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Recruiting in the Global Village

April 1, 1998
Related Topics: Global Business Issues, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
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Talk about your needle in a haystack. U.S.-based employers are struggling against a 4.7 percent unemployment rate to find enough qualified workers in America to staff U.S. jobs. And in some industries, especially high technology, medical and telecommunications, the talent crunch is even more profound. As a strategy, many human resources managers are casting their recruitment nets wider to attract qualified candidates. No longer are their searches limited to U.S. borders. They now encompass the entire world.

Because recruitment for candidates to fill U.S. positions has taken on such global proportions, the methods HR professionals use are changing. Here’s how companies are refining their strategies to recruit candidates out of the worldwide haystack.

Expand your American mindset. "There’s been a major uptick in companies looking abroad for candidates in the past six months," says Jo Bredwell, senior vice president of Bernard Hodes Advertising, a major player in the recruitment advertising industry headquartered in New York City. For example, many U.S. companies are looking to the United Kingdom, Germany and western Europe for high-tech employees to address the year-2000 issue and others. American telecommunications companies are looking for professionals in Europe and elsewhere as well. "The ironic part is none of [the employers abroad] have any better situation than we do," Bredwell adds. In fact, she says recruitment there is often more extreme than it is here in the United States. For instance, the telecommunications industry has undergone deregulation in Europe just as it has in America. Organizations there needing workers with specialized communications and service operations skills are already stealing employees with similar skills from other industries.

This means U.S. recruiters and HR professionals can’t assume that workers abroad are sitting around waiting for a call from an American company. They’re getting plenty of attention already. "We have a network of offices internationally, and all those folks are in the same boat because technical recruiting is tight everywhere these days," says Bredwell.

However, the one distinction many American firms have is location. Many citizens of other countries are interested in jobs with a U.S. address because it’s increasingly seen as a resume-builder and a necessary step on the global management track. In short, having a stint in a U.S. firm makes most candidates more attractive in the international business market. But American recruiters can’t count on that marketing objective alone to sell a U.S. job to a worker who lives abroad.

"Many American advertisers seem to believe that advertising over there is enough," says Bredwell. They often assume that the best strategy is to use the same model they’d use in the United States: place an ad, collect resumes, interview, hire. The distance factor makes the recruitment process difficult for U.S. firms that don’t have offices in the markets in which they’re recruiting.

Bredwell’s advice is that American firms need to make it easy for indigenous applicants in foreign areas to make contact easily. That means you could send someone from your own firm to that location to receive calls and to conduct interviews. Or, you could contract with someone abroad to be the go-between. For instance, some recruitment advertising firms, such as Bernard Hodes, provide such services through affiliated consultancies.

More good advice: Be available to applicants during their nonworking hours, just as you would for U.S.-based job candidates. And really market those aspects of your company that will appeal to candidates from other countries. If you’re advertising a high-tech job, for example, highlight the fact that you have lots of new technology development challenges, because current research in that area suggests it’s one of the most appealing aspects of a technology job to "techies."

And highlight the benefits of your location. Don’t assume that people will already know what those are simply by seeing your American address. "Unless you’re in a city that most people in say, Europe, would know, like New York City or Los Angeles, much of America is very vague to people who haven’t traveled," says Bredwell. "So don’t presume that people know what it’s like to live where you’re located or that everyone knows the name of your company.

"American companies, especially major multinational corporations, tend to make the mistake of thinking people everywhere are familiar with who they are," says Bredwell. People might be familiar with a firm’s products, like Coca-ColaÔ, for example. But they probably don’t have a good idea about what it’s like to work for Coca-Cola Inc. in its Atlanta headquarters. That’s where your selling opportunity comes in. As Bredwell says, "It’s not just image; it’s employer image." You’d do that when you showcase opportunities to American job hunters. Do the same—or more—for a foreign audience.

New technology supports global recruiting. In the old days, companies were lucky if they had a teletype machine to send messages globally. Now there are new technologies to help in the recruitment process, such as the fax, laptop computers and videoconferencing, making the recruiting process easier, especially in the global arena. However, the Internet is perhaps the best thing to hit recruitment since "help wanted" signs. Its advantages include: speed, storage capacity, low data-transmission costs and personal networking features. "It’s a tool that will continue to be well-used to speed global communication," says Bredwell.

Indeed, not only can HR managers and job candidates e-mail each other to set up interviews, but they can also find each in the first place through the various Web sites directed at linking job seekers and firms with job openings, such as E.Span. It’s easier, and certainly a much more lawful way of finding workers in international locations than some companies have recently tried. For example, USA Today reported on January 15 that five people pleaded guilty to visa-fraud charges involving a scheme to smuggle hundreds of Filipino and Korean nurses into the United States to work in nursing homes and health-care facilities across the United States. The health-care profession is once again experiencing a shortage of nurses, just as it did in the ’80s. Today, there are some Web sites devoted specifically to linking health-care job seekers to firms that are looking for them, such as the Monster Board’s healthcare section called "Monster Healthcare."

These types of specialized Web links are popping up all over the Net to aid global recruiting. In fact, a brand-new Web service will be available this month to companies who want to buy linking capabilities with many of the top Internet recruiting sites such as CareerMagazine, Dice, JOBTRACK and The Black Collegian Online. The service will be available from International Internet Recruiting Consultants (IIRC) Inc., based in Noblesville, Indiana, and is designed to enable a recruiter to place one position opening and have it placed on any number of recruitment Web sites simultaneously. The resumes, or candidates’ data, would then come directly back to the recruiter through one connection rather than several as happens now. "Companies worldwide have been requesting customized, nonbiased Internet recruiting solutions to meet their hiring goals and to lower their overall cost-per-hire," says Bruce Robbins, president of IIRC. "With the formation of these strategic sales partnerships, IIRC has positioned itself as the one-stop shop for companies desiring complete, comprehensive Internet recruiting strategies."

However, no matter what technology is at hand today, you still need to know where to find people and how to attract them.

Tapping indigenous markets—know what makes people tick and how to reach them. The business scene is changing abroad just as quickly as it is in the United States. That makes it even more imperative for American companies seeking talent from other locations to understand those recruitment markets.

For example, in the past few months, Brock Stout, an independent recruiter for North American companies in Tokyo, says he has seen a sudden shift in foreign-company acceptance. Since Yamaichi Securities Co., a major Japanese brokerage firm, collapsed last October amid allegations of corporate racketeering, Stout, who primarily searches for finance and computer manufacturing workers, says Japanese people no longer say they’re safe as long as they work for a large Japanese firm. The prevailing mindset has been confidence in the lifetime-employment system—by which people had jobs for life. Japanese people traditionally didn’t search for jobs. They usually were introduced to companies by professors or mentors, and then joined those firms for life. Stout, who heads a search firm called Japan Management Solutions based in Tokyo, says this system is crumbling. As local workers realize the Japanese business environment isn’t as stable as they thought, they’re suddenly open to other employment options like jobs with American firms.

Yet relatively few Japanese people have been taught job-searching techniques, so few currently use the Internet for job hunting. However, magazines that list jobs are selling very well in Japan. Publications are another part of global recruitment strategies. HR professionals and hiring managers worldwide are beginning to realize just how powerful the printed word can be in reaching their target audience. That’s why many are beginning to adjust their classified advertising strategy, either independently or with the assistance of advertising agencies, to attract a more global constituency. For example, the 110-year-old, Paris-based International Herald Tribune reports a growth in recruitment advertising in the past 18 months. "Years ago, the positions [companies] advertised were truly of an indigenous nature," says Sandy O’Hara, classified advertising manager in New York City for the Tribune’s North American market. Back then, HR would place an ad for finance specialists based in France in a local paper like LeMonde or The Financial Times, Paris edition.

These days, workforce managers realize that the person they want to recruit could be sitting in Paris one day, Bangkok the next and Detroit a few days later. To reach that person, they can’t just place ads in a single-location publication. The International Herald Tribune’s main audience, for example, is Europe and the Pacific Rim, but it has exposure in 181 countries. "The business world is increasingly a global village," says O’Hara. "You have to hit people where they are."

Use a multifaceted approach. If there’s a single lesson to be learned about the new tactics in searching for job candidates abroad for jobs in the United States, it’s this: Use a multifaceted approach. There are many useful ideas. You must find what works best for your recruitment needs and corporate goals.

You might learn from the experience of Marc Levine, director of technology staffing solutions and public relations for Compunnel Software Group Inc., a technology integration firm. Based in Iselin, New Jersey, the company has offices in Connecticut, Florida and two operations in India, including a recruiting center in Bangalore. Compunnel has been ranked the third fastest-growing company in New Jersey by the international consulting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP, and 39th on the Inc. 500 list of U.S. companies. The firm has grown 3,200 percent in revenue to $20 million over the past five years, and it has increased its workforce from 120 people to 350 people in the past year alone.

"It has really gone crazy," says Levine, who’s perhaps one of the hardest-working, in-house recruiters in America these days. "We certainly would like to see more domestic individuals working for us, but we’re impacted with the same statistics that everyone else is." He notes that the pool of candidates is small. In 1994 to 1996, only 24,000 computer science students graduated with degrees from U.S. schools. "That doesn’t mean we throw up our arms and say, ‘Well, we just have to do all of our recruiting overseas.’ It just means we have to be a little more creative in the way we recruit," he offers.

To help staff his firm with enough information technology (IT) people (his firm comprises approximately 90 percent technology experts, often bringing them to the States from India), he’s using a number of recruitment tactics, such as attending job fairs, hosting networking meetings and placing ads in India-based publications such as India Abroad, which is also distributed in the United States and Silicon India.

The Internet is one of Levine’s most important tools. For example, Levine (who now has the nickname "Marcus Internetus") belongs to a few user groups for IT people interested in Power Builder or Oracle, for example. By posting responses to questions posted by other users, often using expertise from his firm’s own IT experts, Levine helps his firm gain exposure. While user group and listserve etiquette often prohibits Levine from directly posting jobs, he can contact users individually and create professional relationships. They often think of Compunnel later when looking for a job.

These techniques often work well when searching for workers with specialized skills that are in high demand. But when firms need to find mid- to senior-level managers, the challenge can be more daunting. While these individuals sometimes seek new opportunities through their own search techniques such as tapping into the Monster Board or Career Mosaic, or by reading classified ads in The Wall Street Journal, they often may be happily employed and aren’t necessarily looking. That’s why many HR managers still turn to executive recruitment professionals to help them find top candidates—especially those who have an international background.

"Company managers in the ’70s and ’80s used to look exclusively for Americans to fill those very critical, high-level, very visible key positions," says Joan Higbee, a principal at Thorndike Deland Associates, a retainer-based, executive search firm with headquarters in New York City. Higbee, who has an international background herself, specializes in cross-border and cross-cultural recruitment in Europe, Latin America and the United States. "There’s a whole group of international managers now evolving who’ve been educated in the States, who speak English and who have worked globally," Higbee says. Firms like hers are tapping into these emerging international circles and can sometimes present the best candidates more easily than HR managers or in-house recruiters can uncover on their own.

The idea of outsourcing executive search to another firm is an approach companies should be open to, depending on what kind of employee they need. Says Compunnel’s Levine, "I think you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis, and determine what’s the return on investment." Because executive searches can be expensive, costing thousands of dollars per candidate, that’s an important consideration.

Another important source of candidates with global backgrounds is tapping into schools and universities. College recruitment has heated up once again after a slump in the early ’90s, making recent graduates now a hot commodity. For example, Fred Marrazzo, an international staffing representative for KLA-Tencor Corp., a semiconductor equipment manufacturing firm with 4,500 employees based in San Jose, California (smack-dab in the middle of Silicon Valley), says his firm is going to be adding at least 1,000 people (with a high percentage in high-tech jobs) within the next year. That’s why his company is heavily into the recruitment scene at schools such as MIT, Stanford and Berkeley, where students from all over the world go to get a leading education in technology. But he also goes abroad to find good people. "I was just in Taiwan last November, because we don’t have an HR manager for our operations over there," says Marrazzo. Some of the people he helps hire for his firm’s local offices, such as Taiwan and Japan end up coming to the States for training. While few, if any, people have actually been hired from abroad for U.S. jobs, Marrazzo says it may happen at some point. Building the contacts is the first step. "That’s blossomed into a pretty good network," he says.

That’s the key: multiple networks. Because recruitment, as you can see, has become a difficult task for firms needing international talent. But with the right techniques, the challenge to find those needles in the global haystack might be as simple as using the right magnet to attract them.

Workforce, April 1998, Vol. 77, No. 4, pp. 30-33.

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