Mika Launikari


Cultural competency – The difference between success and failure in today’s world of work

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Today we live in the times of diversity and work in a global economy. That makes many job seekers wonder what are the language skills and multicultural competences that employers look for when recruiting new staff members. Is there a secret combination of professional knowhow, experience and values that weighs heavily and is strongly valid in a multicultural working environment? Many people may be asking themselves, if they really are able to demonstrate such multicultural capacities that make employers salivate with excitement. Some do, some don’t!

Each business is different of course, which means that certain job-specific skills necessary to perform a particular job well within the given environment are usually sought by employers in the first place. The degree in which additional abilities are expected of job seekers varies a lot across individual organizations and fields of business and industry. These days there are certain transversal soft skills that are in high demand in the labour market and that can be easily applied to different contexts, such as multicultural competences.

Culturally competent staff

Job applicants, who are culturally competent, are a greatly appreciated talent in the increasingly globalizing business environment. They can communicate efficiently, interact smoothly and work productively in multicultural teams. Employers are not only looking for diverse employees (in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation), but for staff members who have gathered versatile experiences from different parts of the world. The fact that you have been in situations that have forced you outside of your comfort zone normally develop mental flexibility and broaden your professional as well as personal horizons.

Thus, it should not come as a surprise to anybody anymore that HR managers are more and more frequently hiring candidates, who are not afraid of (cultural) differences and who show a talent for fostering an inclusive work environment. It is not only a matter of being able to work in diverse teams, but more importantly to capitalize on the wide range of skills and experiences such multicultural teams represent.

Developing multicultural skills

It is not correct to think that one day you just wake up and know exactly how to deal with diversity. No, it does not happen like that. Multicultural skills (as any other skill for that matter) are built over time and exposure. It’s something that we need to systematically develop and continuously invest in. If you lack skills to connect with people, who are different from you and if you do not realize the importance of improving them, you severely limit your own professional opportunities in the future.

In today’s turbulent and constantly changing marketplace, none of us knows anymore what to anticipate. The world around us calls for alertness, proactivity, engagement, risk taking, openness and acceptance of diversity.  If we only have a very narrow view of the world, we are not going to be successful - even our professional and personal “survival” might be at stake, if we persistently go on doing things in the “rigid, old-fashioned” way. The ability to effectively work with diverse groups is a non-negotiable contemporary skill that employers expect each one of us to have.

Readiness for intercultural encounters

Ask yourself, if you have what it takes to effectively cooperate with colleagues, who look, act and think differently from you? If not, you might end up having major problems at fulfilling your daily duties in this network-based world of ours, where people from all over are more and more connected than even before. Simply imagine what happens, if your employer unexpectedly tells you that you will have to start working on a project with colleagues, for example, from India, Germany and Australia, who you have not met earlier. Are you willing to take advantage of establishing good working relationships with all these people different from you or do you rather try to find an excuse for not getting involved in such international project assignment? For many this is not a challenge at all, whereas for some others it is.

Finally, if you wish to get your dream job and stand out from the crowd, make sure that you possess a unique set of multicultural qualities on top of the other important assets required in today’s labour market.  Professionals, who demonstrate cultural sensitivity, positive attitude and an ability to build rapport with a diverse workforce in multicultural settings are a sought-after resource for any employer.

Photo: Asherline/Flickr