Job Skills For The Future – Culture Knowledge

(This column is posted at  Steve’s Tumblr)

As noted last week, I decided it’s time to put on my Geek Job Guru Hat again and discuss the job skills people are going to need in the future. This is, of course, based on my own experience (a manager in IT) so not all of it will apply. But It should give you a good idea of what to think of in the next five-ten years.

Last time I discussed the need for Vendor Management. If anything, that seems even more apparent as I run into all kinds of outsourced functions at companies.

However, next up let’s talk something that seems a bit more touchy-feely: Culture knowledge.

Let me avoid my usual subtlety and be blunt: the world is getting drawn closer together all the time and demographics are changing in many areas, so knowing about other cultures will be paramount for job success.

It’s pretty important now, but is well on it’s way to being indispensable in many areas. I’m in freaking Silicon Valley and find I have to correct people on cultural assumptions.  That’s now.

In the future you’re going to have to get along with people from different subcultures in your own country due to changes in business and demographics. The years to come will mean you’ll be exposed to cultures in other countries as the world gets smaller.. Your jobs to come may even require you to understand subcultures in other cultures not your own.

It’s a smaller world, and you can be pretty sure you’re not so much aware of other cultures, but merely less ignorant than most. Trust me, that’s how I view it sometime.

So what kind of culture knowledge will you want? I’m glad you ask. Here’s what’s helped me.

  • Holidays. No really, be aware of major holidays as you’ll better understand time off, commentary, and socializing in other cultures. It can also help when you’re sensitive about things.
  • Communications. People, obviously, communicate differently in different cultures. Sure it seems obvious you need to get other cultures to communicate properly, but that requires making an actual effort, notj ust relying on your probably limited knowledge. I dealt with this when I discovered regional differences among different Indian regions that completely threw me – and explained a team’s bad dynamics.
  • Manners. Something we Americans could be better at. you’re going to want to understand manners as you deal with people in different cultures so you don’t A) piss them off, and B) misunderstand them. Take it from a man who’s not exactly subtle, what seems to be a gregarious American Dude can come off as anything from annoyingly arrogant to charmingly eccentric depending on other culture.
  • Values. What is valued in a different culture is important to understanding motivations, communications, and negotiations. Once when dealing with a foreign company I found they were mistrusting of my team – only to later realize that I had to build a relationship with them, so we worked to their rythm and requirements.
  • Humility. Understanding other cultures – and how they view you – is an excellent ego-deflater.

The world is not going to stop connecting, and you can be sure your job isn’t. So get ready to understand other cultures in your career – it’s going to be a distinct advantage.

As for how to do it, my recommendations are to find ways to get informed – books, etc. – but mostly talk to people with the knowledge. Several times I built better relationships with people in Japan due to friends that had lived and worked there. Early experiences in IT with people from India helped me understand cultural issues better – and I had people with the patience to explain things to a young, unsubtle, know-it-all programmer.

Whe would this fit in your job search?  If you have this skill how would you describe it?

COVER LETTER: Only call out cultural knowledge if the job posting asks about it, and its a major part of the job. Otherwise it can seem like bragging (and most people who brag about cultural knowledge don’t have it).

RESUME: Only put cultural knowledge on your resume if it’s very vital to the job, otherwise it can also sound like bragging. A more subtle approach such as “work with international teams” is a good way to do it.

INTERVIEW: Culture knowledge often comes up in interviews, so be sure you have some stories to relate from your past.  This is where you can cut loose as you answer specific questions.

Hope this helps you out in the future! The future is coming faster than you may think . . .

– Steve