It’s strange for me to even write this question considering how often Canadians are teased for being too polite.
But compared to many other cultures in the world, we’re not as sweet as our reputation suggests. It’s possible to be too nice, too polite and too deferential in a Canadian job interview. Let’s consider four ways.
1) Excessive thanking
If you get a birthday gift from a Canadian friend, it’s normal to say “thank you” at the moment of opening it. Then, no more thanking. Many other cultures offer additional thanks. In Canada, there are formal occasions when we send a thank you card, such as for wedding presents. For job interviews, we often say thank you at the end of the interview then we write a thank you email within a day. Then that’s it. So once or twice, then stop. No excessive praise (“You’re the best HR rep ever!”) and no continuing thanking for the same service.
2) Folded-in body language
I’ve seen people in job interviews make themselves incredibly small: they sit with a coat, folded in a tiny square, and purse securely stowed on their laps (thighs) while sitting on the edge of a chair. The intended message is, “I’m not threatening” but the received message is “I’m powerless.” Claim more space in your interview, hang your coat on a coat rack or over the back of your chair, or better yet, if an interviewer offers to take your coat, please let him/her. Put your purse on the floor, any note material on the table top (if there is one) and then plunk your entire bottom on the seat. Feel free to take all the space.
3) Asking for a salary that you know is way too low
Sadly, I have heard newcomers say they would accept a lower salary purely because they are newcomers. Really? Don’t do that! In Canada, it’s the law that people get paid the same amount for doing the same work, regardless of gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. When you offer to be treated badly, it sends a message to unscrupulous employers that they can treat others badly, too. For the average employer who is following the rules and conventions, your offer indicates that you are willing to accept less-than-fair treatment. Will you behave the same when you are representing that company?
4) Not making eye contact
In some cultures, looking into someone’s eyes is interpreted as challenging behaviour. For job interviews in some Asian situations, job applicants keep their gaze securely on the tie knot of the interviewer. That behaviour simply will not work in Canadian job interviews. For one reason, if the HR person is a woman, it will feel like you are staring at her breasts, which are located just under where the tie knot would be if she were a man. If the interviewer is a man, this still won’t work because typical Canadians like and expect people to look into their eyes. Now, you don’t have to constantly maintain eye contact. You can look down at your notes, look off to the side, look up, and take occasional breaks. But you better get your eyes back to the interviewers pretty regularly. Otherwise, an interviewer just assumes you are not listening.
Job interviews require a blend of “being yourself” and following cultural norms. These four behaviours may be limiting your chances. Adjust your “politeness”, but still “be yourself” for more success.
About the Author: Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.