Face to face interviewer challenge: ethnicity

The newest chapter in the drama about the face to face interviewer job is about ethnic barriers.

The current neighbourhood I work in comprise of apartment buildings, most with security intercom. Everybody in the streets look Asian, and apparently they are Asian at home too. Only one person I contacted spoke English at all. Most where not home.


green leafy bamboo

In some cases someone was home, but I couldn’t even tell if they rejected me. There was a human sound over the intercom, but I had no clue what it meant or whether the person understood anything I said. Or even just what gender or age the person had. I presented the short intercom version of my script and said that I will come by again another day, and left a brochure about the survey in the mailbox.

In some cases I got to speak to someone face to face, but they did not understand what I said. I tried to explain a few key points about the survey and tried to find out if they had someone in the family who speaks English (I presume most have – how do they get by in an English speaking country otherwise). I said that I will come by again another day, and there was some polite nodding and more ‘no English, no English, sorry’. I hope to find an English-speaking son or daughter at home on one of those encounters who can translate.

Oops, there’s a law.

Also, I unintentionally broke the rules. I am not allowed to ask questions to anyone who is under 18 years old without the presence of an adult, but I accidentally interviewed a teenager (that only person I met who spoke English).

What happened was that I first spoke to a non-English speaking adult via the intercom, and then an English speaking teenager came out on the balcony. Awkwardly, I presented the survey to him up through the air while he looked down at me from the balcony. Eventually he agreed to come down so I could explain the survey better face to face.

This meant that when he finally came down and stood in front of me, there was no longer an adult present. A warning light should have popped up in my head because he didn’t look like he was over 18 years old, but it didn’t. I continued to explain the survey based on my memorised script, as I should, and routinely continued directly into the interview, which I shouldn’t. I should have asked about his age and then tried to get to interview one of the adults in his family with him as translator instead (realistic success? Nope… but that’s not relevant). So… bad.


Scene from Disney movie Up: Dug with cone of shame
Image from ‘Up’ – Cartoon movie by Pixar

The uncertainty factor

Right now I wonder if I was mad that I thought I could do this job. It is just a few hours per day and very flexible, but every assignment presents massive uncertainty. Although the visits are highly scripted, they are completely unpredictable. Success depends on the ability to improvise, be flexible and quickly ‘tune in’ to people with unknown personalities, situations, norms and cultures, and also on timing and luck and control of appearance.

I have already explained the circumstances of the current assignment and my mistake to my supervisor, who is understanding and supportive. However, I had a miserable response rate in my last assignment, and this one looks pretty hopeless too.

Anyway, I’ll need to order more job self confidence online to top up the reserves. Oh wait… that isn’t available and also, I’m as poor as dirt.


2 thoughts on “Face to face interviewer challenge: ethnicity

  1. A Quiet Week

    Your work sounds very demanding. I have difficulty telling people apart in the first place, I cannot imagine trying to navigate in such unfamiliar waters.

    I do think that many other employees would struggle with this issue and that you have an advantage in that you can work your way around cultural variations with logic, scripts and planning.

    Being on the autism spectrum (having a specific neurology, diagnosable or not) is very much like living in a separate culture. The rules are so different you must map out your interactions carefully.

    I was at the doctors office yesterday and became over-excited. I could not tell if my physician thoght I was a lunatic or understood me. I could have avoided that by preparing better. Sometimes, the unexpected comes up. My Dr. asked me about my son and I lost myself in an extended, almost aggitated rambling monolouge. Sigh.

    My point. You are dealing with a difficult situation very well. I understand where you are coming from and respect you for carrying on.

    Best Wishes,


    1. Mados

      Thank you very much for your supportive comment!

      The suburb has turned out not as hopeless as it seemed at first. There is a language barrier for sure, but people have been very friendly and accommodating, and really tried their best to understand and answer the questions although it was a big effort for them. Even the rejections were extremely respectful and polite:-)

      But yes, the job is difficult… My biggest problem with it (besides my response rate) is that even the friendliest and most successful interviews leave me feeling shattered and exhausted afterwards… even though it is just an hour or two … so I come home and feel miserable, sort of traumatised-like and unable to do any kind of work, even though the situation went well. And of course, with difficult interviews, it can be much worse. So I am not sure how sustainable this job is, because it is not enough hours to keep up with the bills, but I spend a lot of time recovering rather than searching for new freelance projects on the side (and/or doing house chores)

      Anyway… still working on it and if not this job then I’d need another job which I’m sure would come with its own problems anyway.

      I have difficulty telling people apart in the first place, I cannot imagine trying to navigate in such unfamiliar waters.

      Actually telling people apart would not be an issue in this job. Most families consist of mom, dad, and kids of different ages and gender who wear different clothing and sit in different places. So it would be virtually impossible to get people mixed up during an interview (and if it did happen someone would sure protest if being interviewed twice!).

      (Was this a stupid reply / did I misunderstand what you meant?)

      I agree with you that I might have an advantage in how I approach cultural variations systematically. I expect anyone I meet to be very different from myself, so I’m always prepared for cultural variation and focused on learning and following the rules of the situation – I never presume ‘sameness’. I think it is my strongest side in people interactions that I observe and listen in a neutral way and don’t necessarily assume that someone else is feeling what I would have felt in a similar situation. Healthy attentive listening skills built on a fundament of relentless misunderstandings!

      I’m actually a good listener… it is not just something I think, I’ve got that feedback from others. It reminds me of this very good article about different types of social skills. I warmly recommend ‘skills set 2’. Because listening to someone that way makes the person feel seen and heard as he/she is, rather than squeezed into some sort of psychological template of assumptions.

      I was at the doctors office yesterday and became over-excited. I could not tell if my physician thoght I was a lunatic or understood me. I could have avoided that by preparing better.

      Ha ha:-) I can imagine the situation. Yes you are clearly very passionate about your son and it might be wise to prepare a short summary / script for situations where people ask about him but don’t really want to hear all there is to know in a lot of details.



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