We live in a diverse world. People from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds meet in a typical workplace, and it doesn’t matter whether you actually embrace this diversity, or have strong prejudice against people who believe in another God, have another color of skin, or vote for another presidential candidate. You will have to work with them, especially in any big corporation. It is not something you can avoid, and it makes sense that hiring managers inquire about your experience with multicultural environment in an interview. But what do they want to hear from a good job candidate?
First of all, they do not care that much about the situation you narrate–if you decide to narrate a situation in your answer. They care primarily about your attitude. They want to hear, or at least perceive in your words, that you are fine working with people from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds, that there is no prejudice in your heart. But you can definitely mention a conflict of opinions, or any other conflict in which cultural differences came into play, because such things do happen, and companies want to hire people who see things realistically, and can appreciate both pluses and minuses of a multicultural environment.
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. I tried to include on my list variety of answers, for different situations and levels of experience (including answers for people with no previous working experience). Hopefully you will find at least one which you can use in your interviews. Once done with the answers, do not forget to check also my notes below them, for additional hints.
7 sample answers to “Describe your experience working in a multicultural environment” interview question
- I worked in a multicultural team of seven people in my last corporate job. The team was as diverse as you can imagine, at least in terms of race, religion, and gender of my colleagues. But we were all the same age group, from twenty-five to thirty-five. I would say that such a team had both advantages and disadvantages. It is great seeing things from different perspectives of team members, which are always influenced by their cultural background. What’s more, when you open your heart you can learn a lot from these people. On the other hand, except of work we did not have much in common, so we were just colleagues, and have not become friends. That would be easier with people from the same cultural background. Anyway, I respected all people in the team, and we had a fruitful cooperation. So I do not think I will struggle working in such a team in your company.
- This is my first job application, so I haven’t worked in a multicultural environment before. But I can narrate my experience from school. As it is the case with most public high schools, you have a mix of people in the classrooms. We had Latinos, African-Americans, Caucasian people, and we also professed all sorts of religions. Of course–and I think this is inevitable in each group or team, people from the same cultural background hanged out together, and exception just proved the rule. And just like at any other school, we had fights, cases of bullying, and so on. But I never fell for such a trap. What matters for me is not a religion or a color of skin of a person. The only thing that matters is the character of the person, how they treat other human beings and living creatures… And I plan to treat people in the same way in my job–hopefully the one with you.
- I have worked in a multicultural environment in my last job in retail. Not only colleagues, but also customers came from all sorts of backgrounds. Speaking honestly, I treated everyone in the same way. I tried to be attentive to the needs and feelings of my colleagues, and courteous to each and every customer. Of course, some people are more likeable than others, and it helps when you have something in common with your colleagues. And I also felt it that way. But it doesn’t mean that I treated people differently. I respect every human being, regardless of their past, their religion, gender, or color of skin.
- I was more of a lonely wolf in my only programming job. We had occasional team meetings, but really most people were from the same cultural background. And we were very busy and focused almost entirely on work issues in the meetings. Once the meeting was over, everyone left the place and headed back to their office. But I do not want this anymore. And that’s exactly why I left my last job. I want to share the workplace with other people, and ideally from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Because I believe we can learn from each other, and it is much better having a culturally diverse team.
- I can describe it quite well on the last project I’ve led in my former job. I had six people in my multicultural team, and I must honestly say it wasn’t easy. The problem is that we live in a polarized society, and instead of looking at things we have in common–and there are always some, we focus on things that separate us. I faced this problem in my team as well, and we struggled with productivity due to internal conflicts. As a manager, I had a one on one with each team member, and I instructed all people to avoid topics like politics, religion, and other sensitive topics in the workplace. And I also organized small team building events for my team, such as playing bowling in teams. This helped a lot with the relationships in the workplace, and the productivity improved. However, I still witnessed some conflicts, because at the end of the day we are just people, and in pressure moments we may struggle to control our emotions. Anyway, as this experience proves, I am definitely ready to lead a multicultural team in your business.
- This is my first job application, so it is hard for me to pick an experience from the workplace. But I’ve done a gap year after earning my degree, and traveled the world. Meeting people from all sorts of cultures, and hanging around with them in cities, I came to a profound realization that at the end of the day, we aren’t as different as we think we are…. Every human being–regardless of their race, gender, or religion, desires to be respected and loved, and enjoys genuine interactions with other human beings. And of course we all have to get a job and earn money, to survive and have something to pay our bills with. To sum it up, judging by my experience from the gap year, I do not think I will have any problems working in a multicultural environment.
- I have not only worked in one–I live in one. My mother comes from a different cultural background than my father, and my partner is again from a different background. Bur respect has always sat on the top of values, and I definitely do not have any prejudice against people of different races and religions. In my last job at STARBUCKS I actually shared the quarters with three other baristas, and two of them came from a different cultural background. I have never found it hard cooperating with them, and I actually think such a diversity helps with the productivity in the team.
Avoid any terms and monikers that can be considered inappropriate or even racist
If you talk about people of different colors and religions, call them names that are generally acceptable. Use African-American instead of “Negro” (“black” is acceptable in some places but some people may still find it offensive), and Caucasian instead of “White” or “Gringo”. Latino is fine and widely acceptable at most places.
You can actually even omit these expressions altogether. Saying that you shared the workplace with “people from different cultures” should be enough for the hiring managers. They do not need to know exactly with whom you worked, and what color of skin they had, or what God they believed in.
Regardless of your experience, ensure them that you are ready to work in a multicultural environment
Maybe you’ve never worked in a multicultural team, or even never belonged to a multicultural classroom. Or, on the contrary, you have a lot of experience with such an environment–but it isn’t black or white really. You’ve had both good and bad experiences.
All of that is fine for the hiring managers, as long as you ensure them that you have no prejudice against people of a different race or religion, and feel ready to work in a multicultural environment. Keep it on your mind when answering this question…
Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- What does diversity mean to you?
- What is your ideal company culture?
- Give us an example of a time when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with.