Companies Struggle to Recruit Internationally

By Sarah Fister Gale

Mar. 4, 2013

Last year, CH2M Hill, the Englewood, Colorado-based global engineering firm, hired 400 people in the Middle East alone.

The company has been steadily expanding its reach worldwide, and much of its growth is coming from emerging markets. The $6.4 billion global engineering company has more than 30,000 employees and has managed projects in 149 countries.

To meet growth goals, the talent management team has to be able to quickly source foreign employees. But it’s not easy, says Nicole Guiet, the company’s talent acquisition director.

Guiet oversees talent management efforts from Alaska to Argentina, and has found that each part of the world has its own recruiting culture. “There are labor shortages everywhere,” she says. “And the recruiting techniques that work in the U.S. don’t necessarily work around the globe.”

The disconnect between local and international recruiting techniques is making it difficult for many HR executives to keep up with their companies’ pressing need for global talent acquisition. And executives are getting frustrated.

According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of KPMG titled Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World, 3 out of 4 executives say their workforce is becoming increasingly global, but just 1 in 4 believe their HR teams excel at sourcing and retaining international talent.

And while more than 80 percent of executives say that putting in place an effective talent management strategy is key to their success, just 24 percent believe their HR team is able to support their globalization strategy.

“Executives are beginning to realize that the only thing that can’t be cloned by the competition is a deep talent bench,” says Tim Payne, partner and European HR director for KPMG in London.

HR professionals have an important role to play in global talent acquisition, but they have to look beyond their tried-and-true local recruiting strategies to meet executive expectations. That means figuring out how to deal with the inconsistent education systems in many countries, along with limited talent pools, and fierce competition from global and local businesses for the best people.

And they need to recognize that they don’t understand everything about how the local hiring culture functions, Payne says. “One of the reasons why it is so difficult for HR to support global business units is that simple global policies don’t work.”

KPMG experienced this problem when it launched a KPMG center in India where there is a constant battle for the best talent. Relying on its London recruiting strategy, KPMG set up a two-day assessment center in Delhi, but applicants wouldn’t stick around.

“The process was too slow, and we lost good candidates to competitors,” Payne says. “When we started listening to local experts, we changed our process to be in line with local norms, and it instantly became more effective.”

Local experts are the best tool in this fight to improve global talent-acquisition strategies, Guiet adds.

At CH2M Hill, her team creates strategy reports for each country or region that define demographic information, including local hiring challenges, talent-pool availability, local and international competitors, common drivers to attract talent, and salary expectations.

Then they work with local recruiters to build a media plan that takes advantage of the best local recruiting strategies. “The key is admitting you don’t have all the answers and being willing to listen to those who do,” she says. “It’s about going slow now so you can go fast later.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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