Recruiting Globally: The Cultural Differences You Need to Know

December 11, 2015

With an economy that is becoming increasingly global, recruiters are being asked to source candidates from countries all over the world. While that’s exciting, there’s something to keep in mind: You can’t talk with all candidates from all cultures the same way.

For example, if you're recruiting a Frenchman, generally its alright to be emotionally expressive and even confrontational, according to a piece by Erin Meyer in the Harvard Business Review. Conversely, being either confrontational or emotionally expressive would generally turn off a candidate from the United Kingdom.

To illustrate her point, Meyer made a graph of cultures across the world, showing how emotionally expressive and confrontational they are:

  • recruiting different cultures

Source: Erin Meyer, HBR, "Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da"

What’s interesting is that there appears to be a dichotomy in some cultures, as you’d think emotional expressiveness and confrontation would go hand-in-hand. However, Meyer writes that's not the case.

In Germany, for example, it's okay to haggle during recruiting, so long as it's done in a calm and professional way, according to Meyer. Conversely, in Saudi Arabia, you are better off building a stronger personal relationship with a prospect while avoiding outright confrontation.

People from different cultures build trust in different ways

Meyer also writes people from different countries build trust in different ways: Cognitively and affectively. For example, in the United States, trust in professional settings is generally built cognitively.

“Cognitive trust is task-based,” Meyer said in a video explaining the difference. “It comes from the head and is built on your counterpart’s accomplishments, skills and reliability.”

However, in China and Qatar, for example, trust in professional settings is generally built affectively. Meyer explains:

“Affective trust is relationship-based and comes from the heart. It rises from the feelings of emotional closeness, empathy and friendship that are developed gradually through sharing meals, evening drinks and coffee breaks.”

  • recruiting different cultures

Source: Erin Meyer, HBR, "Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da"

A few other cultural differences to be aware of

Meyer made note of a few other cultural differences to be aware of as well. For example:

1. In some countries it's welcomed to say you disagree, while in others it's considered rude

In Russia, don’t be surprised if a candidate challenges you at the onset of your pitch, Meyer wrote. That’s just how most negotiations go.

On the other hand, in countries like Mexico, it's considered very rude to outright tell a candidate no or disagree with them in some way, according to Meyer. Instead, it's better to be tactful, by saying things like “I do not quite understand your point” or “please explain that.”

2. Some countries do not appreciate yes-no questions

Recruiting someone often requires asking them a lot of yes-no questions, such as are you happy with this salary or would you be willing to relocate. However, in some southeastern Asian countries like Indonesia, it is rude to say no to a request. Instead, Indonesian candidates are likely to indicate no via body language or saying things like “I will try my best”, which are cues to essentially saying no.

3. Some countries much prefer written contracts over others

In the US, everything is contract-based. But that’s not the case in many developing countries like Nigeria and China, where contracts are more commonly verbal, according to Meyer.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t require candidates to sign a contract if that’s your standard business practice (as it probably is). It’s just that you should be prepared to explain that to some candidates who are less familiar with the process and may take it as a sign of distrust, Meyer wrote.

What this all means to recruiters

While human nature is consistent across the globe, different cultures do create different expectations and values for candidates in different countries. And to recruit effectively internationally, you need to be aware of that.

In the case of building trust and ultimately closing a candidate, chances are in China and in many African nations, it’ll probably lead to a slower, more involved process. Comparatively, Americans and Brits would probably prefer you just give them the facts about the position, and they can make their decision from that.

The same rule applies to negotiating a salary. For example, an Israeli candidate will likely welcome a passionate debate about dollars; a Japanese candidate, not so much.

Bottom line, if you operate from an ethnocentric mindset where you believe most people are used to the same rules you are, you are going to have a tough time recruiting internationally. However, if you take a more nuanced approach and truly understand the people you are pitching, you have a much higher chance of closing international candidates.