5 Tips on Recruiting or Working with Asian-Americans

1. Ask us how long we have lived in the area. Do not ask us where we are REALLY from. Do not ask us what our nationality is when you mean ethnicity.  Aside from EEO issues in the US, these questions show  that you have already put us in a box as "other" and we are tired of hearing it.  Also, for Asian orphans, this can be a painful question. Some do not know. One woman I met was abandoned in Saigon as a toddler speaking Chinese in 1968. 


2. Don't ask if we are related to Dr. Chang, Prof. Chang or violinist Sarah Chang.

Doctor, professor, and musician are an Asian parent's dream. Olympic figure skater or high earning attorney is also acceptable. This question reminds us that our parents think the other three are better, and being an IT Director running a 24x7 10,000sq ft data center equates to being  a "computer guy."  It doesn't matter that the IT Director makes more money than the doctor or the professor.


If you need to ask, I am not related to Jake Shimabukuro (http://jakeshimabukuro.com). Damn musicians.


3. Kids. Our #1 issue is how the job impacts our kids' education.  Regardless of salary, the job location must allow our kids to attend a school providing a SUPERIOR education. Imagine having your work location limit your kids' education to a UC Berkeley feeder school while your cousin's company was next to a Stanford University feeder school?  Most of us have a little Amy Chua (http://amychua.com) Dragon Mom in us. I only backed off after my daughter was in tears and destroyed her PSAT score sheet because she only scored in the 98th percentile. I guess I can live with UC Berkeley. There are many non-Asian Dragon Moms and Dads, but we are overrepresented in this demographic.


4. We vote with our feet. If there is something we dislike about the work environment, we are less likely to complain and more likely just to move on. There are GIANT exceptions to this point, but it is a good 9/10th rule. This is a great opportunity for finding passive candidates.  How do you know if Asians hate their work? Ask, and if they answer "It is okay" it means "This place is hell on earth. Is the new job you are talking about commuting distance to an Ivy League feeder school?"


5. Take us to lunch at a Thai restaurant. Why Thai? It accommodates vegetarians and there are fewer Thais to judge the food.  Except for you extreme foodies, most Japanese or Chinese restaurants which you think are great, really aren't. Offer to take us to Benihana or P.F. Chang's[1] and our lunch schedules will dry up for the next two years. Have we ever offered to take you to Howard Johnson's for a great Salisbury Steak?  


[1]None of us are related to P.F. Chang Bill was kind enought to point out that PF Chang's was founded by Phillip Chiang along with Paul Flemming. So there are Asian-Americans related to the Chiangs.


About the Author: Bert Shimabukuro is an HR professional with expertise in talent acquisition, employee relations, collective bargaining, electronic monitoring in the workplace, and International HR.  He holds a Master of Arts in Labor and Industrial Relations from the University of Illinois, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Hawaii.  He has been an Asian-American his entire life, and suspects that he speaks for people of Asian descent in Canada and the UK.  If they disagree with him, they should not leave comments, but instead write their own blogs. He is open to answering questions about the culture context of this blog to readers outside of North America.  He recommends that if American or Canadian readers have questions, they spend their next vacation in Southern California. 

Views: 880

Comment by Bert Shimabukuro on May 25, 2011 at 11:19pm

Thank you all for your comments.  I'm trying to give them all responses because you have taken the time to read and consider the blog.  I'll try address all of you.  Also, if you read my bio at the end, you'll see this not intended to be a serious anthropological evaluation of the subject. Come on, who footnotes P.F. Chang's?


Paul - You and I can to agree to amiably disagree. I would say there are Native American, Asian Indian, African American, Italian America... experiences that are to your advantage to be aware of.  I understand you don't buy into it.  Now going outside of the US to China, completely different. I'm planning to use my expat friends as SMEs to write other countries specific tips in the future.


Bill- It is pretentious. I personally don't care where my daughter goes to college, but the story about the PSAT sheet was true. I and many other AAs have created that environment and expectations for our kids.  It influences job choice.  I have two recent contrasting examples. Non-AA recruiter from Ohio called to ask me about a position in Corsicana, TX at a salary significantly higher than my current salary.  Job match is great. Relocation available. Even after explaining why, he is perplexed as to why I wouldn't consider it. He just didn't understand that I had concerns about educating my kids there.  Next an AA recruiter calls about a high paying position in Maui.  When she finds out I have kids, she immediately says she doesn't know the school situation but that she'll check and get back to me.  I'm sure you've seen plenty of AA professionals in the Bay Area worry about this too much.  The Berkeley/Stanford comparison is splitting hairs and was meant to mock the distinction, but it is a reality that matters to more AA parents that I'm happy admitting.


Robin - Recruiters and account managers are the worst.  It perplexes me why so many bring it up at the first meeting. This has happened even when they have convinced one of my hiring managers to bring them in the back door for an unscheduled intro.  Any account manager worth talking to will take two seconds Google me and look at my profile on LinkedIn.  I'll be annoyed you were coming in the back door, but if talk to you about Bell Helicopter, AmerisourceBergen, UI, MSU, UH, Hawaii, the mugs on my shelf, Interlochen MI, or even my 4 years in Japan you'll start with one less strike. My internal employees typically ask after getting to know me better.


Sandra - I think the question are not ill intended, but it is tiring when it happens nearly one in three times when someone is coming to sell me something. It is completely unrelated to the business at hand. I used to tell people the accurate answer that my name and ethnicity is Okinawan as opposed to an inaccurate answer of Japanese (think Sicilian vs. Italian), but that would eat up another 5 minutes explaining something that only Okinawans, Karate fans, and WWII buffs knew enough about to talk about. I've set aside time to hear why you are better than my current providers or hear your  pitch on the next great opportunity.  The last thing I want to talk about is another conversation about ethnicity, a sushi place, or karate. This was not meant to criticize but to educate.  If you stay away from this and the "where are you really from ?" question when you first meet me, you'll have a better chance of getting a signed agreement. Wait until we've established a relationship for the other questions.  Also, the sensitivity about Asian orphan issue is real and painful.  You might irritate me and get a second chance,  but you will blow it with an orphan who doesn't know his or her past.


Unfortunatley, the educationsituation exists in a lot of places in US but it is worse in Texas.  I've seen this in Michigan, Hawaii, and Illinois.


We both see AAs working in donut shops and sweeping up parking lots in Texas, but the ones we'll deal with professionally are likely to Tiger Moms and Dads, and I would encourage everyone to consideration that when trying to place them.


Dr. R -  I appreciate your comments and your views as someone who has been in the majority and minority.  I'd like to be able to provide an answer other than if you haven't lived it, you can't understand it. It is not a convincing explaination.

Regarding #3, if you had (or have) kids, would you be concerned if you had a job offer to relocate to Jackson, MI? I see you are living Grosse Point, MI.  Did the school district in an affluent part of Detroit play part in your choice of where to live or were you were planning to send your kids to Cranbrook/Kingswood anyway?



All- This was not meant as an article on minority experiences, but a guide to working more effectively with Asian-Americans in the spirit of my first blog.  If you don't think it represents Asian-American attitudes, I'd ask you to show it to a US born and raised AA and have them comment.  You are always free to disregard the advice. Again, I really appreciate all of your comments whether we agree or disagree. Please keep them coming. It has been a long day so please do not report any typos to my Tiger Parents.

Comment by Paul Alfred on May 25, 2011 at 11:39pm

Bert,  In Canada where I reside we have laws we can't ask someone about their Religion, Race, Culture Marriage Status when we are evaluating a resume putting the law aside for a bit - I was trained to deal with a resume on the merits of qualification and relevant experience as it applies to working in the Canada or the USA or from time to time Europe or Asia ...  Of course personality fit culture/corporate fit is also evaluated ...  When you added Recruiting tips to your title this is where we break off as I apply the same training to all regardless of race ... 


If we want to talk about the Asian Pacific, South Asia/ African / Indian Culture fine we can write for years about minority complexes and living as a Minority "Asian" in North America .. That is a COMPLEX topic across minorities.   This blog is not big enough to handle this topic and this may not even be the right forum ... 


So please define for me what are you focusing on; Recruiting qualified candidates who happen to have  Asian backgrounds  if so, how would it change if I am recruiting folks who happen to happen to have African American backgrounds,  would it change if they studied at Yale or Harvard,  does my technique change for Indian Americans who only went to college...    Are we talking about the Recruiting profession ... ?

Comment by Suresh on May 26, 2011 at 7:15am

Bert, I agree, better schools and the community would be huge part of my decision on where to live.

Having lived both sides of the minority/majority population, just makes it more fun to watch human behavior.

Comment by Paul Alfred on May 26, 2011 at 7:41am
Dr. R ... Last time I checked Issues with Minorities in many societies including North America can hardly be described as "fun" perhaps we have read different books ...  Ofcourse, some of us still  live in La la land when it comes to complex issues of Culture and Race ...
Comment by Suresh on May 26, 2011 at 8:43am
Paul, its people's reaction on both sides that makes it humorous sometimes. I don't deny the serious issues underneath. After all, many of these problems are not going away any time soon, need to have some humor to get through a lot of the BS.
(I find "Harold and Kumar movies" and Dave Chappelle show highlight some of these)
Comment by Bert Shimabukuro on May 26, 2011 at 2:04pm

Bill - Thank you.  I stand corrected.

Comment by Thomas Patrick Chuna on May 26, 2011 at 6:37pm

"The last thing I want to talk about is another conversation about ethnicity, a sushi place, or karate"

See, the whole time I was reading your original post, I was wondering why "don't ask me if I know karate" wasn't #6 on the list.  I have a good friend who is Mandarin Chinese, and he gets asked all the time if he knows karate..his last name is Lee, and he gets so wound up when he's asked that because Karate isn't Chinese, He's not Japanese, and equating Bruce Lee with Karate is ignorant in and of itself. See, ignorant people abound I guess.

Comment by Bert Shimabukuro on May 27, 2011 at 12:49am

Paul, Training focusing on legal and neutral criteria on both the agency side and the corporate side is by far not universal in the US. Agency training focuses on calls, contacts, and placements. Corporate
recruiters sometimes are  given more formal eeo compliance training, but are often left to fend for themselves or are expected to come with it from the one HR class they took in college.


If you ask the same questions, use the same criteria, and select regardless protected classes, there is no issue.  This is often not the case in the US.  Recruiters and hiring managers have to be told to quit talking about karate and sushi to the AAs only, and quit asking Hispanics only if they speak Spanish when the job doesn't call for it. 


For AAs I emphasize dependent scholarship based on PSATs.  For non-Asian employees I emphasize retirement saving and total compensation with benefits.  Potential scholarships for college seals the deal with AAs.  Total comp seals the deal for non-AAs. This is what is of value to each of the demographics and why my candidates will take my offers over a competitor's offer. 


This was specifically about professional level Asian-Americans and things recruiters can do and things to avoid when recruiting and working with them.  This was not meant to cover strategies for recruiting the AA demographic depicted in the movie the Fast and the Furious. 


I understand it is no population is homogeneous and it isn't as simple as 5 Tips, but there are readers out there right now saying, "I didn't know that you are sick of hearing about Asian stuff at the interviews." The point was to educate.


To answer your question how my approach for Asian-Americans would that be different from African-Americans, I would not be concerned about my managers asking African-Americans if they were into Karate or if they liked sushi, but that wouldn't happen because no one sees an African-American and says, "Karate and Sushi would be great small talk."  I would and have explicitly told my recruiters and hiring managers to not ask every African-American if he played basketball. If you wrote on your resume you went to Duke on a basketball scholarship, the topic is fair game.   My former company took all employees through this type of diversity training.


Also, I have a feeling that crossing the bridge from Detroit to Winsor is a larger cultural change than I understand.

Comment by Paul Alfred on May 27, 2011 at 7:54am

And that is my point Bert ... From a Recruiting perspective I treat the Asian American Candidate the same as I do an Irish American, African American or Indian American Candidate ...  Regardless of whether or not they graduated from Harvard and Play Basket Ball with their buddies on the weekends.


In looking over your blog I think the only real problem I have with it is your Title with respect to 5 tips ... I think if this was a blog on diversity issues then we could have a straight conversation - but when you cross the line with Tips on how to Recruit a particular Race then you are going to have to apply this accross the lines for all races - this is the problem I have with the Context of your Argument...  So Diversity issue I am with you ... But we need to be clear ... I hope you see where my problem lies ....

Comment by Valentino Martinez on May 31, 2011 at 9:14am

Subjective vs. Objective & Objective vs. Subjective,...with a sprinkling of personal experience and personal bias and there you are.


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