Recruiting From a Global Talent Pool

A growing domestic economy is creating a thorny problem for recruiters of U.S.-based firms: a lack of quality talent at home.

With companies finally finding steady profits after years of budget tightening amid the recession, hiring is on an uptick and recruiters are keeping busy as the labor market tightens. However, the hiring upswing is providing talent more opportunity to explore many job options, heightening the competition among recruiters for top talent. 

This shortage of talent has become the No. 1 challenge for companies, according to a “2015 Recruiting Outlook Report” by employer reviews website What’s more, nearly half of all hiring decision-makers say they don’t see enough qualified candidates for open positions, and 26 percent expect the challenge will only increase in the coming year, the report said.

“It’s a supply issue, particularly if you are looking for people with STEM degrees,” said Nicole Maddox, lead technology recruiter for Seattle-based real estate software firm Redfin, referring to science, technology, engineering and math degrees.

Even if the number of total degree holders is on the rise, “the number of people who are really good is a lot smaller,” Maddox said, adding that competition for those people is fierce.

That’s putting companies in a tough spot. If companies can’t find the right people to fill these roles, it will directly affect their ability to expand and meet increasing customer needs.

For many, the answer is increasingly to turn to global recruiting options. “A lot of countries have as good, if not better, education programs than the U.S.,” Maddox said.

Amsterdam has developed a technology hub comparable to Silicon Valley, and Singapore is known for its pool of highly skilled financial services experts. Israel, meanwhile, has a reputation for producing highly talented STEM professionals; Maddox said Tel Aviv has nearly just as many female as male engineers, “which is really exciting as a recruiter.”

Companies are also looking globally as a way to support international expansion efforts, according to Charles Macleod, global recruiting leader for professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in London.

“Unless you are a purely domestic business, hiring people with cultural awareness and language skills can be very useful to the ‘internationalization’ of your business strategy,” Macleod said.

Still, finding great talent and figuring out how to bring them back to the United States is complicated. Visa issues, localized recruiting practices, language barriers, employment law and social recruiting abroad are areas that require attention from recruiters and talent managers.

Global Recruiting

Whether recruiters are looking for hard-to-find engineers or candidates with global business experience, most begin their international search online.

The Internet has become global recruiters’ best friend because it gives them a way to reach talent pools anywhere in the world, said Maddox, who has international hiring experience through her roles with Inc., Jobfox Inc. and Living Social Inc. in addition to Redfin.

Maddox said whenever she considers taking a recruiting effort global, her first step is figuring out which country will have the largest amount of best candidates. “A lot of times, I’ll start with a Google search of where people are looking for specific types of jobs,” Maddox said. She then looks at metrics like the number of jobs posted in a specific country, traffic on job boards from that country and the number of quality résumés posted to job boards.

“Sometimes you can query Quora and get a specific answer about where the best talent is,” Maddox said, “but most of the time you have to make assumptions based on the numbers you find.”

Once she has a target country in mind, Maddox said she will start looking for relevant conferences in big cities to identify which association websites to post job openings and which events to attend. She also said she uses LinkedIn, Twitter and other international social media websites to tap local communities.

“I look for user groups in the area where I am recruiting, then I send a message to the leader,” Maddox said, adding that she might ask for permission to post recruiting information to the group or for the host to query members of the group privately on her behalf.

Once Maddox identifies specific candidates or a promising talent pool, she said she makes her travel plans. 

“The recruiting process must involve some face-to-face meetings,” Maddox said. This means either sending recruiters overseas to conduct interviews or flying candidates in. There are benefits to both models. “If you bring the candidate to your home office, it gives you a chance to sell them on the city and the culture,” Maddox said. 

On the other hand, sending recruiters to candidates’ home countries also sends the message that the company values candidates’ talent and is willing to invest the time and money to recruit them.

“Asking someone to relocate to a new country is a tall order,” she said. Making the effort to meet them in person demonstrates that you acknowledge the gravity of that request.

The Internet has become the global recruiter’s best friend because it gives them a way to reach talent pools anywhere in the world.

However, Maddox said overseas recruiting trips are in many cases a luxury for some companies. In those cases, video interviewing can make it possible for companies to vet overseas candidates virtually and still develop a level of trust. “It depends on your culture and your recruiting process,” she said.

For PricewaterhouseCoopers, recruiting globally is about more than filling hard-to-fill roles — it is adding diversity and knowledge as well. “We are working in markets that we weren’t in 10 years ago,” Macleod said, “so hiring people with cultural awareness and skills that are relevant in those markets helps us understand how to do business there.”

In today’s global economy, finding talent from a specific country doesn’t mean that’s where you should recruit. “Talent from high-growth countries, like Nigeria, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, are spread all over the world,” Macleod said, adding that the most talented students from these countries often go overseas for school to expand their own global experience.

Recruiters at the firm are especially drawn to these candidates because they have the specific market experience the company is looking for while also demonstrating a willingness to relocate and the ability to adapt to new cultures. Macleod said it is sometimes easier to vet because they may already be in your home city.

To find these candidates, Macleod’s team reaches out to the embassies of those countries for information on students who are studying locally; they then use that information to target specific colleges or communities with recruiting messages. He said the firm also uses virtual tools, like online career fairs, to connect with candidates that are farther away and post messages about the events on social media to get the word out.

“It’s a lot more effective than renting a room, hanging posters and waiting for people to come,” Macleod said.

To make the most of these virtual engagements, Pricewaterhouse encourages participants to spread the word to their own social networks. This can be especially useful, Macleod said, as international students often have strong ties with other students from their home countries.

Macleod’s team uses these events to build talent communities of potential candidates from target markets and nurtures those relationships until they are ready to hire.

More Than a Résumé

Many well-known global brands also make the most of their existing online presence to connect with global candidates.

“We recruit from all over the globe,” said Sumita Banerjee, senior vice president of talent acquisition for L’Oréal Americas, the New York headquarters of the global beauty products manufacturer.

Candidates apply to L’Oréal from all over the world through the company’s career page, and recruiters from the company’s subsidiary offices host career fairs and college events and use social media to constantly promote the recruitment message on a global scale.

In this way, the company can engage with a global talent pool using local recruiters, even if the job opening is in a different country.

Though Banerjee said a big part of the company’s global recruiting strategy often begins at home. Like Pricewaterhouse, L’Oréal’s global management development program focuses on identifying international talent who come to the U.S. to pursue advanced MBA degrees.

“We hire them in the U.S. as the first step in their integration,” Banerjee said. And because the company has offices around the globe, those candidates will have the opportunity to return to their home countries as part of their talent development process, which can be an added incentive.

One of the challenges of hiring international candidates is the assessment process, Banerjee said. It can be difficult to determine a candidate’s skills and experience from a résumé. To help close that gap, Banerjee said L’Oréal uses a program called Brandstorm, which is an international competition that challenges undergrads to create a marketing strategy for a product launch as if they were L’Oréal brand managers.

“It offers a real world, hands-on business experience to thousands of students around the world and provides us with a way to spot new, junior talent from more than 40 countries,” Banerjee said.

Playing the Visa Card

Figuring out ways to find and assess international candidates is a critical part of global recruiting — but it’s not the hardest part.

The real challenge is overcoming the wall of red tape that comes with an international hire.  “You have to be open to a really long lead time if you want to recruit globally,” Redfin’s Maddox said. “The last thing you want to do is invest a lot of time and money finding a great candidate — only to find it could be a year before their paperwork clears.” 

Before companies even considers looking abroad for talent, they need to figure out whether they can even secure a visa for a potential candidate and whether they have the time and resources to make that work.

Sending recruiters to candidates’ home country shows that the company is willing to invest time and money to recruit them.

Visas take months to secure and in the U.S., they are only released once a year, meaning recruiters need to plan ahead, said Bob Miano, CEO and president of Harvey Nash USA, a global recruiting firm based in Wayne, New Jersey.

The U.S. government releases 65,000 U.S. H-1B visas per year, which are nonimmigrant visas that allow U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require expertise in a specialized field.

Applying for a nonimmigrant visa is generally quicker than applying for a U.S. green card, so they are popular for companies who want to bring in foreign nationals for domestic jobs, Miano said. “But they can be difficult to secure and require a lot of time and upfront planning.”

In 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed that it had received 233,000 petitions for H-1B visas in the first week of April, when they became available. It was the third consecutive year that the H-1B quota has been reached during the first five business days of April, and those visas for fiscal year 2016 won’t be released until October.

To get around such a long lead time, some companies will have foreign workers begin working remotely in their home country or at a satellite office until the visa comes through. That kind of flexibility can reduce some of the time and risk from hiring international candidates, Maddox said.

Other companies, like ZipRecruiter Inc., a Los Angeles-based online job distribution and job board, forgo the visa process all together and builds satellite offices around the international talent they find.

“It’s always our first choice to bring talented people back to our home office,” said CEO Ian Siegel, “but so far no one has taken us up on the offer.”

Instead, the company built an office in Israel, where it has hired a top-notch team of engineers. “It was much less challenging to create that office than to try and relocate the team back to L.A.,” he said.

Exhaust Local Options

Recruiting globally is a complicated process that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It adds significant time and cost to the hiring process, and once the candidate is hired, talent managers have to make sure they feel at home — both in the office and in their personal life.

“With foreign recruits, you really have to be concerned about retention,” Harvey Nash’s Miano said. That means making sure they and their families have everything they need to settle into the new community, such as language and culture training or help finding schools for their kids and jobs for their spouses. “Otherwise you run the risk of spending all the time and expense of getting them there, only to have them quit six months later,” he said.

But if talent managers are willing to take on the challenges of an overseas recruiting process, finding talent abroad can be a viable way to expand your business.

 “There are so many advantages to increasing diversity in the global workforce,” said L’Oréal’s Banerjee. “Recruiting globally is about embracing and leveraging difference and change — a business necessity today and for the future.”