Cultural Secrets in Global Recruiting

Aug 8, 2008

The globalization of sectors such as the manufacturing industry makes filling the vacancies for top-level executives more challenging than ever.

As more companies are outsourcing their customer service and manufacturing work to foreign countries such as China, Brazil, and India, the demand for talent is escalating. The main reason, of course, is cost. The salary of an employee in China can be a sixth to an eighth of what it is in the United States.

For example, an engineer who earns $6,000-$7,000 per month in the United States would only earn between $250 and $500 per month in China. Big savings like that are hard to ignore, but there are other factors to consider.

While outsourcing components of a business may seem like a cost-effective plan, finding the right top-level talent to lead those overseas efforts can make the recruiter’s job much more difficult. There are a number of reasons why top-level executives aren’t ready to trade in that corner office with the great view of Manhattan to work in a foreign country.

Finding an employee in the field who is familiar with another country’s customs and traditions is hard to come by. Did the employee previously live or work in this foreign country?

In Japan, for instance, there are a number of differences in the way in which business is conducted.

Business in Japan cannot begin until the exchange of business cards or “Meishi” has been completed. This involves presenting your business card to someone with both hands. When receiving your counterpart’s business card, making a point to carefully look it over before placing it on the table is considered respectful. Without an understanding of these cultures, a move overseas can be a disaster.

Is the prospective leader in whom you are interested familiar with the currency in the country where you’re sending him or her? When a company sends employees overseas, this is another piece of confusion that is added to the pot. Making sure the senior executive is up to date on the differences between the Chinese yen or the Mexican peso and how it’s trading against the U.S. dollar is very important, especially when financial transactions are taking place.

Also, some countries have holiday traditions that involve monetary gifts. In Mexico, a mandatory Christmas bonus known as the Mexican Aguinaldo is provided to every employee and is equivalent to 15 days of wages or more.

Perhaps one of the more confusing countries to recruit the right candidate for is Indonesia. The people here, as in many Asian cultures, will almost always avoid using the word “no.” Indonesians would prefer to tell you what you want to hear, rather than tell you no.

Disagreeing is seen as impolite and is to be avoided. It’s not uncommon for Americans doing business in Indonesia to be under the assumption they have closed a deal, to later learn that the signatures on the contract or product deliveries will never go through.

Is that dress cut too low? Is that appropriate footwear? Employees working in foreign countries for U.S. companies are generally not covered by U.S. employment laws that cover issues like sexual harassment, age discrimination, and worker safety. Workers are generally covered by the laws in their own country, which tend to be less strict or rarely enforced.

One more very important key to recruiting in a foreign country is the role of teamwork. How has the potential employee previously interacted in a team environment? In many foreign countries, this is crucial to garnering the respect of your fellow employees.

We all know the importance of teamwork, but if you don’t ask for input from other members of your team, it may be taken as an insult. Don’t just assume what you think is how everyone else feels. Always make a point to ask the opinions of others around you.

As a recruiter, there are some key questions you should always ask before presenting talent in a foreign country:

  • What experience does the candidate have in this country? Did he or she previously spend time here? Has the potential employee worked successfully in other foreign countries?
  • What has the candidate done in the past to adapt to unfamiliar situations? Is he or she flexible in nature and ready to gain knowledge of new cultures and foreign business practices?
  • Are there any obligations the prospect has in the United States that would make an overseas relocation a bad choice?

Looking for the right talent to fill a position overseas can be a daunting task for a recruiter. The need for labor — especially at the senior level — has never been higher for U.S. companies with a presence in other countries.

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