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How to Conduct Successful International Executive Searches: Best Practices and Challenges

How to Conduct Successful International Executive Searches: Best Practices and Challenges

August 2023


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The business world is becoming increasingly globalized, and the competition for top global talent is heating up.

As more and more companies battle to secure top executives from all corners of the globe, an increasing number of them are turning to international executive searches—either with the assistance of a global executive search firm or without. 

But it’s important to remember that embarking on an international executive search presents its own unique set of common challenges and best practices. 

Understanding the Unique Challenges of International Executive Searches 

Cultural Differences and Adapting to Local Norms 

The first step to a successful international executive search process is cultivating cultural understanding. This means learning about the cultural subtleties, business etiquette, and hiring expectations of the areas you’re recruiting from.  

Executive search firms and companies looking to hire executive-level talent globally need to be aware of these aspects to locate the best candidates—you cannot assume things work the same way all around the world. 

For instance, in countries like the USA and Germany, businesses are built on direct communication. Candidates from these regions will expect you to be direct regarding the job requirements, the role, its benefits, payment, and so on.  

On the other hand, other countries, like Japan, often rely on indirect communication, a practice that isn’t vague, but averts conflict—a cornerstone of their corporate culture. 

Business etiquette varies by region as well. This can affect the recruitment process. In some European countries, it’s acceptable to greet with a kiss, while in others, this could be seen as offensive.  

Negotiations around payment and benefits are also impacted by culture. In Germany, hiring teams get straight to the point, whereas in places like China, there are often preliminary meetings filled with niceties before the actual negotiation.  

The decision-making process is culturally varied, too. For example, in the USA, decisions are typically made quickly by the appropriate individual. In contrast to this, in countries like Sweden, decisions within organizations are consensual and require input from multiple role-players. This naturally means they may take more time. 

Even the timing of meetings with potential candidates can be influenced by culture. Countries like the USA and Germany value punctuality. Latin American, African, and Middle Eastern countries tend to be more flexible, working around everyone’s schedules.  

Cultural differences in body language can also impact the search process. In some African countries, making prolonged eye contact can be seen as disrespectful, while in countries like Germany, the UK, and the US, avoiding eye contact can be seen as ill-mannered. 

Addressing Language Barriers and Communication Challenges

English is often the lingua franca for businesses worldwide, but your hiring team should remember that not all potential candidates may feel comfortable communicating in English.  

As long as the job requirements don’t necessitate English proficiency, a candidate’s hesitance to communicate in English shouldn’t automatically disqualify them from the hiring process. There are multiple ways to tackle this common challenge and ensure your search process identifies the right talent. 

If the language barrier is significant, consider using professional translation or interpretation services. With these services, you can have a native-language intermediary present for meetings or to interpret written communication. This is a small investment for hiring teams seeking the world’s top executive talent. 

While translation software may be tempting to use, it often fails to capture cultural nuances and accurately translate metaphors or figurative language. Therefore, for critical communications, human translation and interpretation services are the best practice. 

If a candidate has some English proficiency, you can conduct the hiring process and interview in English. However, be clear, concise, and avoid jargon or colloquialisms that could lead to confusion. It’s crucial to respect their skills and experience, avoiding any patronizing language. If you share a common second language, consider conducting negotiations in that language. 

Maintaining patience and understanding when communicating with executive candidates who don’t speak your language is key. They are doing your organization a service by considering your role. Show gratitude by treating them with respect regardless of their language proficiency, ensuring your recruitment process is inclusive, and your company is seen as a desirable place to work. 

Best Practices for Conducting Successful International Executive Searches 

When it comes to conducting a global search for top talent, there are certain considerations to be made. These ensure a smooth candidate experience throughout the search process. 

Security and Political Stability 

When conducting an international executive search, your hiring team should consider two key factors: the security and political stability of the candidate’s home country, and how it compares to the region they would be operating in. Clarity about the changes they can expect when potentially relocating for your company is particularly important. 

If the candidate originates from a region with low security, high crime rates, or political instability, they might be more inclined to immigrate to safer, more stable regions.  

Conversely, if a potential candidate comes from a stable country, and you’d like them to move to a less stable region, a conversation about safety resources is imperative. You may need to provide secure housing or personal security. Further, attracting such candidates may also require offering higher benefits and pay. 

Work Permits and Visas 

The next factor to consider in the executive search process is the ease with which your ideal candidate can acquire a work permit or visa for the country you’d like them to relocate to.  

Some countries have agreements that simplify this process, for instance, European Union (EU) nationals can easily work in other EU countries without specific work permits or visas.  

But if you’re considering a candidate from Indonesia for an EU role, as an example, the hiring process becomes more complex. The hiring company would need to act as a visa sponsor, and the candidate would need to provide proof of qualifications to the visa-issuing authority.  

Some countries may require qualifications to be recognized or certified by relevant authorities. Plus, the candidate may need to demonstrate financial stability, health insurance coverage, a clean criminal record, and a history of adhering to immigration laws. 

While this process can be bureaucratic, expensive, and time-consuming, it’s well worth it when securing top international candidates.  

Compensation and Benefits

When determining the compensation package to offer during the international executive search process, the following should be considered: the norms of the country you want the executive to operate in and the norms of their home country.  

Certain perks, like profit sharing, unlimited time off, flexible working hours, and equity, are more prevalent in some regions than others. 

What you offer will hinge on the executive candidate’s expectations and what your company can afford. Hiring managers need to balance these factors to attract and retain top talent. 

Relocation Support 

If you’re recruiting an executive and they need to move from one country to another, it’s best practice to offer some form of relocation support. 

Relocation support can take various forms, from an upfront payment or a substantial signing bonus to facilitate the move, to covering moving expenses, providing accommodation or assistance in finding accommodation, and even aiding in school searches for their children. 

Other forms of support could include helping them bring over pets and facilitating their integration into the new country with services like paid language courses. Neglecting to offer relocation support during the hiring process could deter top talent from considering your position. 

Offering comprehensive relocation support not only positions your company as caring and supportive, but it also strengthens your employer brand in the job market, ensuring your organization is seen as a top choice for executive talent. 

Navigating Legal and Regulatory Requirements in Different Countries

To ensure a smooth executive search process for your potential hire, it’s critical to consider the legal and regulatory requirements in both their home country and where you want them to operate.  

Key factors to consider are labor laws, discrimination laws, data protection laws, and immigration laws of both countries. Collaboration with local legal experts or consulting firms can be advantageous in this aspect. 

Different countries also have varied norms when it comes to employment contracts. Understanding these norms, including termination clauses, benefits, and compensation laws, is essential. 

Why You Should Consider Using a Global Executive Search Firm

As we come to the conclusion of this article, you might have realized something that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you before: international executive search can be exceptionally challenging at its most complex. 

That’s exactly why the majority of leading companies choose to collaborate with top retained executive search firms to navigate the intricacies of the search process. 

Executive search firms that boast a global presence are uniquely positioned to identify top global talent through their: 

  • Leadership expertise 
    The main reason why executive recruitment firms are often the best choice for international executive searches is their expertise in identifying strong leaders. These firms place numerous top executives every year in various industries and locations. This experience makes them more likely to pick the right fit for your company. 
  • Global network 
    When you’re looking for an international executive hire, you need a global presence. For example, Stanton Chase has more than 70 offices worldwide across North America, EMEA, APAC, and Latin America. This means we have leadership experts available wherever you’re searching for leaders. 
  • Market knowledge 
    Executive search firms that operate internationally have a deeper understanding of both local and global job markets, industry trends, and cultural nuances than you probably do. This means they are better equipped to negotiate with international candidates, understand candidate expectations and salary norms, and navigate regulations. 
  • Passive candidates 
    International executive search firms take specialized research to the next level by reaching out to candidates who might not be actively seeking new roles. This means you can tap into executives with extensive experience at reputable companies, not just those who are currently job hunting. 
  • Confidentiality 
    Broadcasting your search for a new CEO to the world might not bode well for your stock prices. Similarly, if there’s an incumbent CEO who isn’t aware of their impending replacement, maintaining discretion in your search would be wise. International executive search firms are experts in confidentiality. By entrusting the search to them, you can avoid revealing your involvement until you’re prepared to announce your new hire to the world. 
  • Reduced bias 
    We all have biases we’re not consciously aware of. But that’s not an excuse — we should all try to be fairer. When it comes to hiring leaders, these biases can cause problems. When you team up with a global executive search firm, they give you an unbiased look at potential candidates. With many leadership experts involved, there’s less chance that bias affects the shortlist. This means you can find candidates you might have missed before. 

The Benefits of Partnering with Stanton Chase for International Executive Search 

We provide all the benefits discussed in the previous section of this article—and more. 

At Stanton Chase, our executive assessment tools offer a comprehensive view of your potential international executive hires. Our toolbox includes psychometric tests, personality assessments, self-reflection questionnaires, cognitive ability tests, and 360-degree feedback.  

We also employ simulations, leadership exercises, multiple assessors, and in-depth interviews. 

Teaming up with a global executive search firm like Stanton Chase when engaging in international executive recruitment can save you time and money, protect your organization’s reputation and staff morale, and provide security to stakeholders and shareholders. 

We not only ensure that your next global executive hire is a skills match, but also a cultural fit, aligning their long-term vision, ambitions, and leadership philosophy with your company’s future. 

We not only ensure that your next global executive hire is a skills match, but also a cultural fit, aligning their long-term vision, ambitions, and leadership philosophy with your company’s future.

Our cutting-edge executive search process, refined over 30 years, guarantees access to top executive talent that delivers immediate positive impact and sustains it.  

And our commitment doesn’t end once your new executive is hired. We remain your leadership partner, ensuring effortless integration into your company and providing onboarding assistance. 

With offices in 45 countries, we’re uniquely positioned to be your ideal partner for global executive search. Click here to reach out to one of our consultants.  

About the Author

Norbert Nagy is the Vice President of the EMEA region. He has been in the executive search industry since 2005, primarily focusing on the technology, manufacturing, and life sciences and healthcare sectors for the Hungarian and CEE markets. Additionally, he has been responsible for managing Stanton Chase Budapest for the past 10 years. 

Norbert has considerable experience in both the IT industry and management consulting industries, having been employed at leading companies in these fields. He has a track record of over 15 years in conducting executive and senior management searches for his client companies, managing such assignments in roughly a dozen countries with global, European, and local geographical focuses. 

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