Discover the similarities, differences and cultural challenges involved with recruiting an international employee to a U.S. firm
"Going global" and "globalization" have emerged as buzz words for the '90s, and growth-smart companies are quickly realizing a global economy is no longer just a theory. E-commerce alone has opened up a world of opportunity for merchants of all sizes to compete on a global scale. However, experts say in order to effectively compete in a diverse world market, companies must adopt a global mindset and understand the importance of developing international leaders from different cultural backgrounds.
"A company that uses the globe for its talent pool will obviously have much greater depth. Doing a good job at global human resource management, which includes recruiting on a global basis, is going to be a tremendous advantage as we enter a global economy," says Vijay Govindarajan, professor of international business at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College and director of Tuck's Global Leadership 2020 program. He says now is a good time to look abroad: With a downturn of the global economy, U.S. companies are finding it easier to lure the best and the brightest away from foreign companies.
But convincing a candidate to leave his homeland is just one of many unique challenges posed by recruiting an international employee. American companies must deal with the sometimes complex legal requirements of bringing a foreign worker into the States before addressing the myriad of other obstacles involved in relocating the employee and integrating him into the U.S. company and culture. Experts say failure to provide support to the international new hire may result in the worker returning home, or worse, taking a job with the competition.
"You have to be committed to global recruiting because it's expensive and time consuming," says William Simon, managing director of the worldwide entertainment and media division of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm. "But while it is challenging, the rewards are so significant that it's worth the investment."
Surveying the Land
In many senses, global recruiting is no different than recruiting in this country; the mechanics are the same, but the challenges are exaggerated. David Schutt, senior manager, Global Workforce Strategy division of Nortel Networks, the leader in wireless networking, best explains the first step toward recruiting international employees: "You have to get a basic idea of the types of individuals that you really need. This will determine where you will have to go to find them and how you must go about attracting them."
Before exploring overseas knowledge workers or executive specialists, however, the U.S. government will want assurances that the recruiter is doing his utmost to hire Americans and has therefore taken direct measures to protect the U.S. employees, such as placing a cap on the H1 Visas required to bring a foreign worker into the States.
"Once you have identified the exact types of skills you are looking for and have exhausted all the possibilities within the United States, then you need to study other major metropolitan areas throughout the rest of the globe to try to determine where you need to go to find the talent that you need," explains Schutt.Global recruiting demands a good understanding of what kind of business is going on in different areas of the world. This is a difficult undertaking, but necessary in order to target the countries that are most likely to produce individuals with the appropriate skill sets for your company. For example, different regions have different technological specialties: England is known for producing networking specialists, while Japan puts out excellent hardware engineers; Israel is a hotbed for Web specialists and database experts, while Malaysia is still producing qualified C++ developers.
"There are a number of places around the world where there is a good reservoir of experienced high-tech people. There are pockets of expertise throughout Europe, Scandinavia, Israel and Asia, among others," explains Simon.
Searching the World Over
Once you have narrowed your initial search to a specific country, there are two approaches you can take to enlist candidates: Search at major universities in the region or recruit top talent from other companies.
Universities can be a key resource for finding and recruiting qualified international talent. After determining which colleges graduate the types of professionals your company needs, it is important to reach out to those institutions.
"You have to make yourself the employer of choice, which requires you to have close alliances with the top universities," says Govindarajan. "This could involve your executives acting as visiting professors at these universities, establishing scholarships or having a seat on the board."
The other side of the coin is pursuing talent within international companies. "In the recruitment world, we refer to employed individuals as passive candidates -- people who are happily working at their jobs and could very well be a company's key resource," says Schutt.
Since it is difficult to ascertain the true reason an individual is not working, many international recruiters strictly court passive candidates. In either scenario, however, your company will require one common quality in order to find success in global recruiting: credibility. Without credibility, the recruiter will never be able to convince a candidate to leave his job and relocate to America.
Experts say traditional advertisements can be effective in eliciting interest from international employees, and the Internet is certainly opening doors for U.S. companies, as well. However, professional recruiters warn that while the Net can initiate or promote communication, it cannot replace the fundamentals of global recruiting. Industry associations may be a better choice for U.S. employers who need assistance locating foreign specialists, and experts suggest international employment agencies are also a valuable resource for screening global applicants. Finally, executive search firms can find and screen employees, as well as handle the necessary paperwork and other legal issues involved in bringing a foreign worker into this country. Many search firms offer tours allowing a company's recruitment manager to visit different countries and interview potential employees.
"There is nothing like getting your hands dirty by getting involved in the international recruitment process and learning how to do it for yourself," insists Govindarajan.
Meeting the Challenges
Experts agree that the biggest pre-recruitment challenge is culture. There are a number of cultural obstacles the successful recruiter must face as he makes his way through the process of hiring an international employee.
"In terms of recruitment practices, the way you are going to do it in India may be different than the way you do it in Brazil or China," explains Govindarajan. "Developing a deeper understanding of the local market as to what constitutes top talent is probably the most critical caution." Govindarajan says the most common mistake U.S. companies make in their efforts toward global recruiting is applying uniform educational standards across all nations.
Don Ganguly of NexGen SI Inc., a software applications developer, explains that educational standards can vary widely from country to country and adds, "Another key is understanding how to decipher the candidate's experience in the context of the country, so you know what that experience is really worth in the United States."
After assessing a candidate's educational standards, skill set and level of expertise, the recruiter should then investigate and address the legal and political environments in which the international worker is employed, as these factors can affect the process dramatically.
For example, different countries have different rules regarding privacy of employee information that may be either more conservative or more liberal than in America. Additionally, many workers throughout Europe are bound by employment contracts. And although it is not impossible to hire an employee under contract, Ganguly advises there are only two respectable options: pay it out our wait it out.
"Ways of doing business in the United States are just not going to cut it in a lot of countries," says Steve Dworkin, co-founder of CTS International, Inc. an international human resource firm based near Seattle. "Even responding to an ad in some countries could be an embarrassment for them if it's just not the way they do business."
The courtship process also varies in length from country to country and is generally much longer than in the United States. Experts say this is more a matter of custom than indecision, and the practice of waiting is often misunderstood by American recruiters who are accustomed to the hectic pace of business and employment deals in the States.
As well, just as global recruiters must be willing to travel, all "global" employees must be willing to relocate. Still, every individual is different, and some are more prepared than others to pull up roots and make a new life in America. "People in the United Kingdom (U.K.), for instance, are very accustomed to moving around, but they aren't necessarily as comfortable with a high-pressure sales technique that might be better suited to North American recruiters," says Simon.
Striking a Deal
Culture continues to play a major role in the recruitment process during the negotiation stage of hiring an international employee. Convincing a highly qualified worker to move to another country can be difficult and takes a recruiter with a variety of skills and a deep understanding of cultural backgrounds.
"You are going to find that in every country the techniques are a little bit different," says Dworkin. "Before you can even approach it, you have to be familiar with the challenges you may be encountering in each individual country."
Dworkin says a recruiter must devise a strategy for convincing the potential employee that the opportunities they have to gain outweigh the position they currently have in their own country. Part of this includes identifying what motivates the candidate -- be it career satisfaction, money, travel, position or equity. Additionally, recruiters say most international workers usually want part of their employment package to include relocation back to their home country, with a certain job in mind, in a three- to five-year period.
"There are a lot of areas where you can attract people when they are not getting that same kind of attention in their home country, so it is imperative for the hiring manager to understand what he is getting into before starting the process," stresses Dworkin.
Face-to-face meetings are a critical part of the recruitment process to help ensure a cultural fit. Experts encourage such personal meetings once you have reduced the pool of candidates to a small number from which you will select. Still, many other forms of communication should be utilized before taking the time and expense of travel. Telephones, e-mail and videoconferencing are the suggested methods of communication in the preliminary stages of global recruiting.
Schutt suggests asking a representative in your target country to interview the candidate first. Employees stationed in the country or another company you have a partnership with can help screen potential international recruits. "In every country and in every culture, there are nuances about people that you will not understand, even upon meeting them in person. So it's always a good idea to have someone from that country do an interview for you. They are going to be able to pick up on things in the language or customs that we are unfamiliar with in the United States," explains Schutt.
After striking a deal with an international employee, it will be necessary to obtain permission from the U.S. government to bring the foreign specialist into the States. The process of recruiting international workers has been made a little easier, Ganguly says, with President Clinton's signing of a federal measure increasing the number of foreign worker visas.
"The U.S. economy has a particular problem where the growth has been astronomical, and the driving force behind it has been the technology," says Dworkin. "Politicians understand that by allowing high-tech skill-carrying foreigners to come here basically paves the way for hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs because if the U.S. economy is strong, it opens up tremendous opportunities at the end of the day for Americans to prosper."
Indeed, there is much more free flow of intellectual capital than there was 20 years ago. The restrictions may have been reduced, but you still have to go through the technicalities. Perhaps a bigger challenge, however, is integrating the employee into the American company and culture.
Coordinating a Smooth Transition
"When an employee is recruited from an emerging country like Brazil or India and brought into the States, the tendency is for them to settle down in the States and often go to another company to find a permanent job," says Govindarajan. "So the chances of losing the employee are fairly high, and you must protect against this possibility somehow."
Experts agree the best protection is providing ongoing support to the international employee, both professionally and personally. Moving from one country to another has tremendous benefits, but also significant costs for the individual, and the employer must recognize and tackle these challenges on a case-by-case basis.
"It's difficult [enough] to move from one American city to another, and these challenges are magnified when moving to another part of the globe," says Simon. "It's a matter of getting them set up properly so they feel comfortable with where they are living, making friends, getting the kids in school and the spouses involved in the community, providing tax and banking assistance and making sure there is enough travel back to their home country if they are leaving family behind."
Experts say underestimating the time it takes to integrate people and making sure they get the proper support during the transition are two of the most common mistakes made by global recruiters. A keen sensitivity to cultural, relocation and integration issues, however, can allow the international employee to hit the ground running and help your company better compete on the global marketplace.
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