One of the biggest sources of culture shock I’ve had so far in Prague is the job interview process. Since arriving in Prague, I’ve had a couple of interviews with different English schools and visited many offices throughout the city for visa-related appointments. And I’ve found that there is a world of difference between Czech professionalism and interview etiquette than we have in the United States.
In the Czech Republic, casual Friday is every day
My first interview in Prague was two days after spending over a month backpacking in Europe, and there was very little in my bag by way of professional dress. So I spent my first day in Prague shopping for interview clothes. It was actually extremely difficult to find dress pants and blazers and I had to go to H&M to get anything resembling business attire.
I found out on Monday morning that the reason they don’t sell it is because no one wears it. The second I got on the metro, I realized I was the most overdressed person in Prague. It only got worse when I got to my interview and was greeted by a guy in a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt. The woman interviewing me was equally casual, wearing a cotton blouse and jeans with sneakers. So I stuck out like a sore thumb in that office.
You know the saying “Dress for the job you want and not the one you have”? Yeah, that’s ridiculous American bullshit that forces people to dress uncomfortably in the workplace, and especially for interviews. By the time I got to my second interview in Prague, I knew better. So I ditched the slacks for black jeans and wore a nice top without a jacket. I was still offered the job – on the spot, in fact.
You will be offered something to drink; take it
You could have run a marathon on the way to an interview in the US, but it’s unlikely the interviewer or anyone else will offer you something to drink. You can basically dehydrate to death while you spend 45 minutes trying to sell yourself.
In the Czech Republic, people insist on giving you something to drink when you arrive at an interview, whether it’s water, coffee, tea, soda, or juice. At first, I politely declined which, I realized after experiencing a few interviews, is a strange thing to do here. I think this is due, in part, to the fact that the interviewer wants something to drink too and they don’t want to be rude by drinking alone. In this way, interviews are more like a casual business meeting at a café. It would be weird to sit there without a coffee.
Czech job interviews are free of bullshit
Unless you’re applying for a job at Google, there is rarely an honest response to the question “Why do you want to work here?” that isn’t “Because I need a job and you’re hiring.” The only thing questions like that teach you about a candidate is how much dishonesty they can muster in a few sentences.
Interviews here are free of those useless questions, and they flow more like a conversation than a structured series of questions. You might converse about the job in the same measure as you converse about your background, your culture, or what you think about Prague so far. As a foreigner, that’s a common topic of discussion, as is why you decided to move to the Czech Republic in the first place. Because you’re more than your job here. You are a collection of thoughts, experiences, and personality that also happens to work.
You’ll need to show, not tell
Just because you’re not asked these standard-issue interview questions doesn’t mean you can skate by pretending you know what you’re talking about if you don’t. Interviews will usually have a task or demonstration where you can show that you can do the job you’re interviewing for, especially as an English teacher. That’s not to say that this doesn’t exist in the United States; it’s just emphasized more in the Czech Republic and it seems like the salary offer is based largely on this demonstration.
Czechs are responsive
But by far, my favorite and the most surprising thing about job hunting in the Czech Republic is how responsive everyone is before and after the interview. In the US, I’m used to applying to at least 25 jobs a week and maybe hearing from one of the companies two months later. It almost makes you question if companies are actually hiring or if the recruiting person is just posting empty listings to justify their job.
I’ve applied to around ten jobs in Prague and have heard back from almost every single company to either offer me an interview or tell me the position has been filled. After the interview, companies that have been interested send me an offer letter within hours. On the other hand, when I was on hiring end of this situation in the US, recruiting would make us wait to make an offer so we wouldn’t appear desperate, even if we were.
And this speaks volumes about the workplace differences between the US and the Czech Republic. Here, your time is valued and if you took the time to apply and interview, the company will take the time to get back to you in a timely fashion. In the US, your time, experience, and efforts are not as important as company time. You are a name in a pile. And maybe eventually, when they’re good and ready, they’ll invite you in for an interview where you’ll be forced to sing fake praises about a company that you don’t really care about in order to get hired.
I have to say, I don’t miss that institutionalized pretension one bit.