Demonstrating Cultural Competence - Executive Interview Tips

Most reasonable sized businesses in our modern global economy have an international dimension to their work.  Even if the business is predominantly based in one country, it may well have customers, suppliers, agencies, franchisees etc who are based in different parts of the world. For larger businesses operating across multiple territories, people inside the business may well be regularly working with people from a diverse range of heritages and cultures.

For senior managers, international travel may well be a regular feature of the role and, in an expanding enterprise, this may also involve trail-blazing new business activities in new and unfamiliar societies.  The trend towards fully globalised businesses is growing at an unstoppable pace, driven by on-line communications, massive economic and consumer growth in previously under-developed countries and the availability of relatively cheap air travel.

From a recruitment perspective this means that for many senior managerial and professional roles, recruiting employers are increasingly looking for, not only demonstrated excellence and achievement across the range of core technical and professional competencies for the role, but also evidence from the applying individual that she or he can demonstrate a strong “cultural competence”.  In some big global roles, the presence of cultural competence may well be a clinching issue in deciding between strong candidates who have demonstrated all the other core job requirements.

So what then do we mean by cultural competence?  What are the kinds of attitudes and behaviours that an interviewer might be seeking as evidence that an individual can work effectively across different cultural boundaries?

At Brosna Career Consulting these are the areas that we encourage individuals to focus upon when we are preparing them for a senior role with a significant cross-cultural dimension.

Concrete Experience

There is no easy substitute for having experienced, lived and/or worked in a different cultural context from that of your own upbringing.  Yes of course this will include holidays and travelling to different countries but will be much stronger evidence if you can show a more prolonged exposure to dealing with cultural challenges.  

It is also important to describe what you might have learned and how you might have adapted to (see below) the exposure to different cultures.  If you have only had limited direct experience in other cultures, then show how in your past you have dealt well working with a diverse group of individuals where you might have been in the cultural minority.

Inclusive Behaviours

Pick good examples of where you have led, managed or participated in activities involving a very diverse mix of people, and where you have had to show an inclusive style of behaviour to win commitment and achieve results.  Inclusive behaviours include:

  • Listening to and understanding diverse points of view
  • Not overly imposing your own point of view
  • Actively involving ideas and contribution from others
  • Building upon and combining ideas to find an effective solution
  • Suspending judgement on expressed attitudes and behaviours that are alien to you
  • Recognising cultural clashes and finding common ground around which individuals can come together to work productively and reach agreement
  • Being tolerant and sensitive to the differing needs of others

Tolerance of Ambiguity

One very clear distinctive set of behaviours that illustrates a strong cultural competence is the ability to tolerate and live with high levels of ambiguity.  Cultures that are different from your own will almost certainly operate with different rules and precepts from your norms; things will get done in a different way from what you are used to. It may take time to discover, understand and adapt to these different ways and this can be unsettling and cause you to have to make some tricky choices; this will often mean you may have to suspend your own assumptions and show ….


i.e. how you can vary your behaviours to match the need and expectations of functioning in a culture that is different from your own; give specific examples of how you have had to adapt to respond to different cultural contexts of pressures.  Cultural clash most often occurs where individuals from different backgrounds simply apply their own cultural precepts to any given situation rather than adapting behaviours to meet the prevailing culture half-way.

Cultural Acuity

Showing a willingness to understand, learn about and respond to different cultures is a strong element of overall cultural competence.  This does not mean you have to sacrifice your own values, but simply that you have sufficient knowledge about the different prevailing culture around you that will enable you to better respond and interact with key people from that cultural background.  It also means avoiding being overly judgemental about the differing cultural.


Prolonged working and living outside your own culture can be challenging and stressful; examples of situations that demonstrate that you have a strong personal resilience when dealing with situations of newness, ambiguity and uncertainty will reinforce your cultural competence in the eyes of an interviewer.


We all have our own ways of looking at the world forged from the wide variety of influences in our backgrounds and upbringing.  This leads us to have clear preferences about how we deal with the world and effects how we build relationships with others.  It can also involve us hanging-on to stereotypes about others who are different from us that may not be very helpful when seeking to work with them.  

Showing that you have a high sense of self-awareness about your own preferences and values – both the positive impact these preferences can have on others and the potential downsides – can be further verification to an interviewer of your cultural awareness and competence.

The above un-bundled description of the different aspects of cultural competence is not meant to be a completely exhaustive list, but instead to illustrate some of the main personal attributes it would be worth covering if you are seeking to persuade an interviewer that you are ready for that big global job working with a diverse group of stakeholders.

In commenting on this blog, please do let us know from your own experience if you feel there are other important attitudes and behaviours contributing to cultural competence that we have missed.