Reconsidering the fork and knife hegemony: how cultural intelligence can land you the job of your dreams
Cultural intelligence (CQ) is one of the most important job skills you can acquire today. In an increasingly globalised economy, understanding how to deal with others is vital. CQ competencies can help you to function with diverse individuals and understand a company’s corporate culture.
Getting your foot in the door requires more than technical skills. Indeed, although interviewers and recruiters may have a checklist of business or technical skills that they’re looking for, research has found that they emotionally and unconsciously gravitate towards potential hires that make them feel comfortable, those that can relate to or share their culture.
What do we mean by culture? Every company has a unique personality that they have or are trying to cultivate: successful employees share values and perspectives. In addition, ethnic or national culture has great impact on values and perspectives. Cultural intelligence involves being aware of your own culture and that of others in terms of personal, corporate and national culture.
Lauren Rivera, assistant professor of management at Northwestern University, has published a study of elite American firms to determine how hiring practices were influenced by culture. She discovered that much more than proven ability or technical skills, interviewers were more likely to hire applicants that they shared culture with, especially in terms of leisure pursuits outside of the workplace. Applicants that they shared some bond with, felt comfortable with, could possibly “hang out” with outside of the workplace are those that received good evaluations. In over half the interviewers, Rivera found that background, leisure pursuits and self-presentation most strongly influenced job interview outcomes, that “perceived” similarity or validation of the interviewer’s culture influenced whether the assessor judged the candidate as a “good fit” with the company.
Rivera tells Science Daily staff: “... employers really want people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend and maybe even their romantic partners.” Why is this so?
Rivera’s study is available on the American Sociological Association’s website. In it she emphasises that job hiring is “a fundamentally interpersonal process” and that personal impressions and feelings often are more pervasive than technical qualifications. Perceived similarities in terms of experience, interests and knowledge create an “emotional glue” that allows bonding, comfort, excitement and trust to arise. These perceived similarities affect how an interview judges merit and belongingness to a specific group. Rivera determined that three processes affect hiring in terms of cultural similarities: organisational processes (company cultural fit); cognitive processes (similarities meant interviewers understood better and gave higher merit to the candidates qualifications); and affective processes (similarities generated excitement about — and support for — the candidate.
Company cultural fit proved the most important of these processes. Cultural fit mattered more to interviewers than analytical ability or communication skills. Part of this is due to increased understanding that strong corporate cultures enhance employee creativity, commitment and productivity. Research has found that shared values make for good corporate culture. What Rivera found, however, is rather than work culture, work styles or work values, interviewers were instead influenced by an applicant’s out-of-work styles and values, their leisure activities. Many interviewers believe that communication skills and other like skills can be taught to new employees and that they hire people that they’ll feel comfortable working with and hanging out with. They hire people that they’ll enjoy doing overtime with as colleagues often become a hard-working person’s primary social network.
Rivera goes on to point out that companies have personalities based on “extracurricular interests and self-presentation styles”. There are egghead or intellectual firms, country-club or white-shoe firms, sporty or fratty companies, and gruff and scrappy corporations. Although on the surface, many companies recruit for diversity, in reality, they seek a deeper level of homogeneity in applicants. The staid and steady firm may not hire the innovative maverick. The scrappy corporation may not hire the intellectual. The egghead firm may not hire the candidate that plays golf or squash.
In terms of cognitive processes, the interviewers own experiences frame how well they understand an applicant’s characteristics, experiences and skills and how much value they give them. Interviewers use self-reference criterion to judge potential hires: they use their own experiences as benchmarks for the interviewee. An recruiter who was successful without having had great grades or even much college experience will value these less; an interviewer who has only worked in large corporations will have little understanding of how to evaluate the experience of someone that has worked for small family firms. An assessor that played school sports may use these activities as a measure of drive and commitment and not comprehend how having been a newspaper editor can translate in terms of these qualities. Such evaluations are not objective.
Cultural intelligence can affect how you make an interviewer feel. Affective processes affect the hiring process. Interviewers gain positive feelings about a candidate when their attitudes and identities are affirmed, when they feel validated. Chemistry matters. When an assessor experiences a spark of excitement because of sharing an interest, they feel as if this same feeling will occur for others that encounter the applicant. Interviewers that felt such chemistry with an applicant would champion them for hire.
Rivera adds that sharing race or sex is not the only basis for cultural hiring, that perceived similarities in interests, experience and presentation matter more. She also points out that because recruiters are often interviewing applicants with similar backgrounds in terms of schooling and skills, their subjective assessment is all they have to go on.
Employers can gain much if they too, understand that these cultural and subjective similarities affect hiring. Keeping this in mind is important if a company is seeking to diversify its workforce and become a more culturally diverse corporation. Homogeneity may help employees to get along but the company can also become less globally responsive and innovative without diverse perspectives. It’s also useful for companies to understand that interviewers may sometimes hire for themselves rather than what is the best company cultural fit or the applicant best qualified for the position.
For job-seekers, researching and understanding what out-of-work experiences characterize their employers is important. Cultivating cultural breadth and depth so that you can relate well to your potential interviewers may be the crucial component of getting and/or progressing in a job. CQ training can help you develop the awareness and flexibility to relate to different employers.
By: Oksana Tashakova
The writer is an executive coach and HR training and development expert. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or www.academiaofhumanpotential.com. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy