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Behind the façade of cold job seekers

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In a job interview, more often than not you see a candidate who is calm and restrained from showing excitement or enthusiasm about a position. Rather than them being an emotionless robot, a recent Stanford study tries to explain why Hong Kong job seekers appear to be cold and distant during interviews.

Published on Emotion, a research paper co-written by Stanford researchers and scholars from the City University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Northwestern University and the Environmental Defense Fund has revealed that the icy exterior of Hong Kong job seekers may be a result of culture. It also looked at how the difference in cultural backgrounds of both hiring managers and job seekers may play a crucial part in the hiring process.

As the workforce is getting more diverse, the research team examined how cultural differences affect how job seekers display their emotions during an interview, and how these emotions may be perceived by their future bosses of different cultural backgrounds, hence influencing the chances of them landing a job.

A total of 1,041 participants, including European Americans, Asian Americans and Hong Kong Chinese, were given five different workplace scenarios in the experiment.

In an experiment that asked participants to film a self-introduction video for a competitive internship programme, 86% of the European Americans and 72% of Asian Americans expressed excitement rather than calm, while only 48% of Hong Kong Chinese showed excitement.

According to the researchers, the difference could be a cultural one rather than merely a personal choice. Jeanne Tsai, one of the researchers, explained, “How we want to feel and what our culture tells us is the right way to be, influences how we present ourselves when we are applying for a job.”

Now that we understand how cultural background affects the way candidates present themselves, this begs the question, how might these differences influence hiring managers at job interviews?

In another experiment, the research team showed the video applications from three candidates to 300 U.S. employers. All three candidates from the videos had the same level of qualifications, but showed different levels of excitement – one was animated and excited, another calm and a third neutral.

It is found that 47% favoured the excited applicant, 29.3% chose the neutral one, and only 23.7% liked the calm candidate. The reason, as researcher Lucy Zhang Bencharit explained, is that U.S. applicants are often advised to be excited and enthusiastic when applying for jobs. She, however, said, “it is important to recognise that this message is shaped by our culture, and it may not be right or feel natural for everyone.”

While more and more hiring managers select employees based on their “cultural fit” to the company, the researchers warned that these preferences of emotion could lead to hiring biases as managers tend to give the job to candidates who share the values of the company’s existing workforce, resulting in less diverse workplaces.

“One problem with hiring for cultural fit is that employers assume that is the only way to thrive at their organisation,” Bencharit said. “However, in work settings, there are many tasks in which a calm and level-headed employee may out-perform an excited and passionate one.”

“If we really want to benefit from diverse workplaces, then we have to broaden our views of what emotional qualities we look for in the ideal applicant,” said Tsai.

ALSO READ: 5 killer questions from candidates and how to answer them

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