How to Hire for Cultural Competence


As human resource professionals, Executive Directors are seasoned in how we screen for education, competencies, skills, knowledge, abilities and any of the previous which may be transferable. We are taught to ask specific questions that elicit the necessary details to assess whether an individual can meet the proficiencies required of most positions. What we need more than anything in today’s world is the ability to assess the cultural competencies of individuals we hire.

While there is no sure way to ensure the individuals we interview truly have exactly what it takes to be the model employee, there are certainly ways in which we can do our due diligence to explore this. Specifically, I would like to focus on assessing for cultural competencies. Often in interviews, the host or interviewer will pose a number of questions pertaining and related to cultural intelligence and conduct. These questions are important, and I advocate heavily that employers include them in their process. What I caution employers and HR teams is to ensure they do not stop there. When I interview potential employees, I ask for real life examples. I ask my candidates to demonstrate how they immerse themselves in intercultural relations both professionally and in their personal lives. Intercultural relations are not something that you do at work, leave on the desk for the night and pick back up in the morning or on Monday morning.

It is an entrenched practice, a set of values, deep beliefs, and piece of your core. It is something that you adamantly stand for. In fact, a workplace that does not promote strong intercultural competencies is not something you stand for, nor would you work for. Ask potential employees why cultural competency is a part of their practice, how they do this, what their values are around cultural competency, and what they believe happens in the absence of those competencies. Encourage potential employees to talk about times that the absence of cultural competency in the workplace hurt the employees and the organizations. Follow that up with a request for examples they have of how cultural competency grew a team, how it enhanced the workplace, how it presented vast opportunities for enriched dialogue and experiences, and how productivity and team ship thrived. Examples are key to ensuring that a candidate has not simply committed a textbook or article to memory.

As a more comprehensive process, I have often advocated that having a dialogue around cultural intelligence is critical. This dialogue in an interview might include a preamble about what cultural intelligence involves (knowledge, skills, and metacognitions) and then an exercise whereby the candidate is able to contextualize themselves within it. They might explain how they were raised, messages they received as children about cultural diversity, experiences they had in grade school, an important person’s influence into their intercultural development, or an audio visual message that stayed with them. They may go on to talk about their learning and experiences as an adult and how they come to find themselves interviewing with you. It is critical that they include the mistakes, errors, missteps, regrets, and missed opportunities their journey took them through. That is the skills component! Skills are acquired through experience and immersion, so this portion of the interview is critical. Confident allies who have truly acquired cultural competence are confident candidates who can talk about their learnings and from there hopefully feature their successes. From that point is still the added opportunity for your candidate to highlight how they continue to challenge themselves about their own current thinking, which is the metacognition component.

I encourage interviewers and human resource personnel to not rush this important part of an interview. Place equal value, if not more importance, on it. Be patient, listen carefully. Honour the difficult journeys that were far from perfect, perhaps more gifts came from them. Do not judge the journeys that are shared with you, they took courage. And most of all honour the hard work from our allies, we need them in our work places.

Indigenous Perspectives society will be launching updated Executive Director Training in 2020 and more information can be found at

Rachelle Dallaire, Executive Director, Indigenous Perspectives Society