Recruitment across Cultures

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The world is globalizing at breathtaking pace, and recruitment agencies need to deal with people who have different worlds in their heads and express themselves in diverse ways.

When IKEA were recruiting in France they ran into a cross-cultural problem. The company likes to recruit people who share IKEA values – typically Swedish and embodied in the down-to-earth persona of Ingvar Kamprad the founder. But HR were stumped when trying to find a French translation of the word ‘humbleness’, which is one of their key values.

Wittgenstein said “if a lion could speak, we would not understand what it had to say to us’’, and it is a little like that with cultural differences. For example, Americans are brought up to sell themselves, so in CVs and interviews they may appear boastful and even dishonest to an extremely modest culture like the Finns. This may lead a recruiter to misjudge a perfectly sound American candidate. The same thing can happen in reverse. There can be a whole world of different values hidden under the surface of the words which makes us misinterpret what is said.

The challenge is that our cultural values are instilled firmly by the age of 7 and all we do and say, and how we evaluate others, is imbued with them, usually without our realising it.

So how can recruiters get through the ‘cultural noise’ to judge the real quality or otherwise of candidates and also collaborate successfully in-house in international teams?

Guidelines for successful recruitment across cultures

  • Be aware of your own cultural make-up and understand that what seems normal may not be at all normal for the candidate or your overseas colleagues. There are various online personal cultural profiling tools on the market to help you. Two of the best-known are the British CultureActive and American GlobeSmart.
  • Understand the culture of others – ideally through self-assessment of culturally-determined behavioural styles and values and beliefs relative to other cultures, as this goes beyond national stereotyping.
  • Appreciate the over-riding importance of sensitivity to national  communication patterns (including listening habits) as an aid to real understanding, and that the impact of what is said, or not said, can be totally different from the intent.
  • Use your in-house diversity effectively. If you don’t do that, how can you help your clients achieve results from a diverse staff?
  • Educate your clients in a) the value of recruiting a culturally-diverse workforce b) the competitive advantage of cultural flexibility c) the importance of continuing cultural education in order to retain people.
  • Put in place ongoing training and cultural awareness programmes to increase mutual understanding so that recruiters, clients, employees and migrants can learn from, and better interact with each other.

Recruitment is increasingly a global activity

In recruitment we are coming more and more into contact with cultures who think and behave differently from us; for instance in off-shoring, recruitment for global corporations, or immigrant recruitment. Having a culturally-diverse staff can help organisations reflect and understand better the largest growing markets of the future such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In Northern Europe and the USA, we tend to be good at things which are linear and task-oriented, like production, IT and logistics. But the pendulum is swinging towards relationships and people issues as an even greater source of competitive edge than the purely rational.

This has been accompanied by the economic rise of countries like India and China, who are increasingly employing us too. These are countries where relationship and people skills are high. As recruiters, we need to look increasingly for employees who are strong in these areas.

Working with migrants

There are great benefits to ensuring that the 190,000 or so people predicted to arrive in the UK every year for the next 25 years,  as well as those who are already here,  are effectively integrated into the workforce.

The benefits for business should not be underestimated, such as the retention of skilled employees through better understanding of different ways of thinking and behaving.

The recruitment industry, as the natural first port of call for migrants looking for work, is key to this process.

Dealing with an influx of people with a different language or culture is a challenge, but if managed well, it’s one that can pay great dividends.

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