Recruiting in Europe, Part 1

As the global economy heats up and companies in Union City, Ohio, begin to compete with those in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, it should become painfully obvious that talent has become a global commodity, and that recruiters are becoming the front line traders of the most valuable asset on earth. Those among us who understand the new realities of business know that enabling corporate success means being able to find, attract, assess, and close the best and brightest around the world. Regardless of your intentions — be they to relocate talent or relocate work — it is essential that your recruiting toolkit contain an arsenal of approaches that work outside your backyard.

While much of the buzz these days surrounds Asia, it is important to realize that there are a vast number of European countries that produce highly educated populations and that yield the ever-so-popular wage differential. Turkey for instance has a labor force nearly 25 million workers strong, 64% of whom work in globally viable trades earning wages approximately 86% less than U.S. and UK medians. This article will focus on why emerging firms should look to Turkey (Turkiye for those in Europe) for top talent and provide some insight into the tools and approaches that work there.

Turkey Already a Prime Destination for Leading Firms

Most people around the world know that there is a country named Turkey, but few know much about it. However, if you were to take a college student from Ohio and plop them down on the streets of Istanbul, a lot would look familiar. Starbucks is packed, McDonald’s and Burger King are at war, and tucked between them in buildings several hundred years old are recognizable firms like Intel, Cisco Systems, Citigroup, Deloitte, and countless others. Intel entered Turkey in 1997, and has been working with the universities there to strengthen programs in electrical engineering and computer science, programs that will help grow Turkey’s high tech workforce well beyond its current four million. This might explain why just two weeks ago Gretchen’s JobsBlog at Microsoft brought to our attention that a Microsoft international recruiter (talent scout), Priya, would be combing the winding streets of Istanbul in late April in search of talented software design and test engineers.

Reasons to Consider Turkey

Here are some reasons your firm should consider recruiting talent in Turkey:

  • Located both in Europe and Asia. Turkey is a unique country, in that it is physically located both in Europe and in Asia. Because it straddles the border between the two continents, individuals living in Turkey are quite familiar with business practices in both Europe and Asia.
  • Long history of trade. Turkey in general ó and Istanbul in particular ó have been trading on a global basis for more than 1,500 years. More than any other people, aside perhaps from the Chinese or the Dutch, the people in Turkey understand the need for global trade and are well-versed in all aspects of it. As a terminus of the old “Orient Express” and the only land mass between the Black and Aegean Seas, Turkey has long been a major port of call for Asia, Europe, and North Africa.
  • They speak English. Like many European nations, it is expected that professional Turks learn a multitude of languages, one of which must be the global language of business, English. My team just returned from a week in Turkey where I presented at a conference attended by nearly 1,700 business and HR leaders, most of whom spoke fluent English.
  • Good education. In 1992, Columbia University evaluated the educational system of Turkey, a system that has been evolving since roughly 2000 B.C.! They found that this country, almost exactly the size of Texas, had 54 universities, 64 general high schools, 174 professional high schools and 211 specialty institutes.
  • A booming economy. Turkey has long been a nation struggling with economic instability, but since major economic reforms were instituted in 2000-01, Turkey has undergone modest economic growth year after year. Current projections by Deutsche Bank predict real GDP growth of nearly 4%. With accession to the EU, the trend toward economic stability is likely to continue.
  • Joining the EU. Turkey began negotiations to enter the European Union in 2005. Accession to the EU will undoubtedly spur economic growth and significantly reduce existing barriers to trade. While Turkey is already very “westernized,” joining the EU will force Turkey to become “more European” than it is already. If all goes well and Turkey does ratify an agreement to join the EU, they will join as one of the poorest nations per capita in the EU, making Turkish labor a prized commodity.

How to Begin Recruiting In Turkey

Like most industrialized nations, Turkey has embraced recruiting in the electronic age, and is home to more than 100 general and niche job boards (if you need a list or doubt our math, see this list). However, like in the U.S. and the UK, job boards are not always the channel that produces quality hires. The Turks take integrity seriously and have a work ethic that far outpaces many European nations, creating a situation that is perfect for referral programs. Add to that a culture that cherishes social interaction and employee referral becomes a no brainer.

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Another sourcing channel that can leverage these cultural elements is event recruiting. Turkey hosts a number of professional and trade events each year and is also a prime meeting location for companies holding EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Asia) summits. Because Turkish professionals take relationships seriously and dedicate time to share in conversation with friends and colleagues over tea or Turkish coffee (most drink tea despite the fact that Turkey is famous for coffee), recruiting through channels that leverage social networks is essential. If you’ve ever been to Turkey or plan to go, you will undoubtedly agree that the Turkish people are outgoing and incredibly industrious. While labor costs are significantly lower when compared to France, Germany, Holland and Italy, the enthusiasm and willingness to learn of the Turks, is in my experience, second only to India. If you’ve recruited in Europe or Asia before, the process is not much different in Turkey. The obvious place to begin is by talking to your current employees and agencies that have contacts or relationships with people in Turkey.

If you don’t have any employees or contacts with ties to Turkey, consider finding out if any of your local universities have an exchange program with universities in Turkey, as visiting students and faculty can provide a wealth of information about how professionals really find jobs (as opposed to what commercial services may sell you!). It’s also wise, if your budget allows, to attend a few professional events there to learn what vendors local professionals gravitate towards and to network with Turkish peers face-to-face. Management Centre Turkey, for example, is a network affiliate of the American Management Association that sponsors numerous professional events in Turkey. Their business model is one that focuses on alliances and is a great place to get started.

Who to Recruit

Turkey’s educational system produces millions of multi-lingual knowledge workers each year, with high concentrations in computer science, business services, and hospitality. It has become a prime location to operate multi-lingual call and customer service centers serving both the EMEA region and the Americas. As a long time trading capital, it is also home to millions of professionals skilled in import/export and transportation/logistics. Outside the major cities, one can find millions of workers skilled in agricultural trades. The Turks are used to dealing with business professionals of numerous nationalities and have a proven ability to work well with diverse teams. Management hierarchies in Turkey are more similar to those found in Asia than Europe, so Turkish managers are used to managing down with little bottom up communication, but many firms have found this trait easy to overcome. International firms might also look to hire Turks into liaison type roles. I say this because Turkey is unique in that it is populated almost entirely by Muslim’s who have embraced Western civilization. Turkey is not East versus West, but rather East meets West.


You can be a follower and launch recruiting operations along with thousands of other firms in the current “fad” country, or you can be a leader forging new trends in “soon-to-be-fad” countries. One option leads to lots of competition, the other to higher ROI. Dollar for dollar, pound for pound, recruiting operations in emerging countries like Turkey, Vietnam, Peru, and Poland are relatively safe bets. If you’re a large corporation, and you are still unsure about the quality of the recruits in Turkey, start by searching your own employee database to find individuals that came from Turkey. Next track their record to see if they haven’t performed above average in your organization as a simple test to see if Turkey is a country you should target. The time is now to build your recruiting database before everyone else finds out about Turkey and before they enter the EU. Good hunting!

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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