An outline of the considerations involved in preparing for an international assignment
Whether recruiting overseas-based employees or relocating employees overseas, HR practitioners in international organisations need to effectively deal with the additional challenges of working in a global environment.
This factsheet looks at international resourcing and the associated challenges this brings. It examines the need for employers to plan HR resources and provides guidance on using appropriate recruitment methods for international assignments, such as internal promotions, headhunting and cross-national advertising. The factsheet explores the international aspects of three commonly used selection methods: Interviews, assessment centres and psychological testing, emphasising the need to follow immigration legislation when relocating and recruiting individuals overseas.
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The context of international resourcing
As people are an organisation’s best asset and also likely to be the most expensive resource within an organisation, ensuring the right number of suitable staff is a key priority for business success. In attracting and selecting the broadest pool of talent, resourcing and selection are therefore key HRM processes within any organisation with particular challenges emerging for those organisations who operate internationally.
Resourcing is concerned with HR planning and then mechanisms around recruitment and selection. In all organisations, whether or not they are operating on an international basis, there is the need to consider the planning of resources. When operating internationally, this is especially important because of the potential costs involved.
HR planning is the process of assessing demand for labour against the potential supply. It’s an important tool in putting the business strategy into practice, and in informing organisational capability. When operating on a global basis, the potential pool of supply is much wider, and hence the following questions need to be addressed:
- Where in the world is it most appropriate for employees to be located? In answering this question such issues as the cost of labour, relevant experience, infrastructure, quality of service and impact on employment relationships in home country all need to be addressed.
- Where in the world is there increasing demand for goods and services? An organisation might identify a new market that it wants to move into. Is this achieved most appropriately by providing the service or goods from existing locations, or is there a need to move into a new location?
- Is it most appropriate to employ local people, or to move existing employees from other countries to a new location? Employing local people will usually be cheaper (because of the costs associated with employing expatriates) and will mean that they have local knowledge. However, it might be necessary to move some existing employees so that the knowledge and experience that they have of the organisation can be used.
- What are the costs associated with employment in different countries? Costs of recruitment itself need to be considered, as well as the costs of shedding staff (which can be very expensive in many European countries).
- What are the restrictions placed by legislation? This could be legislation relating to immigration, or could it be local labour laws that need to be addressed in the recruitment process.
The changing nature of mobility worldwide means that the HR function in international organisations has to meet a series of challenges in resourcing:
- It has to work within globally co-ordinated systems whilst recognising and being sensitive to local needs.
- Practitioners are looking to source talent from increasingly varied places around the world, so integrating a diverse workforce for maximum organisational and individual performance is crucial.
- Increasingly the lines between traditional HR functions are blurred, so resourcing specialists have to focus on management development and reward issues as well as resourcing ones.
- Merger and acquisition activity means that HR practitioners are engaged in selection of employees in a changing environment and looking to harmonise HR practices.
- HR is looking to maximise the learning opportunities given by global networks to share best practice.
- Rapidly changing business situations in volatile global markets means that HR must often recruit, deploy, develop and shed people at great speed.
Read our factsheet on international mobility.
Given the cultural and legal differences between countries it is to be expected that the recruitment and selection practices differ not only by type and level of employee, but also by location. Legal constraints are a key driving factor here, with what may be legal in one country being illegal in another (for example restricting jobs by gender or race). Once it has been determined that international recruitment is needed the most appropriate recruitment method needs to be chosen. In the case of international recruitment this will often be in the form of a global leadership or competency framework.
Although text books typically refer to formal and traditionally psychometric approaches to recruitment, the reality in many contexts involves a more informal approach involving word of mouth or just the contacts of existing employees. Such approaches may be seen as unacceptable in the public sector as they risk being discriminatory. However in the business sector in some societies, word of mouth recruitment is common, particularly in societies deemed more collectivist (see our factsheet on international culture). Informal methods have the advantage of being less expensive than more formal ones.
Four formal methods of recruitment are likely to be particularly relevant to international HRM managers.
There are a number of specialist organisations which operate international search and selection. However, the approach is very expensive making it an approach to recruitment that is only appropriate for the most senior or specialist roles. According to Sparrow1, the cross-border capability and geographical spread of individual search firms has been critical as executive searches are now increasingly cross border.
As with all resourcing, advertising remains a common way of attracting people to relevant jobs. There are considerable differences in the use of advertising. The trends vary across sector, but there has been a general shift away from newspaper to other more creative or online approaches. One such approach is the use of targeted outdoor posters in suitable key (often commuter) sites, building on international intelligence which helps to focus on the target audience.
Using the internet has many benefits, particularly in terms of increasing the volume of applicants with the internet becoming THE dominant approach for individuals seeking roles, particularly senior professionals, technical specialists and managers. For firms there are numerous advantages, which as well as volume and geographic spread of applicants also include 24 hour a day access to vacancies and an opportunity to promote the brand of the organisation through its online presence. At the same time the approach has presented a number of challenges around reliability of the technology and the fact that there is no standardized global platform.
International graduate programmes
Graduates provide a source of talent for international roles as they often see such openings as being key to their career development and may be more mobile than other more established employees as they are less likely to have the same family ties. However, attitudes and readiness to be internally mobile are not always positive and this sometimes has implications for reward policy (see our factsheet on strategic reward and total reward). Organisations might be tempted to query if it is money well-spent as retention for such graduates is not always high and in certain cultures age is associated with status making it difficult for young graduates who may be difficult to place in roles given their lack of experience.
There’s considerable difference in the use and acceptance of different selection methods in different countries. For example, graphology (the analysis of an individual through samples of handwriting) is relatively common in France and some parts of Switzerland, but is hardly used anywhere else in the world (indeed, there is no evidence to prove the validity of this selection method). Find out more about selection methods generally.
International aspects of three commonly used selection methods are explored here.
Interviews are commonly used, but the approach to them differs. In the UK it is increasingly common to have a structured interview, and panel interviews are not uncommon. In the USA almost all interviews follow a very structured process where all applicants are asked exactly the same questions. In Northern Europe it is common for the HR Manager to be one of the interviewers, but this is less likely in other countries in the world.
There are also cultural differences in the ways in which applicants will react in an interview situation. For example, in Korea it is a cultural norm, when asked a ‘good question’ to keep silent as a mark of respect. However, in cultures such as the USA and the UK to remain silent when asked a question would be seen to be rude or ignorant. In the UK direct eye contact is seen as confident and to indicate honesty. However, in many South Asian countries direct eye contact is seen as being aggressive and rude.
It’s important that cultural differences are understood and interpreted appropriately. Read our factsheet on International culture.
Assessment centres are increasingly common in the UK, but still relatively unknown in many other countries. In designing activities in an assessment centre it is important to ensure that they are free of cultural bias, and that the results are interpreted appropriately. It is also important that assumptions are not made about the exposure that applicants have had to technology. Asking a UK based applicant to carry out a computer based assessment is unlikely to have a significant reaction. However, an employee from a developing or undeveloped country might be penalised in the task simply due to a lack of familiarity with the computer technology.
Using psychological tests does attract some controversy. and this is particularly true in international settings. If psychological assessment is to be used the following points need to be considered:
What norms are being used as a comparator? If the norms are based on, for example, a UK population, are they appropriate when assessing people from a different nationality? This is particularly relevant in relation to personality assessment.
Do the questions have any cultural bias? For example, are words used that have one meaning in one country and another in a different country? Could this result in an applicant answering a question wrongly?
Are the assessments available in the applicant’s first language? If the applicant is required to translate questions this will have an inevitable effect on performance.
Are the tests discriminatory in any way?
There are different processes in place for pre-employment checks internationally and an HR professional will need to do thorough research on local requirements and constraints.
If individuals are being employed from overseas there are potential issues relating to immigration. Similarly if an organisation is considering relocating an employee, or recruiting an individual to work overseas, that country’s immigration laws must be followed and employers should check with the authorities in the relevant country.
Useful contacts and further reading
AL ARISS, A., CERDIN, J.L. and BREWSTER, C. (2016) International migration and international human resource management. In DICKMANN, M., BREWSTER, C. and SPARROW, P. (eds) Contemporary HR issues in Europe. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.
BREWSTER, C., HOULDSWORTH, E., SPARROW, P. and VERNON, G. (2016) International human resource management. 4th ed. London: Charted Institute of Personnel and Development. Chapter 8: Recruitment and selection
RENNIE, A. and McGEE, R. (2012) International human resource management. CIPD Toolkit. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
WOOD, G. and SZAMOSI, L. (2016) Recruitment and selection: debates, controversies and variations in Europe. In DICKMANN, M., BREWSTER, C. and SPARROW, P. (eds) Contemporary HR issues in Europe. 3rd ed. London: Routledge
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HARTTIG, M.A., STROZIK, M. and MUKHERJEE, A. (2010) Global workforce planning. Benefits and Compensation International. Vol 40, No 1, July/August. pp19-20,22-23.
SEJEN, L. (2013) How to effectively manage a global workforce. Workspan. Vol 56, No 1, January. pp27-30.
THORNTON, G.C and KRAUSE, D.E (2009) Selection versus development assessment centers: an international survey of design, execution and evaluation. International Journal of Human Resource Management. Vol 20, No, 2. pp478-498.
WOODS, D. (2011) Home and away. Human Resources. June. pp39-43.
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