This might be the nightmare question at interview. Have you ever stopped to think about how culturally aware you are? Probably not. Few of us take the time to reflect on our skill sets or consider the gaps in them. We live and work in a global community – we all have some sense of cultural awareness. But, what is meant by this vague term and how do you build the knowledge to handle questions about it with aplomb?
“Cultural Awareness is the foundation of communication and it involves the ability of standing back from ourselves and becoming aware of our cultural values, beliefs and perceptions. Why do we do things in that way? How do we see the world? Why do we react in that particular way?”
Stephanie Quappe and Giovanna Cantatore (www.culturosity.com/articles/whatisculturalawareness.htm )
In this age of globalisation there are many skills that can help you to get your dream job and then progress in your chosen field. Cultural awareness is an overarching skill and a necessity. Demonstrating your flexibility, open-mindedness and your cultural awareness will always be important. During your time at university you are exposed to new experiences, including a range of different cultures and languages. These enriching learning experiences can be used in your working life. They develop you as a person and make you more employable; in the UK and in the wider world.
Can you give positive answers to these questions?
Global companies will want to see that you are open to new ideas and cultures. Can you communicate with people from different nations and avoid any ambiguity? Can you build relationships that take account of different cultural expectations and needs? Do you always try to understand and value different perspectives whilst looking for the common ground? Will you be able to research new markets and cultures and have the sensitivity to check in with contacts as necessary to get clarification and iron out problems?
What makes you able to work well in global markets?
Languages can be a great asset when you want to work globally but they are only one piece of a complex jigsaw. Networking at university with students from different nationalities can help to give you a better understanding of what is important in their countries. Researching specific markets and countries will give you a chance to identify trends in the global market whilst appreciating what each nation has to offer. You can also begin to understand the cultural values which sometimes lead to such confusion. Speaking the same language is great but are there nuances that may be very difficult to understand. Checking for clarification is vital and this is the hidden communication skill that is essential in a global marketplace
How have you been preparing yourself for the global mind set?
Here at Warwick you are in a global environment already. One in three students is classified as “international”. Statistics will be similar in many other universities. You’ve probably mixed with people from different cultures, faiths and even picked up the odd words of another language. Your group working skills will have developed as you’ve learned that you need to communicate clearly to ensure the entire team is “on the same page” (and understanding all the colloquialisms and metaphors!) Sometimes you may have had to work outside your comfort zone. Perhaps you are the person who has had the confidence to come to another country, to learn another language and to build new networks when in your early days you knew hardly anyone. You will have developed lots of resilience as well as commercial awareness to support your future career.
So how are you going to prepare to answer the interview questions?
Employers use a range of different terms when they explore whether you are going to be a good fit for their international businesses. They might talk about ‘global mind set’ or “intercultural sensitivity”. The terms are inter-changeable. What is important is your cultural awareness and how you use this information to inform and develop your other skills. Start thinking about some examples. Reflect on how you have made the best of the multi cultural environment at university. Don’t think that you won’t need to worry about this if you are not aspiring to work for an international company. All recruiters want a broad range of skills to equip them to succeed in the global village.
Tips to help you develop cultural awareness
Don’t assume anything! Enjoy difference – we all are very different even within our own nation, region and street! Check if you are not sure of the appropriate behaviour in any given situation– no one will be offended and it may stop you causing offence. Don’t judge other people or their lifestyles; it’s a big world out there and there is room for everyone!
Cultural awareness is about being open to embracing the diversity of life. It is about a willingness to learn and to seek new experiences and ultimately new friends. It is being open to what life and your career brings you. As you learn to understand more about the world you’ll find there is less certainty. Your cultural awareness will equip you to deal with the situations you and your organisation faces.
So what do you think you’ve learnt and how will you articulate it? What about talking about flexibility, resilience, accepting ambiguity (understanding there is no one right way) and interpersonal skills. All of this will stand you in good stead from Lagos or Liverpool!
Cultural Awareness Tools
For more information on why a global mind set visit: