I would recommend to get training as well for yourself, on the countries you are interviewing. Without this you may bias your result due to a culture difference you would not be aware of.

2

Accept the fact that he will have some cultural adjustments to make when he arrives. That may well mean additional support in relocating, and training him about western life.

Having recruited several Pakistani developers, being able to direct them to a supermarket that had halal meat, explaining that there was no need to formally shake my hand every morning when they arrive for work, and covering our friday long lunchtime rules to allow them to attend Friday prayers were the usual immediate adjustments.

Other things such as explaining about the remembrance poppies, and warning about ice / snow being really slippy for walking and driving are best saved for the right time of year.

If your supportive, then they are likely to make the transition - but there are no certainties.

-2

Each company got different culture from east coast to west coast. Personally being an Indian I can say Indians adapt easily in any of these companies based on Cultural Sensitivity awareness. I am prepared by my company to visit Japan, US and UK these are several different courses helped me to work in different companies from east coast to west coast in USA. Please prepare a Q&A and there are Cultural Sensitivity programs designed for USA and ask him to enroll and get better. Some of these questions can help :- Is he kind of a person 'Don't ask for help' or 'Will ask for help and collaborate' ? Is he kind of a person seeking constant help for trivial things? etc.,

Win in the flat world. I believe he could improve; let him be notified about the aspects that he need to concentrate and develop such skills.

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