International hiring

Shalini Shukla 03 Jan 2013

When a hiring need arises, companies are more likely to source locally before seeking talent from overseas.

Lynne Ng, Regional Director, Adecco Southeast Asia, says that while its good news for the company – both from cost and time perspectives – if the talent can be found locally, many companies accept that they may need to look further afield for specific or unique skill-sets.

“In Asia, there is definitely a strong trend towards hiring local talent, or non-local talent who are ‘in situ’ and have both knowledge and experience working in Asia markets,” says Theresa Hall, head of FrazerJones.

She explains that if organisations are not able to source locally, they are more likely to transfer an internal employee than hire internationally. “The only exception to this trend is if there is a specific skill-set that cannot be sourced within their internal pool of candidates, or directly out of the local market,” she notes.

Still, with the economies in Europe and the US still grappling for growth, recruitment firms such as Charterhouse Partnership have observed a greater flow of professional talent migrating from the West to the East in recent years.

“Asia remains a buoyant employment market where international firms have continued to invest in resources and additional headcounts,” says Gary Lai, Managing Director – Southeast Asia, Charterhouse Partnership. “International companies have also been transferring more mid-senior executives from the West to Asia.”

With regards to hiring externally for international talent, companies that are hiring for senior positions or for regional roles are certainly more open to considering overseas talent, although the preference would still be professionals who have had relevant Asian experiences, he adds.

Costs to consider

According to ‘A Global Talent Mobility Study’ by Towers Watson, the cost of relocating employees abroad is becoming an increasing problem for employers. Over 75% of organisations surveyed claimed that a ‘traditional’ overseas assignment, which usually involves relocating an employee and their family for three to five years, can require additional expenditure of two to three times the expatriate’s annual salary.

Of those involved in the survey, 69% cited prohibitive costs as the major challenge to increased international hiring, 55% felt high housing costs were a problem, and 51% mentioned cost-of-living allowances as prohibitive.

Relocating an entire family is far more costly than moving a single or couple. “For candidates with children, housing and schooling and medical coverage are definite concerns,” says Hall. “International schools costs are constantly increasing and for many candidates, particularly those relocating from countries where state-funded education is offered, this is a huge consideration.”

That said, the opportunity to develop a career in Asia is a compelling factor. “The lifestyle, coupled with tax advantages, can be a huge draw,” Hall adds.

If the international assignment fails, or circumstances change, then the cost of hire, repatriation and re-hiring is substantial, coupled with the intangible costs of employee morale.

Indeed, the biggest single potential cost is that of a failed international assignment, says Suzie Ahmad, from the People and Culture unit of Dimension Data Asia-Pacific. “We therefore work hard to ensure the job and context-related skills a candidate brings match our requirements, such that the risk of failure is minimised.

“While we do provide some support to international hires for relocation and ensuring a smooth transition to a new work environment, we believe in internal equity across the board,” she adds.

“Roles are benchmarked and rewarded in a consistent manner and where we pay a premium to attract any talent, we do so in the context of talent supply and demand dynamics irrespective of whether the talent is locally or internationally sourced.”

Challenges with international hires

There are several challenges that HR faces when it comes to hiring on a global platform. Most importantly, the expense and length of time that it can take for someone to be identified, hired, and to then actually start in their new role should always be factored in.

Lai points to the difficulty of the interview administrative process, as the process usually takes longer, often without an initial face-to-face discussion which makes assessing the suitability of candidates much harder.

Also, someone relocating from a different country often has to tidy up their affairs and then identify basic needs such as housing and schools in Singapore. “This can take time and sometimes slow down the recruitment process,” says Ng.

Being successful in any job depends on both job specific skills and the ability to competently apply those skills in a particular environment or context. “This is why two people with the same set of skills may have different levels of success operating in the same environment. That’s true for both company and country contexts,” Ahmad says. “Ensuring that international talent has both the basic skills required and the ability to function in a different county and company context is crucial for us.”

Candidates also often find there is a misalignment between what is expected in the role and the actual execution of it.

“Candidates from international markets are brought to Asia with the view of bringing added value, implementing best practice, or helping a company to internationalise,” says Hall. “However, once the candidate commences, and endeavours to effect these changes, they often find massive resistance from the business to move forward.”

HR therefore needs to play a more robust pivotal role in making sure expectations are aligned from both sides.

Getting cultural fit

It is integral for HR to have very rigorous talent selection processes in place so as to ensure international recruits have a good cultural fit, along with a skills match.

“Once it is established that the candidate has skills beyond the reach of the local market, assessing interpersonal skills is imperative,” says Hall. “Ensuring candidates have the ability to respond appropriately to cultural nuances is now as much a part of the recruitment process as their skills-set.”

Cross-cultural competencies such as flexibility, resilience, comfort with ambiguity, and the ability to build consensus are key indicators of a suitable fit.

Ideal candidates are those who have previously worked outside their home country and have modified their approach accordingly, says Hall. “However, it all comes down to the individual and their personal style. There really isn’t one set formula for managing this.”

One of the best ways to ensure that there is a fit is to meet with the overseas candidate – if possible – or at least to hold a face-to-face conversation with them online – such as via Skype or video conferencing, says Ng.

Some of the interview techniques through which HR can identify cultural fit would include quizzing the candidate on their knowledge of local culture, and having them fly in for the last round of interview. That should ideally be an outside office informal meeting with everyone in the team, so they can assess the comfort levels with each other, says Lai.

In the early stages of engagement, Dimension Data uses video-enabled communications wherever possible. “This provides an early face-to-face link, albeit a virtual one,” says Ahmad.

In the advanced stages of the selection process, and particularly in more senior roles, Dimension Data works to expose candidates to its people and the environment in which they will work if they join the organisation.

“Amongst others, we make use of multiple interviews, and in some cases panel interviews with the key team members on a face-to-face basis,” says Ahmad. “We aim for as much direct exposure as possible to help both the candidate and ourselves understand and assess the fit.

“Ultimately, ensuring new employees (whether local or from elsewhere) are rapidly integrated into our company, feel engaged and have the wherewithal to be productive contributors as early as possible are prerequisites for a sound, long–term relationship.”

Tips & Tricks

•        Ensure the local team is aware of the reasons for having to source internationally: meeting a skill deficit or mobilising subject matter expert skills for example

•        Ensure full alignment between the business requirements and the candidate’s understanding of the mandate, potential cultural nuances, and business challenges they will face

•        Ensure as much as possible has been done to help the employee and their family cope with relocation and orientation

•        Encourage employees to maintain professional ties with their country of origin in the event their assignment is cut short and they need to repatriate back and start searching for employment

Source: FrazerJones


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