Cross cultural issues in employment counselling for internationally trained professionals
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Cross-Cultural Issues in Employment Counselling for Internationally Trained Professionals. Presented by Elga Nikolova Skills for Change, Toronto OPPORTUNITIES, 2003. The Ontario Network for International Professionals is An online resource

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Cross-Cultural Issues in Employment Counselling for Internationally Trained Professionals

Presented byElga Nikolova

Skills for Change, Toronto


The Ontario Network for International Professionals is

  • An online resource

  • Providing sector-specific information, networking and professional development opportunities

  • Serving internationally-trained professionals and service providers

  • Province-wide

Today we will attempt to…

  • Expand awareness by questioning some of our own cultural assumptions

  • Create a conceptual framework to put some of our difficulties with internationally-trained clients into perspective

  • Attempt to generate some solutions

  • Find out how can be part of the solution


  • Culture

    • Definition of culture

    • Culture shock

  • Dimensions of culture

    • Applications to job search

    • Possible solutions

  • Culture and the professions

  • Any open issues?

Looking for a job is a full-time job

And the job description includes…

  • A firm handshake

  • Assertiveness

  • Walking the extra mile

  • Selling yourself

  • Highlighting your achievements

  • Maintaining a positive attitude

    Universal facts, or assumptions?

What is “Culture”

A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed alongby communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

Source: University lecture handouts of “Communication Across Cultures”, by Dr. Daradirek Ekachai, Associate Professor, Department of Speech Communication, Southern Illinois

More on Culture

  • Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group's skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols arelearned anddeliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.

  • Source: University lecture handouts of “Communication Across Cultures”, by Dr. Daradirek Ekachai, Associate Professor, Department of Speech Communication, Southern Illinois

Some highlights on “culture”

  • There are no “good” and “bad” cultures. Each culture is uniquely adapted to its circumstances

  • There is a broad spectrum of behaviors. Within one culture, people tend to choose the same behavior

  • We may be totally oblivious to behavior, and facts of life not common in our culture

  • We may misinterpret behavior and facts not common in our culture

  • We assign higher value to behavior and attitudes favored by our culture

  • Cultural preferences are reinforced, and deviations are discouraged

Culture shock

  • The term culture shock was introduced in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment.

  • Culture shock is the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin.

  • The term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate.

Stages of culture shock

  • Introduction (“Honeymoon”, “Vacation”)

  • Transition (“Hostility”)

    • Denial, rejection

    • Anger

    • Escape

    • Depression

  • Acceptance (“Humour”)

  • Adjustment (“Home”)

Symptoms of culture shock

  • Sadness, loneliness, melancholy

  • Aches, pains, allergies, insomnia, desire to sleep too much

  • Changes in temperament, depression, feeling vulnerable,

  • Anger, resentment, unwillingness to interact with others

  • Longing for family, identifying with/ idealizing the old culture

  • Loss of identity

  • Trying too hard to absorb everything in the new culture

  • Unable to solve simple problems, lack of confidence

  • Feelings of inadequacy or insecurity, need to depend

  • Developing stereotypes about the new culture

  • Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited, abused

How is this relevant to job search?

  • The way we do job search is culturally determined

  • Professional practices vary across cultures

  • Some job search concepts are unique to North America, or Canada in particular

  • Some job search concepts may have a different meaning

  • Job search – and professional – behavior is be interpreted differently in different cultures

  • Some job search – and professional –behavior may be judged differently in different cultures

The new wave of immigration

  • “In the 1990 new immigrants did not integrate into the Canadian labour market as effectively as previous cohorts of immigrants”

  • “Prior to 1961, 92% of all immigrants arriving to Toronto came from Europe”

  • “Of all immigrants who arrived in Canada in the 1990s, 73% were visible minorities, up to 68% in the 1980s, and 52% in the 1970s.”

  • In 2002, over 80% of all immigrants to Canada came from regions outside Europe

    Sources: Elizabeth McIsaac,"Immigrants in Canadian Cities: Census 2001 - What Do the Data Tell Us.“; CIC Canada, “Facts and Figures 2002 – Immigration Overview”

Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede, 1980

  • Power distance

  • Collectivism vs. individualism

  • Uncertainty avoidance

  • Masculinity vs. femininity


  • Time

  • Space

  • Context (information)

Power distance

Eastern Europe

1Canada234567 8

0 20 40 60 80 100

1/ Austria2/ Pakistan, Iran

3/ Greece4/ Chile, Peru, Turkey, Colombia

5/ Hong Cong, Brazil6/ Yugoslavia, India

7/ Venezuela, Mexico8/ Philippines

Power Distance measures the extent to which people believe in and support hierarchy and uneven distribution of power in a society

Client-service provider relationship

Confusion about status

Service provider viewed as a person of power, or

Authority of service provider questioned, or

Confusion about role

Client dependent on service provider, or

Overly demanding

Job search – behavior & attitude

Lack of initiative

Need to follow step-by-step instructions

Experience loss of identity

Confusion between passive-assertive – aggressive

Blaming, negativism

High power distance cultures and Canadian job search


Eastern Europe

1 2 3 4 5 6 Canada 7

0 20 40 60 80 100

Collectivistic Individualistic

1 Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan2 Chile, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Hong Kong

3 Turkey, Brazil4 Iran

5 India, Japan6 Israel

7 – USA

Individualism “measures the extent to which people view themselves as individuals (individualism), vs. viewing themselves as members of a group, elements of a larger entity (collectivism). “

Client - service provider relationship

client expects to be “given things”

client expects service provider “to do their homework” for them

client dependent on service providing organization

Job search – behavior & attitude

difficulties with assertiveness and self-promotion

difficulties with identifying achievements

skepticism about networking

Collectivistic cultures and Canadian job search

Uncertainty Avoidance

1 2 3 4 Canada 5 6

-10 0 20 4060 80 100

Low risk tolerance High risk tolerance

1 Greece2 Yugoslavia, Chile, Mexico

3 Venezuela, Pakistan4 Iran

5 India6 UK, Hong Kong

Uncertainty avoidance measures the extent to which people cope well with risky, unpredictable and unstructured situations by establishing formal rules and processing information

Client - service provider relationship

may be asking for unreasonable amount or “useless” information

may be asking for clear instructions

background level of stress increases with decrease of risk tolerance

Job search – behavior & attitude

may consider themselves overqualified, and their local colleagues – non-professional

may appear under qualified or unprofessional

may have difficulties in communicating their skills and qualifications

Uncertainty avoidance and Canadian job search

High context

Far East

Indian Subcontinent

Arab Countries

Latin America

Eastern Europe

Latin Europe, UK, Quebec

English Canada




Low Context

Context refers to the way in which cultures seek, and communicate information to make meaning of an event.

High context: information is in the circumstances. Non-verbal, and implicit information is essential. Professionals tend to be generalisits

Low context: information is in the verbal message. Professionals tend to be highly specialized


Client - service provider relationship

client may overwhelm service provider with information

client may “not be able” to prioritize information

client may have difficulties identifying, and verbalizing their strengths

Job search – behavior & attitude

Failure to provide the right amount anddetail of information during an interview

Difficulties with identifying strengths/ achievements

Difficulties with making sense of information

Context and Canadian job search

What are the solutions?

On individual level:

  • Question own assumptions

  • Work with the client to raise cultural awareness

  • Accept, acknowledge and work with culture shock

  • Set realistic expectations

  • Encourage observation and reflection

  • Probe into client’s professional background extensively, assist in reframing of professional experience

  • Refer clients to “A-B-C of Job Search”, “Relevant Employment” and “Sector-specific Terminology” on

What are the solutions?

On group/organizational level:

  • Offer training on cultural awareness and culture shock

  • Create opportunities for networking as part of service

  • Refer clients extensively to networking opportunities within their profession (reframe “networking”)

  • Revisit job development practices

  • Use to refer clients to networking opportunities (sector-specific discussion boards) and online mentoring

Professional culture

Some aspects of professional education and practices which deviate among cultures:

  • education – theoretical vs. “hands-on”

  • “institutionalization of professions” – licensing

  • technical standards

  • methodology of problem solving and project management

  • standards of professional conduct and ethics

  • management and customer service practices

    The more “people oriented” an occupation is, the more culture-specific it tends to be.

Questions? Enquiries?

Elga Nikolova, Coordinator

Skills for Change, Toronto

(416) 658 3101, ext. 294

[email protected]

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