Tips on Leading Recruiting in Europe

May 7, 2010

Successful recruiting and talent acquisition in Europe has never been more vital to a global company. I’ve got a big article on the topic coming up in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership. For now, let’s just talk about tips, tools, and techniques that will enable talent acquisition leaders to manage recruiting across Europe most effectively.

To begin, some basic, fundamental relationship-building is key. To this end, traveling to the region and having some personal face time is important. Demonstrating your desire to listen to colleagues in the region and understand their business and talent needs in person is critical. It shouldn’t be done via the phone or email. Considering each country in Europe on its own terms (and recruiting locally) is not only an important mindset and approach; it extends to systems and processes. Don’t assume that systems and processes designed for one particular region will work in Europe (or even ones designed for one country in Europe will automatically work for another in the area). Be prepared to adapt them, at least to a degree, to allow for local differences.

Application processes generally be kept simple, with as few clicks as possible. Candidates are used to using simple and well-designed websites for e-commerce purposes. They will not have the patience to follow a clunky web-based job application process. Thus websites are key. A company has to have a high-quality careers section of their corporate site — or even a microsite. Applicants — whether direct or via other sources — will review the careers pages and recruiters can save a lot of valuable interview time if many of the typical FAQs have already been answered via the careers pages. Job boards will inevitably evolve fast in the coming years. Many candidates now skip job boards initially and go straight to search engines like Google to search for their desired role. Search engine optimization is therefore increasingly important.

However, with improved technology and access has also come challenges. Undoubtedly the web has made the process of finding candidates far easier, where the required skills are scarce and work permits are available; the challenge, however, is companies can now expect to receive job applications from literally all around the world, and there is the real risk that potentially hundreds of people may apply for certain roles where either the employer does not need to bring in talent from abroad or where the odds of receiving a work permit are minimal.

Social media is also a vital and emerging tool these days (although outside the U.S. there is little evidence as of yet that it has been used very successfully for direct sourcing). LinkedIn is now very powerful, as is Xing in German-speaking countries or areas (of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) and Viadeo in France. Many companies are still not making the right use of social media and many fail to appreciate how effective a candidate’s personal marketing page can be on the web.

The following are some additional recommendations for improving talent acquisition activities in Europe (that can also be applied to an organization’s recruiting activities overall):

  • Tailor to each culture/country — as has been mentioned, recruiting cultures and what’s accepted as recruiting norms vary from country-to-country and region-to-region. There is no “one size fits all.” Thus understand what makes the recruiting culture unique in each country or region that you work and customize your approach to address those needs.
  • Tailor to each candidate pool — because various countries use the web and technology in different ways, tailoring your specific message to candidate pools helps get the word to them, irrespective of whether or not they have access to the web. Since not all countries use the web as much as other parts of the world for recruiting, this will enable you to achieve a greater consistency in your recruiting.
  • Tailor your technology to each culture/country — remember each country or region may have its own unique tools to identify where the candidates you seek are lurking. Know some of the specific gathering places. Some include typical social networking and media networks … but others include other unique applications, such as Xing for example, which is much more widely used in German-speaking countries than LinkedIn for professional social networking.

There are tried-and-true tips that apply to all organizations around the world, but especially in Europe:

  • Train your hiring managers. Management development has not gotten a lot of attention in many businesses in the past 10-plus years, and even some of the best managers need training in effective recruitment. Some hiring managers need significant coaching and guidance that to get the right end result they need to give the right brief to recruiters. It may seem obvious to you. It’s not to others. This is especially key in European environments.
  • Employee referrals have taken something of a back seat in the past two years due to the economic downturn, but their time will return. Continue to actively promote them and ensure that they have a positive image and reputation that is marketed well internationally and companywide. They are a relatively rare example of a sourcing methodology that typically works well across the whole of Europe.
  • Job descriptions have changed significantly in recent years. Good ones now are far more useful, and good ones really do describe the job — not simply follow a formularized template that hiring managers see as needed to “keep HR happy.” The right key words and searchable terms are vital to attract the type of people with the required skills and experience. Ask the people doing the role well currently how would they describe the job.

Though recruiting in Europe has changed significantly over the past several years, there are still complexities that are unique to its composition of so many different countries residing in such a small space. Many of those challenges and cross-border barriers will remain until other changes (political and otherwise) occur. In the past, recruitment in many countries and companies in Europe may have appeared to outsiders to be less advanced than other regions of the world. Things are changing fast! As technology continues to evolve and become ubiquitous; as multinationals continue to grow and seek efficiencies and cost decreases; and as neighboring countries in Europe continue to lower the barriers to working together, the whole of Europe, including its many individual countries and companies, will indeed be on the cutting edge of the recruiting universe.

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