3 Tips for Recruiting and Building a Team Abroad

September 30, 2015

By 2020, the global middle class will add 1.4 billion people to the world. This is according to research from McKinsey, which also shows that a majority of this growth will be in Asia-Pacific countries in emerging markets like China, India, and Indonesia.

This will mean hiring more people, as many companies will need talent at the ground level to tap into new markets. Your role, as a recruiter, will be important to this process. How do you ensure that you build the right teams when you’re continents away from ground-level operations? Here are 3 tips to guide you:

1. Be present in your target market

You need an insider’s look into the country where you’re hiring. As acquainted as you are with a hiring ecosystem, small details can easily slip through the cracks. Consider working with a local expert to determine talent hubs, incentives, and questions to ask prospective candidates.

“The biggest challenges are identifying the cultural, operational and legal differences in the target country, determining how to enter the market, and establishing the organization as a wholly-owned enterprise,” says David Arkless, Chairman and President of staffing agency CDI Corporation's international division.

There are three ways to tackle this challenge: Hire a local recruiting consultant, spend time in the market where you’re sourcing candidates, and partner up with business partners with whom you’re already working on the sales and supply chain sides. Arkles says that the ideal strategy will accommodate a blend of all three tactics.

“In order to be successful, executive leaders must take the time and make the effort to understand the local cultures and build relationships in those locations,” says Arkles. “We establish a presence wherever we can and also leverage partners with other international organizations to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for us to expand into high-growth, high-margin markets.”

Even if you’re working with partners, focus on gaining as much direct experience as you can.

“Especially in emerging market countries such as China and India, the most important thing is to make top-level personal relationships in your industry and at a regulatory and government level. To do that, leaders have to travel, taste it and essentially be there to get some experience. This can't be accomplished by simply viewing analytics that an economist sent you; you need the personal, on the ground relationships.”

2. Be hyper-vigilant of cultural differences

Stuart Friedman, CEO at consulting firm Global Context, explains that there’s one big international hiring challenge that companies overlook: “how profoundly the culture of that country impacts the way the people working there think, communicate, and behave in any given business situation.”

The challenge can be as simple as not knowing local gestures, etiquette, and taboos or as complicated as not understanding the way that people share their achievements. Friedman encourages recruiters to consider the following scenario:

“Your hiring manager travels overseas to meet with potential candidates. At the end of a full day of interviewing candidates with the strongest resumes and most appropriate experience, the manager sends you an update. He reports that just about all the candidates he spoke with really underwhelmed him. They didn't have strong eye contact. Their handshakes were limp and like a dead fish. And worst of all, they shared generic responses to tough interview questions.”

Friedman explains that in many cultures, these interactions are the norm.

“In some cultures, anything put in strong terms would be considered boastful, and direct eye contact along with a strong handshake is inappropriate,” Friedman says.

Learn the nuances of the cultures in which you’re recruiting. Your own biases may be clouding your vision.

“I coached a very experienced sales manager not too long ago that had accepted a position of managing accounts in China for his company,” says Friedman. “On his first visit, he met with each individual one-on-one just as he had done time and time again when managing a new team in the states. During the one-on-one, he would say to his new subordinate, 'I have heard very good things about your work. But I would like to know what you would like to be doing in 5 years?'”

The sales manager, according to Friedman, was surprised when, within 3 months, half of his employees quit.

“Well, employees in China look for much different things from their supervisors than in America,” says Friedman. “In a culture where the supervisor always tells the employee what they should be doing for the company, asking an employee what they want to be doing would be taken as an indirect way of saying that the manager will not be doing just that and that the employee had best be looking elsewhere.”

3. Have leaders complete assignments abroad

Regardless of whether your recruiting team is working with a local expert, it’s important for leaders to get to know their counterparts’ cultures.

“We've found the biggest challenge is understanding how to operate in a new culture,” says Samantha Hernandez, Head of People Success at staffing agency Pro-Link GLOBAL. “What is the working style of people in the culture, how is business conducted in the culture, and what does the talent value or expect from a work relationship?”

In addition to working with local cultural experts, Pro-Link GLOBAL encourages its leaders to complete ‘tours’ overseas.

“Rotating leaders into an overseas assignment is a great development opportunity and it allows the company to gain valuable knowledge of how to best operate in the culture,” says Hernandez. “It also allows us to not make the mistake of trying to impose home-office values on a satellite location.”

In expanding overseas, you’re building a new operation from the ground-up. Everything you’ve learned about an ‘ideal hire’ is potentially obsolete. Never assume, ask questions, and consult a local expert as a guide.

*Image by Mike Behnken

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