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Beyond Resumes: The Crucial Role of Cultural Competence in Attracting Top Talent

Nov 27, 2023
Individuals sitting at a desk reviewing a resume.




Imagine the following situation:

GlobalCorp, a highly successful tech company, was conducting interviews for a high-level executive position.

The hiring committee was excited about meeting the finalists. All of them had impressive resumes and the committee was looking forward to hearing them highlight their achievements and skills. One particular candidate, Hiroshi Tanaka from Japan, stood out on paper as a seasoned executive with a wealth of experience.

As Hiroshi entered the interview room, there was a noticeable difference in his demeanor compared to the other candidates. In fact, committee members, who were expecting the candidates to openly boast about their accomplishments, were surprised when Hiroshi spoke very modestly about his various roles and responsibilities over the years. Instead, he emphasized teamwork, collaboration, and the success of his teams rather than focusing solely on his personal contributions.

The interviewers, accustomed to a more assertive style of self-promotion, found themselves in uncharted territory. They were expecting Hiroshi to elaborate on specific achievements. Instead, he continued to highlight the collective efforts of his teams and the positive outcomes of their collaborative work.

In the end, the hiring committee decided that Hiroshi would not be a good candidate for this high-profile position at GlobalCorp.

Where did the hiring committee go wrong?


Cultural Differences Impacting the Workplace

Hiroshi's behavior was shaped by his cultural orientation, particularly in terms of how individuals interact with each other in society.

Scholars have found that, for individualists or me-oriented societies, the needs of the individual take precedence over the needs of a group, be it a family or an organization. Individual accomplishments are highly valued and expected, and promotions are primarily contingent on achievements and qualifications.

Conversely, for collectivists or group-oriented societies, the needs of the collective are deemed more significant than those of any one individual. This perspective is rooted in the belief that the prosperity of the group directly contributes to the well-being of each individual within it. These societies prioritize group harmony and place importance on family relationships. It is not unusual for individuals to be promoted based on family connections rather than their expertise.

Scholars have found that in seventy percent of cultures throughout the world, the needs of the group (i.e., family, community, and organizations) come before those of any one individual. It is also understood that the United States is the most individualistic nation in the world (Hofstede (1980).


How Individualism and Collectivism Impact the Interview Process

The interplay between individualism and collectivism significantly influences how individuals present themselves during interviews.

Candidates with an individualistic orientation feel confident in openly discussing their achievements. During interviews, there is, in fact, an expectation that interviewees will confidently highlight their skills and professional accomplishments.

On the contrary, collectivistic candidates, while possessing the same qualifications, often feel uncomfortable about highlighting their personal successes. This hesitancy is rooted in their cultural orientation towards modesty and a belief that it is inappropriate to brag about your accomplishments.

Recognizing this distinction is imperative for those involved in the hiring process. It is crucial to understand that the reluctance of collectivistic candidates to openly discuss their achievements stems from cultural norms rather than a lack of competence.

In order to navigate this cultural orientation successfully, hiring committees need to find innovative ways to unearth the collective successes of these candidates. In fact, one effective strategy is to frame questions in a manner that invites candidates to share their achievements within a team context rather than focusing solely on individual accomplishments.

This not only acknowledges and aligns with their cultural orientation but also creates an opportunity for specific candidates to excel while highlighting their collaborative skills and contributions within a group setting.


Revisiting the Cultural Incident

Hiroshi's behavior during the interview was deeply rooted in Japanese cultural values, which prioritize modesty and group harmony. In Japanese culture, it is often considered inappropriate to boast about individual achievements; instead, the emphasis is placed on the collective success of a team.

Despite the initial surprise, the interviewers needed to (1) recognize Hiroshi's cultural orientation, and (2) reframe their questions in a way that would allow group-focused candidates to showcase not only successful team collaborations but also the impact of their leadership on group achievements.

This scenario is a valuable lesson on the impact of cultural differences on the interview process. Hiroshi's reluctance to "brag" about his achievements was not due to a lack of confidence or competence. It was, instead, a reflection of his cultural background, and hiring committees must recognize different cultural orientations if they aim to attract a diverse pool of talent.











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