Data Minefields in Global Recruitment

In recent years cross-border and multinational recruitment has increased tremendously, be it recruiting foreign nationals to work in North America or locals for overseas locations and subsidiaries. It is clearly desirable that any global organization would want to adopt uniform procedures across all of its operating companies. But there are many potential pitfalls, especially when dealing with Europe and Asia. Of growing concern to legislators in the U.S. and most European countries is the use made of candidate data. The European Union is setting the agenda for cross-border use of personal data, and the United Kingdom has a long standing Data Protection Act which has been recently strengthened. For instance, it is not widely known that in the UK, a candidate’s resume may only be retained, either electronically or physically, for the specific purpose of the job applied for. The candidate must approve long-term retention of their details. In Germany, the position is worse: if a receiving company wants to retain the candidate’s details, the candidate must authorize in writing retention of these details. Without this written consent, the receiving company is required to return the candidates resume and any attached certificates (it is common practice in Germany for candidates to attach copies of all certificates for a job application). In Germany, it is not deemed sufficient to place a waiver on a job posting or advertisement to assume candidate acceptance of resume retention, whereas in the UK this is common practice. Hopefully this simple example highlights potential pitfalls that can arise from cross-border variations in legislation. My own experience, backed up by considerable research, would suggest that over 80% of the North American companies with subsidiaries actively recruiting in Europe are non-data compliant! This has serious legal and financial implications. Notwithstanding data protection issues ? which although complex, are manageable ? we are beginning to see greater attention being focused on where data is actually stored and used, and the legal ramifications of such cross-border use. We encountered this issue when working with a global corporation who had recently undergone a major implementation of an applicant tracking system. This corporation found that they were unable to use the system in their subsidiary in Northern Ireland because of the legal requirement in Northern Ireland to register the applicant’s religion. Similarly, the same company’s planned global rollout of their Internet/intranet job site would have been in breach of data protection laws in all of the European countries where it had job vacancies. A similar global ATS implementation highlighted another problem associated with attracting candidates outside of North America. Our client was experiencing severe systems degradation ? job searches were taking in excess of 10 minutes when they should have taken seconds. Our investigation identified that the system’s search index was corrupt, and that after resetting, it would be corrupt again! The cause was found in the applicant data: the company maintained a database of over 500,000 candidates, approximately 100,000 of which were from Europe and Asia. Because online applications are not common in some countries, hard-copy resumes had been scanned and entered into the system without rigorous quality assurance checks. Forty percent of these resumes (40,000) were corrupted with non-standard characters, which in turn were wreaking havoc on the search index. QA procedures in North America were better, but in total, almost 30% ? 140,000 resumes ? contained minor to major errors. The company had spent over $20 million to acquire half-a-million resumes that recruiters weren’t able to adequately access. A side effect of this in Europe was that the recruiters relied heavily on agencies to deliver candidates, adding $5 million in agency fees to the organization’s recruitment costs. A system designed and implemented to ensure best practice in the resourcing area, however, had precisely the opposite effect! What these examples seem to show is that when looking at best practices within your resourcing functions, it is essential to ensure that all elements of the function are considered. There is consensus that uniform procedures can streamline the recruitment process, and as we have seen with the introduction of technology-enabled recruitment tools, this process needs defining to provide maximum returns on investment. However, what we must be aware of are the wider implications of any process that is introduced. When your recruitment process stretches across more than one geographical boundary, it must be assessed in great detail before implementation to ensure your organization meets all the necessary legislation.

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Andrew Ellis is a recognized authority on using the Internet as a resourcing tool. He has worked in over 30 countries in senior HR, resourcing and operations management positions with world-class companies such as Nortel Networks, IMPAC, SunGard and Algorithmics. Andrew now heads the Human Capital Management consultancy, and writes and lectures extensively on resourcing and recruitment topics.


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