One of my clients was an American Fortune 100 Company. They often promoted internally, but did go outside for certain senior hires, for which I worked with them in various Asian markets. It was paramount that candidates could fit into their [very American] culture, with its own distinct culture and language–senior management would often engage each other and external partners with a good-natured repartee and jesting.
One of their oft-asked interview questions reflected their culture, and to a degree, their unintended bias.
The question was, “Why should we NOT hire you?”, which did not ‘translate’ very well in Asia.
I had one Indian candidate call me in a huff afterwards, indignant at being asked such a question.
“How did you answer?” I asked.
“I told them clearly there was no reason they shouldn’t hire me, and surely the question should have been ‘Why should we hire you?’”
He did not progress.
A Singaporean candidate answered about how she was not the most organised person, needed to delegate more to her staff, be more direct, and so on. I told her that was possibly a good answer to the standard “What are your weaknesses?” but probably not for this question. She did not proceed either.
And yet another [mainland Chinese] candidate was blinded in the headlights of the questions–basically no answer.
In recounting this, I can’t say that this single question–one of many–made a large difference in their candidacies. It was, however, one of the more memorable lines, and I clearly recall the replies and befuddlement.
This sort of interview question seldom works well cross-culturally, as the client was looking for their own ilk only. Most of us are quite capable of interviewing well, preparing our points, asking and re framing questions and knowing enough about the company and role to carry on an engaging chat. But such a question should be reconsidered; good talent comes in all shapes, sizes, dialects and responses.
What sort of answer were they likely looking for? I never asked, but not too hard to figure out.
I asked this question the other day to an American friend of mine, an old Asia hand who works for a competitor of my client. Without skipping a beat, he looked at me and said,
“Why shouldn’t you hire me? Because I’m better looking than all of you!”
He laughed at his own reply, then quickly added that of course he’d follow up with a more measured reply.
Indeed, that was likely what they were looking for, something to break the ice, get everyone to chuckle, and take the conversation to another level.
I daresay few Asians would give such a quick and brassy retort. When MNCs interview, best to steer away from such Western-centric ‘gotcha’ questions, or at least not rely on them to screen global candidates; there are many better ways to do so.
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