Top 10 European Recruitment Fails

A company’s first international expansion outside its home territory is a milestone event. In many cases, it coincides with a key hire.

Many companies make the international recruitment process harder on themselves than it needs to be, in ways that would be hilarious, if they weren’t so damaging to their prospects in the new territory.

Here are some we’ve seen:

10. Converting the salary of the role in the domestic location to the new country using a currency converter, without regard for cost of living. Crazy, right? Yet it’s easy to see how this happens. The company up until now has one country P&L, and they know what they pay for a particular role, there. We have had clients come to us and say, "I have a budget of $100K for this position, all in," yet have incredible expectations as to the seniority and accomplishment of the candidates they want to see: years of team management, super-strong sales track records, etc. It's just not possible. Expansion territories tend to be in the new territory’s largest city, whereas HQ may be in a smaller city, or suburb. There can also be political implications: People holding a similar role at head office, who might have quite fancied a stint abroad, would be doubly put out to find the person hired instead of them is “paid” twice what they are. Still, the reality is that a Sales Director in London, Ontario will be paid much less than a Sales Director in London, UK, where the cost of living is about double. Tools to give companies a steer on cost of living in global cities aren’t difficult to come by. Numbeo and Expatistan are free online crowd-sourced resources; consultancies like Hay and Mercer can provide more rigorous information for a fee.

9. Not appreciating components of pay packages which may be important elsewhere. In the home country, a typical pay package might have a salary, bonus, employer retirement fund contribution, life insurance and health insurance. Depending on the country, a European pay package might put more emphasis on pension contributions, and less on private medical insurance – because such insurance costs less here, and the state sector delivers much primary medical care. Other benefits can sound quirky to local ears: a “season ticket loan” to let the employee buy an annual rail pass is a benefit often granted British employees. A car "allowance" is still part of the many pay packages in the UK and across Europe, although in reality this is just extra salary. But if you’re hiring in Germany, do not underestimate the importance of offering an actual car, and the type of car it is! 

8. Requesting that candidates submit a 1-page resumé, or complaining that a CV is too long. I don’t know why, but it’s just a fact that resumés are longer here than elsewhere, and especially in the Americas. Multi-page CVs are the norm across Europe; three, even four pages for an executive CV is not really too long. It’s also common practice for candidates to include a photograph of themselves on their CV, especially on the Continent. Longer and with a picture doesn’t mean European jobseekers are in love with themselves, it’s just how the document is written here.

7. Setting Skype interviews at impossible times of the day. Yes, a motivated candidate will speak with you at 8pm, and when many time zones are separating you, they need to be comfortable with that as part of the future job. But setting an interview for the end of the business day Pacific Time – 1am in the UK or 2am in Europe! – is probably asking too much.

6. Offering a job that has 3 weeks paid vacation – and thinking that’s generous. How much paid time off employees get is usually a matter of country law, so to offer less isn’t actually legal. The reality is, Europeans get much more time off than their compatriots elsewhere, for example in the USA. Total days of leave range from a high of 39 in Finland (25 days paid leave plus 14 public holidays) to a low of 28 in the UK (20 days paid leave plus 8 public holidays). Many local employers give more than the legal minimum.

6a. Expecting your employee not to take all their vacation. When I’ve briefed employers on the realities of European holiday entitlement, on more than one occasion their follow-on question has been, “But people don’t really take all that time, do they?” Yes. Assuredly, they do. The concepts of balanced life, and the benefits of genuine relaxation and rejuvenation on work performance, are much more widely appreciated by Europeans, and acted upon, than elsewhere. It’s best to understand and accept this early. Also, about August: Very popular for lengthy vacations among the British and Europeans. "Europe shuts down in August" isn't quite true. Well, nearly so.

5. Being unfamiliar with employee protections, including normal notice periods. Notice periods, especially for more senior employees, can be quite long in the UK and Europe, relative to the equivalent role elsewhere. Three months’ notice is quite typical, or one month rising to three months after the first year. For a CEO equivalent role, even six months is not unheard of. Two weeks’ notice? No way. A candidate’s focus on the notice period doesn’t mean they’re planning to leave, just that they are ensuring their contract is created in line with the norms and laws of their country. But bear in mind that, in the event the employee and employer wish to sever the relationship, both parties are often motivated to negotiate, at the time, a shorter notice period than the one in the contract. The employee may well wish to start a new job earlier. Choosing carefully the country to enter first can also help: Rules around notice and severance do vary by country, and I will say that the most egregious examples I hear about – from the employer’s perspective – of employees who were unethical, completely non-performing, yet expensive and time-consuming to terminate, have tended to come from just one or two countries. Which shall remain nameless. (Private message me on LinkedIn.)

4. Dropping a candidate because they have a small beer over lunch on a Friday. A small quantity of alcohol at lunchtime – wine in France, beer in Germany – is not frowned-upon in Europe the way it can be elsewhere. Your candidate’s having one drink does not mean they’ll be useless for the rest of the day. If they’re right for the job in all other ways, don’t reject them on this basis.

3. Becoming frustrated with negotiation efforts on the part of the recruiter or candidate. Resist the temptation to view negotiation on any of these points as evidence of excessive demands or lack of enthusiasm for the role. Some asks which might look like hard-dealing may actually have been simple requests for what’s legally entitled (see paid leave and notice periods, above) or ubiquitously normal (see cars). A first international hire is scary – and yes risky – for the employer, but it’s also true that joining a company as its first international employee is scary and risky for the employee, no matter how great your brand and product are.  Cutting good candidates deep in the process because they negotiate appropriately will just set your expansion plans back.

2. Mistaking corporate culture for multi-cultural. It's important to find people who embrace the company culture, because a shared sense of values and focus can help drive positive results. Sometimes, however, a company culture can be over-much the culture of one country. Other cultural attitudes can actually deliver equally positive results, yet not match the HQ culture completely. Companies looking to expand internationally should look carefully at their mission, vision and values and articulate the "must haves" versus the "nice to haves" and be sure that local (HQ) culture isn't muddying their view of what makes a potentially successful employee. Expanding internationally will change most companies, and with the right care and attention, there can be positive change, without sacrificing the things that add the most value.

And finally:

1. Working with the wrong recruiter. Of course it’s key to find the right recruiter, who understands the country you’re looking to target, and can advise you on points like these. Many recruitment businesses look global from the outside – lots of dots on the map – but in terms of their actual business process and policies, behave quite provincially. Executives Online has taken over numerous international recruitment projects after efforts by other recruitment firms failed to generate the right candidates. When choosing a recruiter to help with this key hire, ask how they work, and how they access international talent. If they have a database, is it global? How many candidates in the target country? Can they access candidates in other countries without having to share their fee with another office? (This practice can have a detrimental effect on their motivation to complete the search successfully for you.) Look for evidence of cross-border placements – client based one place, hire made somewhere else – rather than just lots of placements in the country you’re interested in. See that the actual recruiter who will be working for you has experience in the search and candidate acquisition methods that are effective in the target country.

We have all these war stories and have lived to laugh about them because we do this sort of work all the time, and we do it well. All our recruiters and directors have free and open access to every candidate in our Global Talent Bank, and are experienced in deploying effective search methods to find you the right person. Executives Online’s international track record includes numerous placements where we helped companies set up shop in a new territory, or grow their teams there. Here are some examples:

  • Sales Manager UK for a San Diego-based provider of airplane maintenance software and solutions
  • UK Sales Director for Information Edge, a New Zealand based provider of business intelligence software
  • Interim Call Centre Manager for the leading Romanian telecoms provider
  • Infrastructure Operations Director for a Sierre Leone based minerals company
  • Factory Controller for a Volgograd, Russia-based manufacturing facility of a global tobacco producer
  • HR Manager for the Dominican Republic operation of a global tobacco producer
  • UK MD for an Illinois-based manufacturer of wireless antennae towers
  • Project Manager for a Kazakhstan-based mining company
  • VP Marketing Europe, UK MD, Europe E-Commerce Manager, Head of Digital Marketing Europe, MD Nordics, Corporate Sales Director Nordics, Retail Sales Manager Nordics, Senior Security Researcher Nordics, Marketing Director France, and Corporate Sales Manager Italy for a global provider of computer security software
  • UK MD for a Romanian provider of computer security software
  • Sales Director DACH (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) for a US-based provider of cloud services management software
  • German Country Manager for a UK-based lighting manufacturer
  • US HR Business Partner for a UK-based producer of audio, multimedia and virtual tours
  • Group Financial Controller to work in Finland for a European private equity firm
  • Marketing & Sales Director and HR Director, both for Germany, and Netherlands Operations Manager and Marketing Manager for a Bermuda-incorporated, LSE-traded insurer
  • Massachusetts-based MD for a UK-headquartered provider of social media monitoring solutions
  • Initial VP-level hires in Germany, France and Italy plus Director of Global Alliances for a New York based provider of algorithmic trading software
  • Business Development Manager (UK) for an Australian provider of planning and performance management software for the public sector

Contemplating making a key international hire? Contact an Executives Online office for a discussion of your requirement and how we can help.



No comments yet.

Post your comment