Communicating across cultures

Thinking about the way you communicate with migrant audiences is crucial, from writing the job advertisement to conducting the interview.

The way you word your interview questions can affect how well a migrant candidate understands you, particularly those who do not speak English as a first language. It can also affect the quality of response they give.

For example, questions that are worded as statements are less clear and can lead to poorer quality answers:

  • You don’t seem to have any New Zealand experience.
  • What experience do you have that is relevant to this role?

Here are some tips to help you communicate clearly with your migrant candidate:

  • Communicating clearly across cultures does not require you to speak slowly. This can appear patronising. Your migrant candidate may have been studying or speaking English for many years but may not be familiar with New Zealand English or our accent. They will, however, become familiar with it over time. So try to chunk your language to assist with clarity. This means speaking at normal speed but stressing important words in each chunk:
    • Tell me | about a time | when you have | dealt with | conflict at work.
  • Body language can vary across cultures. For example, in some cultures, nodding your head can mean ‘no’ and shaking your head can mean ‘yes’. In many cultures, people of opposite genders do not shake hands, while in other places, a firm handshake is considered rude. Some migrant candidates may be unaware of these differences and may, for example, give a weak handshake or avoid eye contact. Think about how your own gestures could be interpreted differently from what you may intend.
  • Ask one question at a time, rather than a question with many embedded questions.
  • Give the candidate enough time to think about their answer and respond.
  • Humour does not translate well across cultures. Our humour may even offend in some cultures. You should be warm and polite, but making jokes is not advisable in a job interview.
  • Do not assume that the candidate has fully understood your question. Check their understanding. Simply stating “I’m happy to repeat anything that’s not clear” is often enough to prompt the migrant candidate to ask for clarification if they do not understand.

Immigration New Zealand has developed Keeping it Clear, a resource containing advice about how to communicate effectively with migrant audiences. Many of the tips can be applied to job interviews.

Keeping it Clear