February 21, 2011

Recruiting Internationally? Think Local.

recruiting tipsRecruiting in your own backyard is hard work; accessing a qualified candidate pool in another country can seem like insurmountable challenge. Try to use the approach below to recruit internationally as well as if you grew up in the town over.

The largest companies in America developed comprehensive approaches to international recruitment over the past twenty years. Recruitment on a large scale is actually more tied into advertising and marketing then one might believe. The best recruitment advertising and branding for Coca Cola is the same jingle or neon billboard in Singapore that is used to sell their product. International recruitment on a large scale is about building a brand, presence, and name recognition. The largest companies concern themselves first with developed a targeted message that resonates with a country. With a positive name brand and reputation, recruitment then becomes more of a standard process of accepting applications and monitoring quality throughout the interview process.

However, globalization has now trickled down to even small to mid-sized companies. Sometimes the very smallest companies feel an even increased pressure to diversify globally due to costs. For example, there are many technology firms of less than twenty people where three different countries are represented. Small manufacturing companies often have satellite offices in China. There is a company down the street from me which is housed inside a crumbling old stucco municipal building. Yet, this same company employs over 10,000 people around the globe. This type of globalization would be absolutely unthinkable twenty years ago. It is clear that globalization is truly an imperative for a diverse set of businesses, from the smallest startups to the largest public corporations.

Sourcing international talent, however, has received relatively little attention. Job search websites, tracking technology, and matching sites rarely address international audiences. We therefore end up with a hodgepodge “Wild West” approach to recruitment, whereby we hire the person who shows up on our doorstep versus pro actively sourcing quality talent.

In particular if you work for a small or mid-sized company, it may be hard to know where to start if you are tasked with international recruiting. One common flaw with recruiting internationally is that we forget that our approach must be local, targeted, and precise. For instance, if we are to recruit a team in China, we often think, “Ok, how do I find a candidate in China?” When we recruit locally, we ask much better questions, for example, “I wonder if Professor Joe at Trinity College would recommend any of his most outstanding Computer Science grads?” The fundamental problem with international recruitment is that we approach the challenge broadly and abstractly.

When embarking on an international recruitment program, get yourself to think of the village, not the country. Get to know the real local market and you will be successful. To start getting to know a local job market, try these steps:

  1. Get to know the schools: More than simply a qualification, schools provide the networking resources to quickly develop strong contacts in another country. Find out the local schools near where you are recruiting and then call their career counseling office and professors in the discipline you would like to recruit from. Don’t try to simply look up graduates from particular schools – really try to understand the networking dynamics of its alumni. Get to know where their alumni typically work, what clubs they belong to, what sporting programs are popular. Use the conversations to develop the intimate details that would never be available on the Internet. Your conversations will most likely be welcome – be sure to make the most of them.
  2. Develop a network: When you develop some names and contacts, be sure to reach out to them personally and professionally. Networking is more important in international recruiting than in your local market – because to you, their job market is opaque. When you speak with people, be sure to ask general questions, even if they do not directly apply to the job application. For instance, find out where else the person has interviewed and what they feel about the local market. Ask for references not only for their employers, but for their universities and personal activities. Use this information to develop a fleshed out candidate network and profile of the community.
  3. Know thy competitors: Develop a list of competitors and/or companies that you would like to recruit people from. When you speak with people from these companies, try to map out where they came from… You want to determine not only your competitors, but rather the talent pool that your competitors draw from. Mirror the approach that your competitor is using when they recruit locally. To be truly successful, you will need to know their contacts, resources, referral programs, schools of choice, and local job advertising methods.

This approach disregards the language barrier, which is a real consideration and difficulty. If you don’t have anyone in your corporation that speaks the language and you can’t afford a translator, try to enlist local help. Develop a few advocates in the community that can assist with interviews, translation, and referrals. However, be sure to keep gathering the same information by following up with very specific questions and directions. The point here is to develop a real deep, active knowledge of the local community. It is essential to carefully map out and record every bit of information.

It is often tempting to hand over the recruiting process to an international recruitment expert, but if you have long term employment plans for the community, don’t feel that you have to. The actual recruitment process will be an invaluable experience for you and your company. If done correctly, it will help your company approach the marketplace, source promising talent, and develop a consistent, positive image in the community. In short, do as the bumper stickers say, “Think globally, act locally.” As always, you don’t want to just hire people. You want to be a great employer and develop your next generation of talent.

Read more in Global Recruitment

Marie is a writer for Recruiter.com covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.