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Efficient Talent-Sourcing for Global Growth

For the mid-market company that is expanding internationally -- whether for the first time or into uncharted territory – identifying the right talent can be a challenge. In a 2012 Ernst & Young study of C-level and other executives in rapid-growth markets, 30 percent of respondents reported the need for a strategic hiring process in international markets. Intensifying the problem, according to the same study, is a self-reported knowledge gap in local culture and ways of doing business by more than half of the participants.

A strategic approach to hiring talent globally starts with answering a few key questions that will create a candidate profile, narrow the search, and get the process underway quickly and efficiently. Once candidates are identified, the interview process and reference checks will require a deeper dive to determine the suitability of finalists not only to the position for which they are being considered but to the culture in which they will be operating.

Assessing the market

Is your organization going into a market in which your industry is already established? If so, there may be a local talent pool to draw from. However, keep in mind a recent McKinsey & Company report, “Perspectives on Global Organizations,” which cites that companies entering emerging markets tend to face fierce competition for a small pool of local talent with the right skill sets. If that proves to be the case, or if your company is the first in your industry to enter a particular market, you will likely have to bring in talent, looking for suitable candidates both in-house (at headquarters or otherwise ) as well as new hires.

The Candidate Profile

The first step in identifying a pool of viable talent is to create a candidate profile. This profile will emerge from answers to a range of questions designed to access both hard and soft skills necessary for a particular position. Among the questions to include:

  • How crucial is experience in market versus industry or product knowledge?
  • Must the candidate have lived and worked in another country in the past?
  • Is in-market language a requirement?
  • Is the candidate capable of adjusting his or her style to meet the needs of a new environment?
  • If foreign-born, how likely is the candidate to gain the trust of the people of the country to which he or she is moving?

These questions, augmented by others specific to the company and position, will shrink the candidate pool and will help determine what it will mean, within your organization, to be a successful global executive.

The Search

Once your candidate profile is established, the search can begin, whether through networking, partnership or a search firm. In sourcing candidates through networking, determine what relationships you might have in the market. Consult your own Rolodex and with peers for recommendations. Also consider creating partnerships or joint ventures that might result in referrals. Do targeted research to find out whether other industries are operating in the market that might have people with skills that would transfer to your industry.

Diving Deep

With the field narrowed to a selection of viable candidates, the process of interviewing and reference checks for global talent requires a deeper dive. You will need to determine whether the candidate has not only resume skills and experience but is intellectually and rationally able to succeed for the company in a specific new environment. Among the in-depth questions to ask of potential hires and their references:

  • Can the candidate work within a foreign culture where it takes times to build trust?
  • Can the candidate change his or her style to meet the needs of a new environment?
  • Will he or she be willing to move a family to another country?
  • Can the candidate be culturally sensitive?
  • Will the candidate make a successful transition?

In addition, ask the candidate for examples of past mistakes and what he or she learned from them. In gauging a candidate’s response to these interview questions, look for character traits and past experiences that indicate adaptability and patience. The successful transition to a new market will require a great deal of both. In Asian markets where expansion is taking place, for instance, expats too often fail because they don’t take the time to study longstanding cultural, political and socioeconomic factors of their host country.

Case in Point: Global Firm Seeks Chief Marketing Officer for Restaurant Venture in Japan

Several years ago, a well-known global private equity firm was seeking a chief marketing officer in Japan for its restaurant company, and was prepared to hire the best “A+” talent from around the world. The candidate would be charged with establishing best marketing practices for a company that had historically not relied on marketing to grow the business regionally. The search was expanded beyond restaurant industry insiders and crafted a candidate profile that included the following:

  • Experience working for large, global “best-in-class” consumer brands
  • Willingness to relocate to Japan
  • Capability to work within a limited budget
  • Proven ability to lead through influence in order to bring the operators on board with the new marketing strategy
  • A “softer” style that would work in the local culture

The private equity team took an all-hands-on-deck approach to the search, deploying partners from Tokyo, London and the U.S. to interview and engage good candidates on three continents. It took only a few weeks to identify several great prospects, but about three months of careful vetting to determine the successful candidate who they found, ironically, in their own backyard – an executive with a global restaurant chain in Tokyo.

The Importance of Patience

The executive who succeeds in a new market is one who is willing to sit back, listen and learn for the first one hundred or so days. This goes against the nature of the American way of business, where we tend to move fast and “efficiently” to get the job done. In contrast, in other cultures, foreign executives are often mistrusted and scrutinized until they can show that they understand and respect the customs of their host country. The country’s nationals will watch the foreigner to see if he or she understands their culture and social mores, from the proper greeting to whether or not a guest sits first.

An equal measure of patience is required on the part of the one hiring. Talent sourcing in new markets is challenging under the best of circumstances, but the organization that takes the time to assess available talent, construct a detailed profile, and carefully vet its candidates for cultural sensitivity as well as job skills, will find itself well on the path to a successful expansion.

Ann Fastiggi ( directs the hospitality practice at the executive search firm, Herbert Mines Associates.





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