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Global Fitness for Work: Employer perspectives

It is widely argued that employers want to recruit people who can function well in today's VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Here at GlobalPeople, we have coined the term Global Fitness to capture the multifaceted nature of the personal strengths and competencies needed for working effectively across cultural boundaries (see the diagram on the right).

You can find out more here:

Many other terms have been used for this, including intercultural competence, intercultural effectiveness, cultural intelligence, cultural capability, global dexterity, and global competence.

Here we outline key findings on Global Fitness from recent studies with employers – studies that have asked employers to identify the skills and strengths that they regard as important for working in a globalising world. They portray a complex mixture. Our e-Courses, GlobalPeople@Work (designed for professionals) and Working in Groups (designed for students) will help you understand them as well as develop them.

QS Intelligence Unit. (2018). The Global Skills Gap in the 21st Century

The data in the table below comes from the QS Intelligence Unit 2018 survey and the ISE (Institute of Student Employers) 2018 survey. There was a total of nearly 28,000 respondents. As you can see, people identified a broad mix of personal strengths (e.g. adaptability, resilience), along with competence in communication, working with others and problem solving.

Rank order of the top ten most important skills for employers globally 

Rank order of the 10 skills with the largest gap between importance and employer satisfaction (%)

1. Problem-solving

1. Problem-solving (29%)

2. Teamwork

1. Resilience (29%)

2. Communication

3. Communication (24%)

4. Adaptability

4. Adaptability (20%)

5. Interpersonal skills

4. Data analysis (20%)

6. Data analysis

6. Leadership (19%)

7. Resilience

7. Creativity (18%)

8. Organisation

8. Organisation (17%)

9. Technical

9. Teamwork (15%)

10. Subject knowledge

9. Interpersonal skills (15%)

British Council (2018/19) Employability in focus. Exploring employer perceptions of overseas graduates returning to China

This study asked Chinese employers what key soft skills they were looking for when recruiting recent undergraduates (%, n = 350). As you can see, they placed a lot of importance on competence in communicating and working well with others.

This is a chart showing the key soft skills that Chinese employers are looking for when recruiting recent undergraduates

CBI/Pearson. (2017). Helping the UK thrive. CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry), in collaboration with Pearson, conducted research with over 340 organisations, ranging from small to large. One of the questions they asked employers was how satisfied they were with graduate applicants' work-ready skills. As you can see, they identified many features of Global Fitness, such as resilience, self-awareness and competence in communicating across language boundaries.

Diagram of CBI/Pearson data of employers' perceptions of skills gaps in graduate applicants

British Council. (2013). Culture at Work. The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace. London: British Council

The British Council carried out a survey of HR managers at 367 large employers in nine countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United Kingdom UK, and the United States of America (USA). These managers rank ordered the soft skills needed for global working as shown below. As you can see, competence in managing workplace relations effectively in terms of building trust, working collaboratively etc. were very highly valued, along with strengths such as self-motivation and adaptability.

  1. Demonstrates respect for others
  2. Builds trust
  3. Works effectively in diverse teams
  4. Open to new ideas/ways of thinking
  5. Collaborative
  6. Seeks opportunities for continuous learning
  7. Self-motivated

8. Time management

9. Listens/observes to deepen understanding

10. Strong leadership skills

11. Analytic thinking

12. Comfortable with complex situations

13. Flexibility

14. Adapts easily to different cultural settings

15. Adjust communication to suit different cultural contexts

16. Creativity

17. Understands different cultural contexts and viewpoints

18. Awareness of own cultural influence

19. Communication in other languages

20. Tolerates ambiguity

Economist Intelligence Unit. (2012). Competing across Borders. How cultural and communication barriers affect business

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) conducted a global survey of 572 executives. All respondents represented companies with either an international presence or plans for international expansion. Just over one-half (51%) of the respondents’ companies are headquartered in western Europe; almost one-fifth (17%) are headquartered in Asia Pacific; nearly one in ten (9%) have headquarters in North America, and 8% are based in Latin America. The rest of the companies represented in the survey are from Africa, eastern Europe and the Middle East.

One of the questions asked the executives to select the two most important factors for effective cross-border collaboration within their organisation. The results (% respondents) are shown below. As you can see, communication and team working are two of the top skills selected.

Diagram of EIU data on skills needed for competing across borders

AGR, CIE and CFE (2011) Global graduates. Global graduates into global leaders Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), the Council for Industry and Higher Education (now NCUB) and CFE Research and Consulting

This study asked twelve leading employers, who collectively represented over 3,500 graduate recruits, ranked a list of global competencies by order of importance using a 10 point scale. They ranked them as shown below. Once again, key competencies identified are excellent communication and the ability to work well in multicultural teams and settings, along with personal strengths such as resilience and self-motivation.

Global Competencies

Mean ranking

1. An ability to work collaboratively with teams of people from a range of backgrounds and countries


2. Excellent communication skills: both speaking and listening


3. A high degree of drive and resilience


4. An ability to embrace multiple perspectives and challenge thinking


5. A capacity to develop new skills and behaviours according to role requirements


6. A high degree of self-awareness


7. An ability to negotiate and influence clients across the globe from different cultures


8. An ability to form professional, global networks


9. An openness to and respect for a range of perspectives from around the world


10. Multicultural learning agility (e.g. able to learn in any culture or environment)


11. Multilingualism


11. Knowledge of foreign economies and own industry area overseas


13. An understanding of one’s position and role within a global context or economy


14. A willingness to play an active role in society at a local, national and international level


Insights from the studies and next steps

In certain respects the combined studies portray a complex and potentially confusing picture. Our GlobalPeople concept of Global Fitness helps make sense of this by grouping them first into (a) personal strengths/qualities and (b) competencies. In our e-Courses, GlobalPeople@Work (designed for professionals) and Working in Groups (designed for students), we focus particularly on the competencies of communication, building relationships, working collaboratively, problem solving and dealing with uncertainty, helping you understand the concepts as well as develop them. Our e-Courses, GlobalPeople@Work and Working in Groups also help foster personal strengths, although it's important to remember that these are developed over time with ongoing attention, as with a physical fitness programme. Our consultancy services can offer support in this.

Our Global Professionals Profiler (GPP) helps you first ascertain your Global Fitness training and development needs.

More information on Developing Global Fitness [Coming soon]

Diagram of the GlobalPeople concept of Global Fitness, including 3 main elements: Intercultural Vitality, Intercultural Understanding, and Intercultural Skilfulness. Intercultural Vitality includes a number of personal qualities, e.g. adventurous, resilient, self-aware, self-motivated. Intercultural Understanding includes awareness of and sensitivity to one's own and others' values & beliefs, patterns of behaving, and systems & regulations. Intercultural skilfulness includes competence in communicating effectively across cultures, building relations & collaborating with people from different backgrounds, and leading and working ethically and effectively in global contexts.

The GlobalPeople concept of