The United States is a multicultural mosaic of 300 million people of mixed race and heritage, and is also the third largest country both in size and population. Despite the ethnic and cultural diversity, the US has a distinctive business culture and etiquette. A clear understanding of this business culture is vital for your success in an American business environment.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AMERICAN BUSINESS CULTURE
The American Dream is ‘the common belief that every individual can thrive financially by being conscientious. This idea leads to a strong work ethic and merit-based system. Some consequences that may arise due to this culture are:
- Long work hours
- Frequent Overtime
- Distinction between management & subordinates
In addition to a strong work ethic, American work culture places a heavy emphasis on individual initiative and achievement. Personal competence, professionalism and accountability for individual performance are vague. This leads to a work culture where:
- Superiors are only consulted when absolutely necessary
- Most business is carried out autonomously
- Distinction between management & subordinates
Lastly, another important characteristic of the US business culture is its well-known informality. This is not meant to be disrespectful of people from other cultures, but is rather an expression of the prevalent egalitarian notion in American culture.
- Titles are seldom used in business environments
- Professionals will offer to use first names immediately
In the business world, the primary purpose of conducting business is to exchange information, facts and opinions, which is why Americans have a direct style of interacting. Some ways communication is affected and tips for you to consider are:
- Get to the point quickly
- State your expectations clearly at the beginning
- Should a conflict arise, address it with clarity
- More importance is given to what is said than how it is said
- Americans aren’t hesitant in saying “no” or criticizing others in public
- Americans are uncomfortable in silent situations, compelling them to quickly fill in the gaps
- If there are any changes or delays, inform the concerned party immediately
- Ensure frequent communication via email or telephone (or any other preferred format)
This direct form of communication can often lead to ill feelings if the person involved belongs to a culture where business is conducted on a more personal level.
TIME IS MONEY
Business culture in the United States is fixated on time in contrast with other business cultures that are preoccupied with relationship building.
- Most tangible asset is TIME, which can be saved, lost, found, invested or wasted
- Wasting Time = Wasting Money
- Meetings begin on the dot and are anticipated to proceed undisturbed
- Schedules are important and deadlines are strictly adhered to
- Emphasis is placed on high standard results in the quickest possible time
Some cultures may consider this as being hasty, however, it is in keeping with the American business culture that is very mindful of time. You wouldn’t want to be late for a meeting without calling in, or talking pointlessly during the interview, unless you had intention of exasperating the interviewers.
Handshake. Meetings begin with a handshake, which should be accompanied with direct eye contact. This combination signals interest, sincerity and confidence to your American business partner.
Designation. Initially you should address your American business colleagues with their respective titles and last names. They will immediately inform you how they wish to be addressed and you can follow up by informing them of your preference on the same. They will not be offended, but will respect your sincerity.
Small Talk. At the start of the meeting, small talk allows for an ease of tension and creation of a comfortable atmosphere before “big business” commences. It can also serve as a tool for networking or testing the aura. Suitable topics range from work related matters to sports, travel, food etc. Avoid controversial topics such as religion or politics.
Business Cards. Business cards aren’t exchanged unless you wish to contact the person in the future. This exchange is not based on rules and usually takes place casually. It is not considered offensive if a US business associate stuffs your business card in his back pocket without reading it.
Dress Code. The dress code may vary according to location and type of business, but wearing classic clothing (SUIT UP) in grey or navy will ensure that you give a confident and conservative appearance.
Privacy. Americans respect their privacy and personal space. They generally sit or stand further apart than people from Southern Europe, Saudi Arabia or Latin America. It is advisable to keep a comfortable distance of approximately 18 inches (or an arm’s length).
NEGOTIATIONS AND CONTRACTS
Negotiations are deal focused. They want to “get down to business” right away.
- Building relationships and networking are usually done after the business is carried out
- Negotiations are regarded as problem-solving situations based on mutual benefit and personal strengths
- In addition, this requires a clear prominence of financial position and business power
- Partners value information that is straightforward
- They expect other delegates to express individualistic ideas and opinions
The main objective of negotiations --> Signed Contract
Contracts are legally binding documents that are commonplace in the US. During negotiations every legal aspect as well as fine point of the written agreement is scrutinized. If a disagreement arises in the future, a US company will follow the contact word for word. In the US, most procedures contain a set of rules, guidelines, state and federal laws that your US counterpart must follow; and you, as business partner, also adhere to.
AMERICAN BUSINESS LANGUAGE
- Many of the idioms are taken from sports (ballpark figure, game plan, home run) or military (rally the troops)
- Americans may be unaware of their use of idioms, but for someone from a different culture, it could be challenging
- The pervasive “how are you?” is by no means a question regarding your physical and emotional well-being, but is a way of greeting someone
- Such a question is simply a polite greeting, which can be answered with “Fine. Thanks”
The following sheds light on some of the common principles of US interviews:
- Questions about age, disabilities, national origin, race, religion, marital status and veteran status are considered illegal to ask in the US
- Eye contact is imperative because this demonstrates to American employers that you are confident in your skills and achievements
- Don’t grip the interviewer’s hand too feebly or too strongly; firm handshakes indicate confidence
- Expect direct questions regarding competence and experience
- Exhibit that you have researched the company by showing interest and taking initiative
- Inquiring about the status of an application post-interview is adequate and depicts interest in the company
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
- Gain more information on how to best prepare for your interview here
- Drop in to the CCO office located in Young Hall, Room 132 between 10:00am and 4:00pm Monday-Friday for resume, cover letter and interview assistance
THE GLOBAL WORKPLACE
According to a research study done by the British Council (2012), the modern workplace is progressively globalized and competitive. Communicating with customers, colleagues and partners across international borders is now a daily affair for several workers around the world. Consequently, employers are under strong pressure to find employees who are not only technically proficient, but also culturally astute and able to thrive in a global work environment.
REMEMBER: you bring a unique perspective and background to American business. The following summarizes the opinions of four globally expanding companies about candidates with international experience or international candidates:
|WHAT UNIQUE QUALITIES CANDIDATES WITH INTERNATIONAL EXPOSURE BRING TO AN ORGANIZATION|
|"International candidates bring unique thought processes and diverse perspectives...their home country knowledge, culture, and language skills are important for offshore branches." -Enova|
|"International candidates are often able to provide unique insight into new markets and initiatives." -Schlumberger|
|"The diversity of candidates promotes view-points and ideas which leads to diversified approaches to innovation." -Cummins|
|"International candidates or candidates with international exposure tend to be able to bring what they have seen at other location or look at things with a different perspective." -Intel|