Moving to another country is an exciting prospect for the adventurous professional and can be a major step forward for your career. Focusing your education, qualifications, and experience in an industry where skilled professionals are needed are positive actions that can lead to a job offer or transfer to a company in the U.S. Adding the ability to navigate the culture with minimal friction will make you an indispensable employee.
Cultural norms vary from country to country and being sensitive and responsive to the differences is key to making a successful transition. Here are a few things to expect in the work environment when relocating to the U.S.
Americans are generally known to be informal and even enthusiastic, even when meeting for the first time. Shaking hands is common when greeting both men and women, and junior and senior staff members, but after the handshake, physical boundaries are respected. Standing or sitting too closely causes discomfort and you should maintain your physical distance with your American colleagues.
If that doesn’t come naturally to you, pay attention to any non-verbal signals that you are intruding on that invisible boundary. Conversely, if your culture is more reserved, you might be startled by the occasional arm squeeze or back slap.
Use the title and last name when you are meeting someone at work for the first time and until you are invited to address them by the first name. That will usually happen very quickly, even when someone is senior to you; first names are typically used in the workplace in the United States. When you are on a first-name basis, you should still introduce them to others by the title and last name.
Punctuality is important in the U.S. workplace; being late is considered disrespectful and consistent lateness may even incur a penalty in some companies. If you are unavoidably detained, you should let the people you are meeting know as soon as possible.
Americans are direct when they speak, and they mean what they say. “Yes”, “no”, and “maybe” mean exactly that. They don’t hesitate to ask questions and they expect the same from others; if you don’t ask questions, they will assume you know everything.
Many companies encourage a work environment where everyone contributes their thoughts, no matter what their position is in the management structure. But there are limits to what is tolerated. While contributions are welcome, contradicting a superior in public is not acceptable. They do expect people to participate in meetings and if you are reticent, you risk the assumption that you didn’t prepare.
How you express your opinion is important, too. Americans usually prefer statements framed in a positive light and an American co-worker may take offence when criticism or disagreement is bluntly expressed. Interrupting each other is common; if your own style is to pause while you gather your thoughts, you may be interrupted. Interrupting is still considered rude, so wait for a break in the ensuing talk, say “excuse me”, and continue.
Americans work longer hours than many industrialized countries, such as Western Europe (including the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy) and Canada. Professionals relocating from India will find the length of the workday similar.
Breaks are considered a luxury by American workers and eating lunch at the desk or during meetings is routine in the office. That doesn’t mean that you need to follow suit if your own customs include mealtimes. Check the company policy and use the breaks that are mandated as you need to for your own productivity.
Boundaries between business and personal life are often blurred in the United States. Companies may stay in touch by email on weekends and even on holidays and during vacations. Employees may be encouraged to come in early and work later for certain projects. Often they don’t use all the vacation time that is allowed. That isn’t mandatory and you should feel free to use the vacation time the company offers as you choose.
Marketing Your Skills
Recruiters in the U.S. prefer resumes to CVs and they also have preferences for the way your resume is laid out. Your resume should not be more than one or two pages. Put your contact information in a prominent position, list your work history chronologically, and don’t include a photo, marital status, or age. You should mention what kind of work visa you have, or would like to have, and whether you require sponsorship.
They often refer to social media and sites such as LinkedIn for more information about a candidate and are less likely to interview if they can’t find them online. Provide a link on your resume to your profile on LinkedIn, your website, and any publications you have authored. Even a blog post can help demonstrate language proficiency.
Mastering the Job Interview
Landing the interview is an achievement, so take that positive message into the interview and use it to project confidence. Don’t shy away from promoting your accomplishments and your skills and offer details. When you are talking about your skills, frame them in the context of how they will benefit the company, and when you are asked about past challenges, focus the answer on your resilience.
Be respectful of the interviewer’s time, keeping your answers concise, with a beginning, middle, and end. When you are using examples to respond to a question, think of the situation that you experienced, explain the task, describe the action you took, and end with the result and how it helped the company.
You don’t have to conform to a culture different than your own to succeed at work or a job interview. But being aware of certain communication styles and attitudes will help prevent conflicts and foster positive relationships, creating memorable experiences as you work in the United States.
Want additional information on job searching in the U.S? Check out our blog.