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Dealing with cultural differences

Differences in business

The way organisations are run can vary from country to country, even between regions. For example, in Spain, siestas are incorporated into many businesses, traditionally between 2 pm and 5 pm, allowing Spaniards to work later into the evening.


Verbal communication style and body language can also differ a great deal. For example, in the UK it is the norm to make prolonged eye contact during conversation. If you do this in China or Mexico it’s likely to cause offence. In Japan, writing on a business card in front of the person who gave it to you is considered rude.

Gestures and etiquette

In some areas, such as the Middle East, it’s inappropriate for a woman to initiate a handshake. In China, at social functions and business meetings, offering cigarettes is considered a conversation starter. Refusing would be bad manners, even if you don’t smoke. In many Asian countries, junior colleagues may only converse with senior management via an intermediary.


You should always tailor your CV to the country’s preferences. In the USA, a CV is called a résumé. In countries such as France, a handwritten cover letter is a necessity. In Germany, references, certificates and a photograph often accompany CVs. In the United Arab Emirates, you can’t even submit your CV unless you’ve been put forward by a placement agency, or personal recommendation. And your CV and photograph will be used to determine your pay scale.

These are just a few general tips; you should delve much deeper once you know your destination. It’s also worth checking if there’s an IET Local Network in the country so you can use your membership for support and guidance overseas.