Why Cultural Intelligence Is Increasingly Important—and How to Test If Your Candidates Have It

March 27, 2018

You already know hiring for IQ is important. And, more and more emphasis is being put on hiring for EQ (emotional intelligence) as well.

But, are you screening candidates for cultural intelligence (CQ)?

CQ is defined as “A measure of a person's capacity to function effectively in a multicultural environment.” In other words, it’s a person’s awareness of their own culture and ability to adapt to the nuances of other cultures.

In business, CQ is becoming more and more important as the workforce becomes increasingly globalized. In fact, nine in ten employers say having CQ in their skills base is key to improving the bottom line. On top of that, David Livermore, social scientist and author of The Cultural Intelligence Difference, even argues that cultural intelligence is the number one predictor of success in the modern workplace.

How to screen candidates for cultural intelligence

With CQ becoming an essential soft-skill—especially for companies with customers or employees across different cultures—it's important to find ways to screen for this in the hiring process. You’re looking for clues to understand how sensitive and adaptable your candidate is to ways of working and living that differ from their own. To help, we put together this list of six interview questions you can choose from to test for CQ.

1. Tell me something you have learned about another culture that you found interesting or exciting. How did you learn about it?

It’s hard to have high CQ if you aren’t interested in learning about other cultures. Asking this question will give you a sense of whether or not candidates have made an effort to learn about other cultures—through reading, taking classes, traveling, or something else.

This question can also help reveal whether or not a candidate is curious—a trait that signals they will want to continue to grow and learn at your company and, in turn, help you innovate and succeed.

2. “Describe a time when you had to work cross-functionally. How did you navigate the different goals and workstyles across teams?”

Only 55% of employees worldwide say their organizations are good at collaborating across departments. Cross-functional compatibility is a good analogy for CQ: like countries, corporate departments may have different cultures, requiring a certain level of understanding and adaptability to fit in.

A good answer will indicate that the candidate appreciated any differences and worked to accommodate unfamiliar processes and even conflicting objectives.

3. “Tell me about a situation where you had to adjust your behavior in order to make others feel comfortable. What did you do?”

According to the Cultural Intelligence Center, CQ is broken down into three components—the mental, the emotional, and the physical. To measure this, ask your candidate to describe a time in their personal lives when they had to alter their behavior to be in harmony with a different group of people.

This question will give you a sense for how your candidate approaches intercultural challenges in day to day life. The ideal answer would show that they recognized what to change (mental), how they felt about it (emotional), and what they actually did (physical).

4. “Have you ever had a perception of a different culture that was ultimately proven wrong? How did you adapt to this information?”

Few people were born with perfect knowledge of how to work with other cultures; for many, beliefs and perceptions evolve as they move through their careers. Asking candidates to share a past cultural breakthrough helps you find out if they’re open to change.

Observe how your candidate reacts to this question. High CQ candidates will be more likely to laugh at their past perceptions (rather than get defensive about them). They would be secure in the knowledge that mistakes and learning are necessary for growth.

5. “Think about your own culture. Do you think being a part of that culture has made it harder or easier for you to succeed?

Often, the people who are most successful within their own culture have difficulty assimilating to other cultures. The easier it is for someone can see what makes their culture unique, the more likely they are to be able to understand and appreciate other cultures.

Find out how objectively your candidate is able to view their own culture. See if they can identify the ways in which it helps or hinders them, or how it creates or limits opportunities in life and in work. Even if they don’t believe it’s hindered them, they might recognize how it could hold others back.

The future belongs to organizations that can weave in and out of different cultures with ease and grace. That starts by hiring talent who can understand and adapt to cultures other than their own. Fortunately, cultural intelligence is a skillset you can test for during the hiring process, and one that employees can continue to hone and refine. 

*Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

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