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Cultural Influences on Impression Management: A Focus on Internationally Educated Engineers


By Jelena Radan

My tenure as a Mentor at Calgary Catholic Immigration Society exposed me to career counselling in a novel work setting, coaching skilled newcomers. In that role, I assisted newcomer professionals to embrace their strengths and to increase their knowledge about Canadian workplace practices. However, I recognized that an understanding of the obstacles that internationally educated (IE) professionals face while searching for employment commensurate with their skillset is only one piece of the puzzle. There is also a need to take a closer look at how human resources (HR) professionals perceive IE professionals as they interview for positions in their field of expertise. Given the absence of HR professionals’ perspectives about IE engineers’ interview skills in the professional literature, my Master’s thesis aims to fill this gap and one missing piece of the puzzle for understanding workplace practices.

In the Canadian workplace, there are a number of barriers that hinder access to gainful employment for IE professionals (Chen, 2008). These obstacles comprise a lack of recognition of credentials and work experience, perceived communication difficulties, and weak understanding of professional (soft) skills. Canadian employers contend that skilled immigrants’ lack of employment prospects and their lower salaries are due to poor professional skills rather than inadequate technical skills (Sakamoto, Chin, & Young, 2010). Job applicants strive to manage the impression they are making in the interview by engaging in intentional behaviors to influence interviewers’ perceptions of them, which is known as impression management (IM) (Rosenfeld, Giacalone, & Riordan, 1995). For example, many applicants tend to ‘sell themselves’ by promoting their skills and achievements (Mast, Frauendorfer, & Popovic, 2011). However, many IE professionals, raised in a culture that values modesty, may perceive this practice as inappropriate. As interviewers’ perceptions of applicant IM is more important than the impression applicants believe they are creating, it is imperative to explore potential cultural dissimilarities in IM use and perceptions, which has been an area of study neglected by researchers to date (Roulin, Bangerter, & Levashina, 2014). Although research has investigated IM use among students and entry-level applicants (Levashina & Campion, 2007), further work is needed to examine cultural differences in IM use (Roulin et al., 2014). Research from the perspectives of HR professionals can provide invaluable information about how cultural differences in IM may hinder or help IE engineers’ interview performance and what strategies may improve their performance. To date, the majority of research on IM use utilizes quantitative methods using Likert-scale questionnaires (e.g., Bourdage, 2012; Roulin et al., 2014). Therefore, a qualitative approach would supplement the quantitative research on IM, as it will explore interviewers’ subjective experience of IE engineers’ IM use.

This research has the potential to provide career counsellors with knowledge about ways in which they can improve interview preparation services for IE engineers. Hence, IE engineers may be able to learn how to (a) build on their experience by discussing transferrable skills related to their credentials and fit for the job, (b) ask for clarification if questions are misunderstood, (c) address and engage with all interviewers using appropriate communication, and (d) conform to the Canadian workplace culture (e.g., showing initiative, small talk). In collaboration with career counsellors, IE engineers could improve their self-presentation in the interview, and in turn, attain employment. At the same time, this study might enhance HR professionals’ understanding of how IE engineers approach interview situations. Ultimately, if (a) career counsellors are able to enhance interview preparation training, and (b) HR professionals gain knowledge of IE engineers’ interview self-presentation and the inherent benefits of employing IE professionals, these skilled immigrants can be better supported for integration into the Canadian labor market.


Bourdage, J. (2012). Impression management in the interview: An investigation of personality, impression management, interview structure, and interview performance (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.

Chen, C. P. (2008). Career guidance with immigrants. In J. A. Athanasu & R. V. Esbroeck (Eds.), International handbook of career guidance (pp. 419-442). Sydney, AU: Springer.

Levashina, J., & Campion, M.A. (2007). Measuring faking in the employment interview: Development and validation of an interview faking behavior scale. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1638-1656. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.92.6.1638

Mast, S., Frauendorfer, D., and Popovic, L. (2011). Self-promoting and modest job applicants in different cultures. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10(2), 70-77. doi: 10.1027/1866-5888/a000034

Rosenfeld, P.R., Giacalone, R.A., & Riordan, C.A. (1995). Impression management in organizations: Theory, measurement, and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Roulin, N., Bangerter, A., & Levashina, J. (2014). Interviewers’ perceptions of impression management in employment interviews. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29(2), 141-163. doi:10.1108/JMP-10-2012-0295

Sakamoto, I., Chin, M., & Young, M. (2010). Canadian experience, employment challenges, and skilled immigrants. Settlement of Newcomers to Canada, 12, 145 -151.

Jelena Radan’s experience working with immigrants and refugees fuelled her passion for helping individuals recognize, work towards, and attain their career goals. Jelena’s research at the University of Calgary as a graduate student focuses on improving employment outcomes for skilled immigrants.

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