That time when I made a candidate cry

I’m driven by helping others. My definition of my value “achievement” is to make a positive impact on someone else’s life. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way though…

If you have ever lived and worked professionally in another country or worked in global teams, you know that our cultural differences can sometimes create challenges and unfortunate situations. Even when most of the time it’s not intentional.

In my first year after moving to London from Stockholm I worked as a recruiter for an agency. I interviewed multiple candidates a day and if they were a good match for our clients, I told them about the roles we had available. Not all candidates were a good fit, for various reasons. When that happened we did our best to give them some tips and tricks and advice that could help them with their continuous search.

One day I interviewed a young woman. She had very little experience in the field and the roles she was interested in required 10-15 years of relevant experience. I did what I usually did in these situations, tried to manage her expectations and gave her some suggestions on routes she could take to work towards her goal. She left and I didn’t think more about it… Until my manager got a call. The young woman was a referral from another candidate that we had worked with. She told my manager that the young woman I had interviewed had left in tears and was upset about how we had treated her… I was mortified! And confused. I didn’t see myself as a very assertive woman at the time and was always quick to smile, help and please.

My manager had a conversation with me, she asked me to deliver the feedback to her like I had done to the young woman. She smiled and nodded, and after a moment she said: I know you never would intentionally hurt anyone but I think maybe your Swedish directness played a part in how the message was received. My Swedish directness? I didn’t even realised I had something like that! But when I started to analyse my way of communication and compare it to my British colleagues I could see what she meant. It was my first lesson in how our cultural differences can mess things up in the work place.

I haven’t lived and worked in Sweden for over 7 years now and I have seen multiple culture clashes over the years. Most of them, if not all, was not intentional. Most of the time, the person in question was not aware of how he or she came across. One of the most useful skills in business (and in life) is being aware of how our own behaviours is influenced by our past experiences and culture. But also be aware of why other people might act in a certain way so we don’t take offence.

If you are navigating international waters in your career, I would love to hearing about your experiences with this. Let’s connect over a coffee chat!