Of Course I’m Global — I’ve Been to France

I’ve often chatted with talent acquisition professionals about the global aspects of their business — an increasingly important focus. What I hear a lot of is that people have travelled to another country a few times, or have a friend or colleague there, and assume that they’re prepared to successfully recruit from their North American office or integrate into local culture if relocated. While unintentionally, many of us in North America make these assumptions about what recruiting and staffing are like based on our own experience.

Over 20 years I’ve learned that these assumptions in a global context rarely pay off. I often hear people say things like “Singapore is similar to Hong Kong because they are both in Asia”; or “Italy is similar to France because they are close to each other and in Europe.” Well, that is sort of like thinking the United States of America is similar to Mexico because they’re both part of the Americas. I think many of us in North America would shake our heads at this comparison, but it is not uncommon to develop plans based on what we know, and then take a few assumptions about the target location expecting to excel. Wrong! What works in our own space doesn’t necessarily translate when you cross a border, ocean, or even a region. At times, it can feel like you’ve brought your baseball bat to a cricket game — yes, the function seems the same, but without understanding the game, the home run is much more difficult to achieve.

This is why I’ve called on two of my esteemed peers, Danielle Monaghan and Roel Lambrichts, to join me at the upcoming ERE Expo Spring 2012 in San Diego for an open dialogue about creating and sustaining talent acquisition success on a global scale. Essentially, we’re inviting everyone to have coffee with us and join the discussion. I chose this type of session and dynamic presenter group because of the diverse backgrounds and global companies that have benefited from our expertise. Danielle is the HR director North Asia – Greater China, Japan, & Korea at Cisco Systems, based out of Beijing. Roel is the head of talent acquisition Europe for Coca-Cola Enterprises based out of Brussels.

You may have experienced the kinds of things we’re talking about here. If not, it’s likely you will in the future as companies continue to globalize. While “global recruiting” is a currently a buzzword in our profession, there is more to it than making some overseas calls and sifting through resumes. I know I made a lot of assumptions when I first started to recruit outside my own home region (more than 20 years ago); we all do.

I’ll never forget the “aha” moment when I realized the one-size-fits-all-model was not going to work.

I was the head of a large American organization expanding into Europe. I had to make a “quick” roundtrip flight from California to London — and this trip, I’d end up with my tail between my legs. I was going to admit failure and all I kept asking myself was, “How did I let things get this far?”

It all started because the division had needed a new head of human resources. For several months prior to my trip, despite the UK division’s pleas to follow some of the local recruiting protocol, I, as head of talent acquisition sitting in Los Angeles, insisted they do things our way. I thought I knew better. Without an in-house recruiting department, the UK managers recommended we rely on an outside, third-party agency. Nonsense, I responded. We have more than capable recruiters in the U.S.; let’s handle it for you our way. Let’s at least pay an outside agency to place an ad to generate CVs, they suggested. Why would I do that, I replied, when we can identify potential candidates and just call them directly ourselves?

They were appalled. You can’t do that, the local British team explained. “We don’t call people and directly recruit or source from other companies.” It was a territory battle and I didn’t even have the courtesy to set up conference calls on their time (Eight hours makes a big difference if there is no flexibility!).

As you may be guessing, I was not successful when I tried to do things my way and operate from the common American perspective that the world revolves around us.

It was an important lesson for me though — not only humbling, but eye-opening. I don’t think my mistakes were uncommon. Even the best talent acquisition professional falls into several traps. Think about if you have ever assumed that…

  • Other places are just like where you live and regions are alike. Like my example above, we know Vancouver is not the same as Montreal, just as California is different from New York — it’s true on a global scale.
  • Everyone speaks English. Think about your last vacation off the resort in Sao Paolo. Your choices were likely Portuguese or Spanish, not English.
  • The same recruiting activity will work regardless of where you are. Think Internet reliability in the outskirts of Russia.
  • The Internet is available to all people – think China (did you know LinkedIn is blocked there?).

And these mistakes are often innocently overlooked or not even considered. There are discussions in boardrooms all over the world about how to address global talent needs. Local recruiting and staffing processes are not consistent around the world, and there are significant differences from region to region as to how talent acquisition processes are executed.

I learned that all of the strategizing, planning, and developing programs to handle recruiting around the world often miss one important mark: although business is global, effective recruiting must always be local. You can do this in many ways and we’ll delve into several at the session. You may hear things like:

Creating a culture/country plan understanding what makes the recruiting culture unique in each country or region that you work, as well as how it might be customized.

Creating a candidate pool with awareness of how various countries use the web and technology to craft messages for candidate pools and help get the word to them.

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Getting tech savvy, or more simplistic, to help you unearth specific gathering places. Some include typical social networking and media networks, but others include other unique applications.

Making people feel comfortable is a foundational activity for recruiters because it enables relationships to form. Think about how frustrated you get, sitting at home in Toronto or Chicago and calling to get an electronic gadget fixed, and you find yourself speaking to someone in India. The accent isn’t what you’re used to, and the speed, intonation, and even pronunciation is all foreign to you. Now make that feeling professional — you will likely feel skeptical, not trusting, and perhaps weary because for whatever reason there are no local representatives of the company available to speak with you.

So whether you’re working in Pan-European recruiting including the Middle East and Africa regions and you’re thinking about:

  • Brand recognition outside the parent region and how you will develop your pipeline if direct applicants are low.
  • Contractual obligations and work councils — for example, has your organization established the right work conditions for the French Works Council in France?
  • If interview feedback is required and hiring managers are prepared; for example, in the UK, interview feedback is expected.
  • Cultural gender norms carrying into the office; for example, women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive on their own, how you balance this with your desire to hire valuable female candidates.
  • Language — can you support all 18 official languages in Europe? Is a multilingual recruiter enough to overcome stigma over a flawed accent?
  • In the UK, age discrimination is a very sensitive issue. How will you cross-train and set standards when your recruiters in Argentina are looking at marital status, number of children, and looking at pictures on resumes, and your team here cannot learn anything personal about the candidate without being very cautious?

Or in Asia/Pacific recruiting, and you’re looking at;

  • The competitive economy in the world’s second-largest economy and fifth-largest consumer market: China.
  • Internet access and speed across the region and accessibility.
  • The rapidly changing government policies and regulations that make China a new country every six months.
  • Respect-based cultural norms and how to address people — like last/family name, followed by an “honorific” pronoun in places like Japan or Korea.

Or like many of us in one of the many diverse regions across the Americas:

  • Competition is high, but many candidates may not be actively looking, and how will you find passive talent.
  • Working within legal requirements, like not asking “Are you a U.S. citizen?” and instead asking, “Are you legally eligible to work in this country?”
  • Compliance (like the alphabet soup of U.S. employment laws) and even the stigma of working in a neighboring county (there’s much more of a stigma with, say, an American working in Canada, then a French national working in Belgium, or a Thai national to be recruited to work in Malaysia).
  • Dramatic climate changes: how can a near-Arctic organization attract those from warmer climates, and retain them?

It is likely that you will face some of the challenges we have seen. Join the conversation about the challenges and obstacles of cross-border recruiting, and the unique idiosyncrasies of cultural and legal differences within regions.

Danielle, Roel, and I are putting ourselves on the hot seat to talk about everything under the sun,  no matter what time zone you’re operating in. Let us come together as a local team in San Diego and talk about the global needs for recruiting that are inevitably local.

Feel free to leave us questions right up until March 19, 2012, and we will try to answer as many questions during our ERE Expo session.

See you in San Diego in 2012! Happy Holidays to everyone!

Jeremy is managing principal of Riviera Advisors, Inc. (www.RivieraAdvisors.com), based in Long Beach, California, a leading human resources consulting firm focused on helping companies improve their internal recruiting processes and capabilities. In addition to his more than 15 years of consulting with corporate staffing teams all over the globe, he has more than 20 years experience leading the global staffing function for companies such as Universal Studios, Idealab, and Amazon.com. He is a leading speaker to organizations on the value of the staffing function, including chairing the ERE Expos in 2006-2007. He is a professional member of the prestigious National Speakers Association and the Institute of Management Consultants; and has served on the national staffing management special expertise panel and the workforce planning standards committee of the Society for Human Resource Management. He is the author of the book “RecruitCONSULT! Leadership: The Corporate Talent Acquisition Leader’s Field Book” (STARoundtable Press, 2011).


11 Comments on “Of Course I’m Global — I’ve Been to France

  1. This article is just so good.

    Represents Jeremy at his best and ERE articles at their best. World class because they are important, eye opening and provide strong content.

    People who recruit internationally would be well advised to learn all they can before they take the plunge and, good or bad, live with the results.

    I still remember my first experience with recruiting in a foreign country.(New Jersey) Not a fun experience.

    Great article Jeremy.

  2. Thank you for this article Jeremy!

    I have worked in Europe during the past 7.5 years and I can only second Howard’s comment about learning all one can about the country, culture and, particularly the laws affecting recruiting , sourcing and employment as well as variables such as 3- 6 months resignation periods -to the end of a month or quarter-, having to submit an offer through the workers council (and get approval) in the local language, the data protection laws as they affect CVs – and their retention and consideration, etc.
    Also, my experience suggests that, not everyone does – or likes to – speak English.

    Thank you again !

  3. Thank you, Jeremy. Saying this as a mono-lingual, very provincial American, one thing that might travel across borders: to the extent possible, actually ask the people doing the recruiting what they need to do their jobs better and try and implement the suggestions, as opposed to going full-steam ahead dictating: “we know how to do it best, so do it this way”. Of course, some work cultures don’t believe in asking the actual performers of the job how to improve it- like the work cultures you find in the United States…


  4. This article is all pretty sound and unfortunately necessary advice in a country that still thinks of itself as the standard-setter. But the US is behind on global league tables on most key metrics. We have a lot to learn, not just to behave better abroad but to learn from them to improve how we do things in the US. I have lived in seven countries and, while an American citizen, have lived outside the US for nearly all of the last 30 years. Americans don’t do everything right. It’s not only about learning others’ constraints and cultures but learning from them.

  5. Interesting article. First, I hope the percentage of people who say, “Italy and France are similar because they are close to each other and in Europe” is a low number. That is ridiculous. I think it is easy to say that Americans are guilty of being “self-centered” but if you ask around, I would imagine most countries assess other countries based on their own standards of living. I don’t agree this is accurate, of course, but it is easy to say this as an “American Problem” when in fact it is universal.

    That being said, it is also entirely inaccurate to assume we understand a country or its culture- professional or personal- without a reasonable amount of experience and you offered some excellent ways to avoid this problem. Thank you for a well written and insightful article.
    Ken C. Schmitt

  6. I think it would be a good thing if millions of American young people spent some time living/learning/working all over the world and then bring back what they’ve seen that can improve our country.


  7. Brilliant article, Jeremy!

    As a recruiter from India, I am fortunate that I get to learn ‘real time ‘ and constantly by regularly interacting my fellow members associates of NPA, The Worldwide Recruiting Network ,and helping our respective clients hire LOCAL talent GLOBALLY-as they open up operations beyond their shores!

    About two years ago, I had tried to articulate some of my experiences to explain some of the nuances related to “Hiring in India” highlighting the cultural context , the challenges , and the differences in hiring visavis the West

    Would love to have your perspectives too!


  8. I love this post! Far too many people think that just because they’ve visited the super touristy sites of one country that they’ve received the comprehensive cultural bootcamp that is needed to truly immerse oneself in that environment. It’s absolute nonsense! Even people within western Europe who relocate from France to Portugal or Germany to Spain require serious training to make that transition on personal and professional levels. We can never underestimate the complexities involved in these processes. About a year ago, I was tasked with recruiting a UX Designer for one of OpenView’s portfolio companies in California. In the end we realized the best candidate in process was someone who needed to relocate from Northern Ireland. Yes, he spoke English just like we do in the United States. Thankfully, both he and the portfolio company realized that there was more to it than that and both took painstaking efforts to understand the differences, so the transition could be as seamless as possible. Great post!

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