Intercultural competence: a key skill for a researcher


In the labour market, soft skills have become increasingly important. The interpersonal nature of the work (whether we work remotely or in the office) is important. One of these soft skills is increasingly sought after by PhD holders who are, in essence, an international group of actors: intercultural competence.

Author: Kristina Berkut

An overview of research in France

Intercultural competence in the workplace

A few tips for developing intercultural competence 



Today's research is international. The number of foreign researchers in France is the fourth highest in the European Union, with 42% of foreign PhD candidates and 33% of post-doctoral researchers. In recent years, more than one researcher out of three recruited by competition at the CNRS is of foreign nationality. The proportion of foreign researchers working in French companies is 5.5%. Furthermore, more than 7.2% of French researchers have implemented an international mobility project, and France has the second largest number of international collaborations in the world. Not only is it no longer possible for a researcher not to speak a foreign language (English is a confirmed lingua franca), but multilingualism is a gateway to a number of activities: writing articles, speaking at conferences, applying for funding, job offers, and international collaboration. Can the same be said of intercultural competence, the ability to interact effectively with people of different origins or groups (cultural, ethnic, social) and to adapt to a new cultural or geographic context?



In the workplace, this skill is used on a daily basis: when you say the name of a colleague you are speaking with and you have to adapt to a particular style of communication, or you have to follow procedural formalities that you are not used to. In addition, young PhD holders will be required to lead a team very quickly. To achieve this, tools such as communication, collaboration and teamwork, problem and conflict management, adaptability and critical thinking are essential... as is intercultural competence, which is a real asset in day-to-day management. Ignoring the intercultural dimension of work exchanges is simply not possible.

For businesses, this competence is increasingly sought after because it provides real leverage for career development, adaptation to different work contexts and communication with different stakeholders. Already in 2019, LinkedIn referred to intercultural competence as one of the "competencies of the future". Increasingly, intercultural experience or intercultural competence is present right from the job advertisement stage, in different forms. Since 2018, the ABG job board has seen many job ads that mention intercultural competence implicitly or explicitly through wording such as: "Ability to work in a multicultural environment", "Good communication skills across cultural boundaries", "Ability to work in an international team", "Cultural sensitivity", "Flexibility", "Diplomacy", "Tolerance", "Motivation for expatriate life", "Openness to other cultures", "Ability to work effectively and cooperatively in a multicultural environment", "Experience abroad and in a multicultural environment".


It should be noted that these formulations come from job offers that target extremely varied professions and sectors: economist-analysts for a European consultancy agency in the field of science and innovation policy; scientific officers for an agency promoting research and European cooperation; experts in synthetic biology for an animal feed company; geneticists for a development agency; research engineers in physics for a construction company; technical support officers for a biotechnology company; R&D engineers for a multinational company. This competence is also in high demand by international organisations and institutions, regardless of the position, the expected experience, your disciplinary expertise or your seniority.



A few tips for developing intercultural competence 

It is important to recognize that development of intercultural competence is an ongoing process. Don't be afraid to review the following from time to time:

  1. Reflect on your identity: who are you? What identifies you? Don't just focus on your origins or your profession... Try to identify all the facets of your identity and their impact (the way you are and behave, your habits and hobbies, your abilities and talents).  Once you understand more about the complexity of your identity, try applying that framework to others.
  2. Be a good observer and analyst: explore the different reasons and factors that can affect intercultural situations you have experienced.
  3. Do not opt for one way of being and doing: yours... Take inspiration from others, seek advice...
  4. The best way to practise your intercultural competence is to meet other people. Network, attend international business events.
  5. If you want to emphasize this asset to recruiters, don't hesitate to include it in your CV. You can use the keywords of the job you are applying for or the term you are most comfortable with.


ABG has set up, since 2020, a workshop on the development of intercultural competence in a professional setting.

If you are:

do not hesitate to contact, Training & International Project Manager.