From the outside American enthusiasm and energy does not seem real. You watch TV shows where peppy shop assistants smilingly offer their help and everyone is positive and upbeat as they go about their business. That isn’t what it is really like, though, right? This is just a fictional construct, it must be. But it’s not, this became clear to me soon after arriving in the Bay Area.
People you don’t know will talk to you on the street for no reason – learning an elderly man’s life story at the bus stop is a fun way to pass the time. Somehow you can end up on a pub crawl with some Americans you just met at the bar, because they liked your accent. Elderly ladies telling you they’re jealous of your turquoise hair and strangers offering to drive you home when they see you laden with groceries are not odd occurrences. OK, maybe the blue hair thing is just me…but you get the idea! People chatting to you in the queue at the store was unexpected, but a welcome interaction when I was so new to the area and knew so few people.
Don’t fake your enthusiasm
However, this positivity and enthusiasm became rather daunting when I began to job hunt. Where I’d always prepared for possible questions and researched the company I was applying to in advance of my interview, I now found myself considering my energy and enthusiasm a lot more than I would have previously.
For Americans this level of positivity appears to come naturally, whereas when I attempt to smile genuinely at someone I don’t know, it comes off as more of a grimace. I am outgoing and, shall we say, unafraid to share my voice, but even for me this is hard work. For those from cultures where interactions with strangers are kept formal, or to a minimum, and for those of a more introverted personality, this can be extremely daunting.
Even as someone who is not shy, I’d find myself worrying about how positive I seemed at job interviews and thinking I’d done badly. The truth was I was always excited. I only applied for jobs that I genuinely wanted, but in the UK job interviews are still very formal compared to the Bay Area. Professionalism and formality are the order of the day, so when I tried to be exuberantly excited at an interview, I felt fake and disingenuous. Sending a note or email to the interviewer, thanking them and reinforcing your desire to work there is fully expected. In the UK, this would be far too strong a come on and would probably have the opposite effect to that which was desired.
To me this was still something I found very hard and attempted to emulate, but I have learned you should not just try to fake it. As with any change from your own culture, it is an adaptation, should you completely change who you are? No, of course not! But it may take a little work to find your balance.
Engage, interact and be positive
Having now had work experience in the Bay Area, I have witnessed this energy first hand, and feel I understand it a bit more. When I first started working, and colleagues greeted me with ‘Happy Friday!’ ‘Happy Monday!’ and ‘Happy Fall!’ I was totally confused. Why was everyone so excited by Tuesday or Friday or the Fall or any other generic day! But I have learned that this is just the American way of greeting you, it is akin to ‘Good Morning,’ or ‘How are you?’
What have I taken away from all this? Enthusiasm, energy, and positivity are a way of life in America, in all areas, but when it comes to job searching this can be more difficult to navigate. Americans’ love to engage and interact and this is not a bad thing.
Here is some advice based on my experience:
- First, don’t be afraid to ask questions: how does applying for a job here work? Should I really send a thank you note? How should I behave at an interview? Ask acquaintances, neighbours, friends, ask us here at Life in the Bay, we want to help, and so do most people.
- Second, preparation is key. Interviews are daunting, especially in a new country. Practicing possible questions will make you feel more confident, so you will seem confident, engaged and more enthusiastic. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes!
- Third, be yourself! Whilst recruiters may be used to a visible enthusiasm from interviewees, they understand everyone is different, and being genuine will always get you further than faking it. I do not believe I am half as positive or energetic as an American candidate would be, but I have successfully worked, so it is most definitely not the only consideration.
And finally, don’t forget to smile. You’ll get used to it!
What fun interactions has American enthusiasm led to for you? Comment below.
We agreed that with hundreds of languages spoken in the Bay Area, that many things are lost in translation, what would help is a cultural dictionary.