How to attract the right talent abroad

20 July 2016

Updated 12/2/2019

Recruiting, developing and retaining talent are fundamental to the success of any business. And in today’s global economy, where businesses often find they must expand globally to compete, you may have to attract and hire talent in an unfamiliar country. As global HR veterans know, recruiting employees abroad is even more challenging than recruiting at home, largely because related laws and customs vary considerably by country.

Before you recruit local nationals (i.e., citizens of the host country) you will need to devise a recruiting strategy that accounts for the laws, culture and market practices of your target countries. This post focuses on some important areas you should consider when developing such a strategy, both to stay on the right side of local laws and to attract top talent.  (Note that this post addresses hiring local employees in a target country, and does not explore sending expats or hiring third-country nationals. For information on those subjects, read our Expat Playbook.)

Market for the 21st century

Multinational employers must understand the many new, innovative and evolving ways to recruit talent. Simply advertising a position through a mainstream recruiting portal or job board likely won’t uncover a dream candidate in your target country any more than doing so would attract the right person in the US.

Individuals in virtually all developed countries are now using analytics and other information provided by online sites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor when looking for work. Potential hires use these and similar tools to discover suitable employers, in part by navigating through the many reviews left by current and ex-employees. Glassdoor hit rates are soaring and based on my own observations, senior technology-based employees in particular are prone to writing reviews about their own experiences during the recruiting process. This trend is not confined to the US, but is also evident in the UK and other countries in and outside the EU.

While Glassdoor is not a direct marketing site — in fact, reviews from employees and ex-employees are written anonymously — its popularity speaks to how important it is for multinational employers to understand such tools and to account for them when developing recruiting strategies. For example, multinationals should consider researching which company-rating sites are popular in any given target country, and then regularly review those sites for company practices that tend to attract and repel local employees. Similarly, companies established in one or more host country should monitor such sites to understand how their own company recruiting practices are critiqued by local employees, and make adjustments if appropriate.

Know the local culture

Every company has its own unique culture, but some organizations are better than others at communicating their core values. It is critical for any company establishing or maintaining operations abroad to clearly articulate its company culture, including what is appropriate and what isn’t. Having a clear understanding of company culture will enable HR and other leaders to determine how to best adapt that core culture to each country of operation, including how to adapt recruiting practices so they are aligned as far as possible with company culture and local laws and customs. For example, a company may value treating all employees equally, regardless of sex. Some countries, however, may have very different laws and customs governing what is and isn’t allowed or appropriate depending on whether the individual is a man or a woman. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women are not permitted to drive under local law. How will your recruiting practices account for this if you plan to operate in Saudi Arabia?

To take another example: There have been widespread discussions in the UK about enhancing work-life balance to meet the demands of the millennial population (generally taken to be those born between about 1980 and 1995). Some studies suggest that millennials value quality of life — including achieving a desirable work-life balance — over financial considerations. By creating and promoting a company culture and related policies that allow for flexibility you could significantly improve your record of attracting top young recruits. It’s important to note that this desire to achieve a work-life balance isn’t just a trend in the US or the UK. As my colleague Gareth Jarman noted in a previous post, providing work-life balance is increasingly a central contributor to recruiting around the world. Related trends and employee expectations will as usual vary by country, so you’ll have to do your homework.

In addition to these considerations, it’s essential to know and carry out proper interview etiquette in the countries you are recruiting in. In India, for example, you should address an interviewee as Mr. or Mrs., followed by his or her surname.  And certain physical contact upon greeting, such as a handshake, is not common and may be unexpected. (If a handshake does occur, it should not be a firm one as is common in the US or the UK.) In addition, the term “Namaste” is a greeting used in India that is as common as “hi” in US. Greeting your interviewee with this term will strengthen the relationship from the onset, while not using it may hinder your chances of hiring a top prospect.

Comply with local recruiting laws

Understanding local mandatory recruitment requirements will not only help you attract talent but also help you avoid potential fines and lawsuits. In France, for example, a job description must by law be published in French. Of course, a translation can be made, but the French language version will prevail under local law. With this in mind, a company should tread carefully when translating a job description from English. If the job duties are not accurately described, the translation may be misleading and may prove detrimental. It’s important to remember that a job’s duties must match the French version of the related job description.

There are many other legal considerations when recruiting in another country, including the need to consider local laws that govern data protection. According to UK law, for example, an employer should “only collect the personal information you need on application forms, and don’t ask for irrelevant information, like banking details,” and “only keep the information for recruitment, e.g., don’t use it for a marketing mailing list.” Failure to comply with local laws can not only lead to fines, but will likely hurt your reputation as a potential employer.

Understand supplementary benefits and allowances

As we’ve seen in the case of millennials placing a premium on work-life balance, gone are the days of simply bullying your competitors out of the recruiting race by offering prospects higher salaries. An employer recruiting in a new country should be aware of typical benefits offered to each position it is advertising for, and if it is possible to set up a group benefits scheme or if a benefits allowance is more suitable. Related laws and customs will (as usual) vary by country, and sometimes by different regions of the same country. Germany’s social security regime, for example, is so comprehensive that it almost eliminates the need for supplemental employer benefits. In Sweden, by contrast, employers usually provide additional benefits to supplement the state’s flat-rate social security scheme.

In many countries, an employer will be eligible to enroll in a group benefits scheme — such as group life insurance — only if it employs a certain minimum number of employees in-country. As an alternative, an employer may decide to provide an allowance for certain benefits that will form part of the overall compensation package. It is critical for employers in that situation to know the market average of such allowances to ensure a competitive, attractive compensation package during the recruiting process. Understanding how allowances are taxed by local authorities is also vital.

In summary, understanding the laws and customs related to recruiting in each target country will allow you to maximize your advantages when searching for top local talent. You’ll be able to present yourself as a culturally savvy employer, and to offer locally competitive and compliant compensation and benefits packages. In the long run, this preparation will ultimately save you recruiting costs and protect you from legal and reputational risks.