Advice, Jobs

The Professional Skill All Interns Need But Don’t Get Taught

I am reading a really interesting paper on ‘intercultural competence’, a once rare skill that most job advertisements now list under ‘Requirements’ in some form or another.

Receiving training and figuring out how to work with people from many different cultures – national, regional, religious, organizations etcetera – used to be the preserve of the well paid and highly experienced. The authors frame the problem:

“In an increasingly global business environment, managers must interact effectively with people who have different values, behavioral norms, and ways of perceiving reality. Many jobs now entail an international dimension, so the challenge of communicating ideas and making decisions with people from different cultural backgrounds is no longer limited to a relatively elite group of expatriate managers who develop skills and knowledge by living abroad for years at a time.”

We live in an interconnected world where you interact with your line manager over Skype, the people sitting on the next desk might work for a different company all together and monthly office hot-pots are a walk into the unknown. Now everybody has to learn these skills, not just managers.

Interns, office managers, technical support – everybody.

I spent last year working for a startup in Nairobi. Our small team worked in four or five different time zones and supported clients in almost 30 countries. Intercultural competence was not only expected, it was practically a pre-requisite for the job. This may just be my own educational experience but I don’t remember getting any lessons on its importance to the job market. So how do you learn it?

The paper (in quite some depth) has solid advice.

“The core elements of intercultural competence therefore include an active awareness of oneself as a complex cultural being and the effect of one’s own culture on thinking and action, an ability to engage with others to explore tacit assumptions that underlie behavior and goals, and an openness to testing out different ways of thinking and doing things.”

Read the full paper here.

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