International Sourcing: Cultural Nuances and Sourcing Constants in a Globalized Recruitment Market

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Jun 21, 2018

Whatever your political persuasion and views on the value of technology, one thing is sure, the world is getting ever more connected. For those in the recruitment community, this represents a unique opportunity to experience new business cultures. However, it is important that wherever you are recruiting from, bear in mind specific factors and cultural imperatives of the market you are sourcing.

This is not to say that there aren’t essential truths to excellence in recruitment methodology. In fact, unique selling points a recruitment professional can offer when recruiting across borders is a standardized approach and the objectivity that comes from an outsider’s point of view.

I don’t want to focus on technical questions like LinkedIn vs. Xing in the German market, or the value of recruitment analytics tools, like CEB TalentNeuron and Burning Glass, to unmapped recruitment geographies. Instead, I’ve defined a few tenets of good sourcing practice and looked to view them through the prism of recruiting in different countries.

Communication: clarity & formality in your approach

A constant question in a world awash with slang and cut-down-communication styles is how formal should one be in a professional context. In the recruitment world (especially executive search) this can be tricky, especially when balancing the desire to be perceived as providing professional and world-class service with the need to be treated as a genuine business partner, advisor and market expert (in other words an equal) to both candidates and clients/stakeholders.

Perhaps the most crucial factor is clarity of communication with candidates where English is not their mother tongue. English remains the global language of business, and one of the reasons for utilizing an international recruiter is to test the quality of candidates’ communication in English. This means business English. It is crucial that when recruiting internationally that your language remains clear, don’t slip into idioms or colloquialisms. This can be a surprisingly difficult challenge. As recruiters, we often rely on a specific patter, especially in our verbal communication, that can be infested with local terms and national, regional and even highly local colloquialisms.

When recruiting in a new market, it is best to maintain a more formal communication style.

Presenting the Opportunity: What is essential to the candidate?

It can be all too easy to take for granted the appeal of your client or company to groups of candidates. Do not make assumptions about the impact your company’s or client’s brand may have in a different country, mainly if you are typically focused on a localized market or work for an instantly recognizable global organization.

For example, when you are pitching an opportunity in India, the size and reputation of the company may outweigh the scope and seniority of the role. This can be advantageous when trying to attract candidates, but it can lead to a situation where concerns and motivations remain buried under the glamour of the brand.

Conversely, you may be looking to attract digital talent into the said global conglomerate. This can be a significant challenge in developed markets, such as Europe and the US. In this circumstance, it is crucial to know your audience. As a Brit, I am conditioned to soften my communication style and talk around a subject. This has cost me in the past. I once failed to communicate the extent of an opportunity to a Dutch candidate because I inadvertently underplayed the scope of the role’s challenges. Due to an understated style of communication, familiar and regarded as polite in my home market. If I had given a direct and straightforward assessment of the situation and the role I would have secured that candidate because the standard business communication style in that culture is more straightforward.

An awareness of such country-specific factors can make all the difference to both attracting and fully qualifying candidates.

Assessing Candidates: Do differences in business cultures impact candidate assessment?

The assessment of candidates, in general, is a crucial question for any sourcer or recruiter. Firstly, where does our obligation to assess begin and end? Do we have a responsibility to test against technical competencies, or is our principal objective to provide a short list of candidates we feel meet a basic set of criteria and leave it to others to carry out the technical assessment?

To keep things relevant for all, let’s concentrate on ‘high level’ assessment. When recruiting in a market which is not your home, it’s important to take a step back to understand how working practices and culture may affect the assessment of candidates. There are always certain tropes and truisms that are relatively easy to confirm or dispel, a classic one is a difference in leadership styles in China, very much command, and control,– vs. the UK, where a collaborative leadership style is ubiquitous.

In trying to assess candidates’ capabilities, it is crucial to keep this in mind, tailor your questioning, consider asking something like ‘what do you believe to be the most effective way of turning around an underperforming team?’ to try and understand both the candidate’s style and their willingness to accept responsibility.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, thinking about differences in business cultures will help you maintain a consistent standard of assessment.

Legal: Know the legislation and the impact on sourcing channels

The recent implementation of GDPR serves as a reminder of the global implications of the law. While it is a European Union directive, its effects are felt far beyond European borders. It is crucial to understand, or at least be aware, of legislation that can impact on recruitment activities.

When recruiting in specific US states, there are now laws against asking candidates for their salary. I know this as a UK based recruiter, but how much do you know about anti-discrimination and data laws in a different market?

Legal issues can affect the logistics of running the search itself; for example, Russia has recently banned LinkedIn, clearly a development which significantly impacts a recruitment/sourcing strategy.

Candidate Management: Practical Considerations and Rapport

There are some practical considerations of recruiting internationally that are crucial, but effectively extensions of ‘normal’ factors in many recruitment processes:

  • How do I manage offers in different currencies?
  • What elements are included in an ex-pat package?
  • What are the logistics of commuting or relocation?

These are important but can be addressed with a bit of research and preparation.

One of the hardest elements to judge as a recruitment professional is how much to push-back on a candidate. This can be a judgment call at several stages when managing a candidate through a process. For example, if you are not convinced, during a first conversation, that a candidate has genuine concerns you could consider pointing this out, explaining that you do not feel as though their interest is sufficient and you are not comfortable putting them forward, seeking to drill down into their real reasons for considering a move.

This is sometimes a necessary measure to take with a candidate. But it is fraught with risk, even with a candidate with whom you feel a cultural affinity. It can be much more difficult when recruiting internationally. The concern merely is: could I be perceived as being rude in pushing this point or question? There is no single answer on this topic. However, it is something that can’t be avoided unless we are to abdicate a significant responsibility: to properly ‘qualify’ a candidate.

My advice on this point and this holds true for recruiting internationally in general, is to use the search/project/assignment as an opportunity to find out about the country you are recruiting in. As part of mapping and researching a market one should be looking at local publications to gather information. Extend this, just slightly, to get a sense of the culture of the country in which you are working.

Building your understanding of a place can only help in operating in it. It may seem frivolous, but even a nugget of information, shared at the right time, can break down a barrier and show that you are interested and genuine, rather than just executing a business transaction.

If you can build genuine rapport, it will mean you can get real answers to those tough questions.


Wherever we recruit, the objective remains the same: to find the best candidates in the market for our company or clients; to provide the best possible experience for our candidates.

The world is becoming ever more homogenous, but there are still factors and nuances unique to each market. Our industry provides extraordinary opportunities to engage with people from all over the world. At our best, recruiters and sourcers can be simultaneously sensitive to the cultures of others while providing a standard of quality that doesn’t deviate by country; combining awareness and objectivity to add genuine value to all stakeholders.

Regardless of where we come from, this is something to which we can all aspire.

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