Hiring Abroad: How To Do It


By Jas Singh

It’s a classic recruitment scenario.

Business is booming in the local markets. Everyone at HQ is happy. There has been increasing demand from abroad – maybe you have even signed up one or two customers. The opportunity seems unlimited. Europe. Then Asia. Followed by Latin America and Africa. World domination seems within reach.

So with much pride, excitement and consideration you finally decide to hire abroad. Attempting to replicate the success you already had back home.

But for some reason, things just aren’t quite the same.

Since I spend most of my time between the US and Europe, by far the biggest type of new business enquiry I get is by an American company looking to build a new presence in Europe or a European company trying to become established in the US. Often, clients struggle to replicate their success in international markets – in around 20% of cases, they often even fail outright to make international offices profitable.

Different countries have different people. This requires a different approach to hiring. Especially for initial hires when trying to establish an international office from scratch – such hires are key.

Here are some things hiring managers can do to ensure they are more successful when hiring abroad for the first time:

1) Have realistic expectations

Often management has total unrealistic expectations abroad. Since the company is flying at home, they almost think it is automatic that the same results should be achieved abroad. They forget the time, effort, resources and experience that has gone into this previous success – the same things that need to be followed in new international markets.

By far, the most unrealistic expectations in terms of profession, is sales. Newly hired sales people are often expected to court customers immediately and win business quickly. Despite the foreign market perhaps having a limited understanding of the company’s business, and probably being settled customers of bigger local competitors. These factors coupled with having more limited resources than back home, all affect the flow of the sales cycle.

Setting up a business abroad is a complex process, often with niggling little teething problems. Dealing with local lawyers, accountants and regulators amongst other things can often require much time – distracting new hires from what they have been hired to do.

Be patient. Don’t forget how long it took you to get started. Doing so 5000 miles away is much harder.

2) Send over someone from HQ?

I have noticed that one way companies are much more successful abroad is through secondment – sending an existing employee from headquarters as part of the new international set-up.

The benefits of this are numerous. Most importantly it bridges the knowledge gap – there is now someone on the ground who understands the business and how it operates. It also send the right message to customers and new employees – we’re here to stay and are serious about this market. There’s nothing more off putting than a bunch of people at HQ who are rarely visible constantly asking for updates and giving orders.

It’s also a great way to learn properly about foreign markets. By mixing locals with people from HQ, the communication of information is more efficient, fuelling better strategy, innovation and execution.

3) Invest

I find it crazy that multi-billion dollar companies often with lucrative international customers generating millions annually, will scrimp when it comes to setting up shop abroad. It sends the wrong message again to customers, employees and new hires.

It’s better to wait and invest properly in a new country than to try and do things up on a shoe-string. You generally get what you pay for in life, especially in the ultra-competitive business world.

Hire the best people. Do a proper marketing campaign. Get the best offices you can afford to inspire the people you work with. If it’s a long term project to build a business, make sure there is a stock component.

The better the investment, the greater the returns.

4) Hire more than one person

Throughout my career I have noted there is a massive difference between hiring one person and two people when hiring abroad for the first time.

Being totally isolated is hard – even for the most independent and resilient person. There’s no-one to discuss progress with, no-one to brain storm with, no sense of camaraderie and team spirit. Being totally responsible for results, it can be high pressure and stressful.

There’s always the question mark hanging over your head – how long will the company stick around before they think about leaving?

By hiring several people – even if it’s only one more, productivity increases massively. Successful performance requires consistent collaboration only possible though daily contact with other people.

5) Don’t compare with HQ. Trust the locals.

The most common mistake when hiring managers hire abroad for the first time is to compare everything to the ways things are done back home.

How much salary to pay. Benefits and holiday. What customers buying attitudes are. How long a typical sale takes.

Often in different countries, culture is very different. You have to play by the local rules.

Very rarely do companies succeed abroad by trying to stick to their usual practices. The best hiring managers understand the need to adapt to the local market – and often hire local number two’s who can guide them on how best to approach things. That is why the first few hires are so critical – if managed correctly, future hiring and growth is easy and efficient.

Trust the locals. They know themselves the best.


International expansion is exciting and potentially lucrative.

Yet hiring abroad requires some different considerations and often companies struggle to replicate home success.

Hiring managers should ensure they use the best tools and strategies to hire people who are guaranteed to perform – otherwise wrong hires can be costly and damaging.

How successful are your international hires?

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