In an increasingly globalized business world, companies demand HR leaders who can overcome cultural barriers to accomplish key goals. This year, students in the MA in Human Resources and Industrial Relations (HRIR) Program will get hands-on experience navigating multicultural teams as they collaborate with peers hailing from all corners of the globe: the incoming class features students from 14 countries.

“If you grew up in the United States, you may not be prepared to work on a global team,” says MA-HRIR Program Director Stacy Doepner Hove. “Our students get firsthand experience on global teams, which helps them understand the challenges and the triumphs they will face in the business world.”

Preparing for global roles

While cross-cultural competency is imperative in every area of business, it’s especially important for successful careers in human resources.

“It’s the HR people who are leading the discussions about cross-cultural communication and global teaming, and so having the opportunity for our students to work in these international teams while in the classroom is really important,” says Doepner-Hove.

Devin Roll, '18 MA-HRIR, appreciates the abundance of unique perspectives his classmates bring. He's confident the experience will enrich his career.

"The benefits of having cross-cultural experiences extend far beyond the classroom," says Roll, a student from North Dakota. "Diverse teams and companies outperform their competitors, and HR leaders act as a crucial partner in acquiring and maintaining diversity in the workforce."

Elishka Correa, ’18 MA-HRIR, joined the HRIR program to explore how HR leaders can help businesses flourish in the global marketplace. Prior to arriving at the Carlson School, she enjoyed recruiting and training freelance editors through her job in Mumbai, India

“Companies appreciate diversity—not only in terms of products, but in terms of markets and the people they hire—so that they can expand their business and reach customers in different parts of the world,” she says. “When I go into an organization, I'm not only going to work with Indians or Americans, it's going to be a mix of people. That trend is beginning to grow, so I think it's very important to appreciate people from different backgrounds.”

Navigating cultural differences

As they progress through the HRIR program, the students are discovering unexpected challenges as they work on projects in diverse teams. Each contributor brings a different approach to solving problems, communicating, and challenging one another’s opinions.

“That cultural difference does exist,” says Hannah Dong, ’18 MA-HRIR, who has experience working in HR at both start-ups and big corporations in China. “You have to learn how to think from different perspectives, and you have to break every stereotype.”

Dong is grateful that she can practice her cross-cultural skills in a classroom setting first, before she enters the work world.

Dadang Sunandar, ’18 MA-HRIR, will return to his job at the Ministry of Finance in Indonesia after graduation—and will be better-prepared to work with the array of people who come into his office. Sunandar’s role involves investigating fraud, and expanding his familiarity with cultural nuances will help him detect non-verbal cues as he interviews key contacts in his investigations.

Developing a global network

Many of the international students in the program will return to their home countries after graduation—and bring along connections to their classmates, who will build careers in countries around the world. They hope to stay in touch, and share expertise.

“There's definitely an advantage to know each other, to build a network. In the future we can meet again in a different situation. It might be a classmate that needs me, or it might be me that needs help from a classmate,” says Sunandar.

"As a class, our network becomes global the moment we stepped into orientation, and that is a rare privilege we can leverage decades after our graduation date," says Roll.