In some ways, international recruitment has never been more accessible than it is in 2023. The widespread adoption of remote working and hiring tools during the pandemic means many organizations are now throwing open applications to international candidates.
They’ve also made hiring easier when expanding abroad.
Out of 100 global businesses already operating in more than one country, 97% were planning on expanding into new markets in 2023. The most attractive places were:
- Continental Europe (72%)
- The United Kingdom (70%)
- North America (58%)
- Asia Pacific (58%)
- Latin America (56%)
- The Middle East (54%)
However, that’s the optimist’s view.
If you’re more of a glass-half-empty HR leader, you might also say that international recruiting has never been more challenging.
More applications mean more resumes to sift through and more challenges to overcome in comparing candidates, from assessing language capabilities to choosing the right starting salary.
This is especially the case if you’re using traditional hiring methods, which already carry several noteworthy disadvantages.
Thankfully, skills-based hiring (SBH) can make your recruitment and hiring efforts significantly easier.
In this blog, we show you how skills-based hiring methods remove many of the barriers to comparing international candidates. We also walk you through the best practices you can use when hiring internationally.
Table of contents
- What is international recruitment?
- What are the challenges when comparing international candidates?
- How skills-based hiring breaks down the barriers to international recruitment
- 4 skills-based international recruitment best practices
- Use skills assessments to create a hiring strategy without borders
What is international recruitment?
International recruitment refers to any time you’re recruiting candidates who live outside of the country where your organization’s headquarters is based.
It involves all hiring activities involved in the normal recruitment process, including:
- Advertising roles
- Identifying and approaching potential candidates
- Offer negotiations
- Onboarding and relocation
This might sound straightforward, but it actually involves many complex scenarios. These include hiring:
- An all-new team for in-person roles in a new territory
- Contractors for short-term jobs in other regions (such as trade shows or other event marketers for events in different areas)
- International workers to join your fully-remote teams
- International workers who relocate to join teams in your home country
Is international recruitment the same as remote hiring?
Given the demand for remote work during and even after Coronavirus lockdowns around the world, it’s natural to assume that these days, international hiring is synonymous with remote recruiting.
But while some international recruiting activities are examples of remote recruiting, not all of them fall under this category.
This is because remote recruiting refers specifically to recruiting efforts in which you don’t meet candidates face-to-face at any point during the hiring process – usually for remote roles.
It does not have to occur internationally; in fact, many remote recruiters operate domestically. For example, many American businesses hire US-based employees to join remote teams.
This rules out many of the scenarios we’ve described in the section above. For instance, hiring an international candidate to join a team in your head office.
Although you might use remote recruiting techniques in this scenario, such as virtual interviewing, the candidate would be expected to relocate to join an in-person team.
In many cases, when you’re recruiting internationally, you’ll probably use a mix of common remote and in-person hiring techniques.
For example, if you’re building a new team in another country, you might use remote hiring techniques to build a skeleton crew. Then, you may relocate one of your existing team members to continue the process in person with support from your new recruits.
What are the challenges when comparing international candidates?
You might not have to swim the oceans that separate you and your international candidates, but international hiring is still fraught with challenges.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.
1. Language barriers
Significant – and even minor – language barriers often pose challenges in international hiring for obvious reasons.
The hiring process hinges on clear communication between candidates and hiring managers, so if you’re accepting applications from candidates who don’t speak English as their first language, you might experience issues at many stages of the recruitment process:
|Hiring stage||Problems posed by language barriers|
|Resume evaluation||Translation errors|
|General interview||Stilted conversation|
|Misunderstandings during questions|
|Inability for candidates to describe their experience or opinions in depth|
|Interviewers might interpret difficulty with the language as a lack of expertise or confidence|
|Technical interview||Miscommunications about the goals of the task Difficulty sharing feedback|
In many cases, you might not even realize that language barriers exist between you and your candidates until they reach the interview.
This is because traditional hiring doesn’t always give you a lot to go on with regard to language proficiency. You might be left relying on whether candidates have listed themselves as “fluent” on their resume, something which is very easy to lie about.
The lesson here isn’t necessarily to fight past every language barrier you come across and focus purely on skills. After all, even if someone has all the technical skills you need, a language barrier could impact how they work with their team and consequently affect team performance.
Indeed, employees at multinational corporations reported that language barriers were responsible for the failure of 40% of global virtual teams.
Instead, the challenge is in aligning candidates’ language skills with those of their team and minimizing the impact your own language skills – or lack thereof – could have on assessing their potential. Traditional hiring gives you little help with this.
2. Lack of familiarity with candidates’ backgrounds
International recruiters may also experience challenges when it comes to understanding international candidates’ backgrounds, particularly their education.
In 2021, Harvard researchers found that more than 90% of employers use recruitment management systems to filter or rank potential candidates. Said systems leverage college degrees as a common proxy for attributes including skills, work ethic, and the ability to work independently.
It’s easy enough to create a shortlist from this information when comparing candidates who studied in your home country. You probably know which degrees or institutions are considered prestigious and how the grading system works, enabling you to rank candidates effectively.
However, this approach becomes much harder when you’re comparing international candidates for whom you lack this context.
How can you tell an “impressive” degree from a less-impressive one if you’re not familiar with the university brand? You’re likely to spend more time either in research or during the interview playing catch-up to get this information.
Traditional hiring doesn’t give you much choice in the matter, either. Because it doesn’t give you a direct insight into candidates’ skills, you need to rely on the proxy of a degree.
3. Cultural differences
As well as contending with language barriers and trying to understand unfamiliar credentials, recruiters comparing international candidates also have to navigate cultural differences when hiring.
For example, multiple studies show that different cultures have different expectations when it comes to working culture.
Organizations in Africa prioritize agility and flexibility, while firms in Eastern Europe and the Middle East value stability and a focus on preparedness.
This affects not only how you advertise your roles in different markets, but also how you approach:
- Building a new team overseas. Will they be run differently from your domestic teams to align with their cultural expectations?
- Hiring for remote teams. How will these different sets of cultural expectations work together?
- Hiring leaders to relocate to your organization. How will their cultural background inform their leadership style?
As well as altering candidates’ expectations of the role, cultural factors might also influence how your interviewers perceive the personality or motivation of each candidate.
For example, as we’ve seen from the above data, interviewees from the Middle East are likely to have different opinions on how to navigate change compared to interviewees from Africa.
Being aware of these differences can help you make the right choice for the role.
4. Unconscious bias
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you need to work hard to eliminate bias when comparing international candidates.
In traditional hiring, this might prove impossible. Because the process generally leaves your domestic recruiters unsupported by data, they’re forced to lean unwittingly on their unconscious biases to make decisions.
This issue can manifest at various points, such as the resume collection stage.
For example, a study of job applications found that foreign candidates had significantly lower chances of receiving a positive response from employers than native candidates.
The study also showed an ethnic hierarchy in the responses, with European minorities more likely to receive positive responses than Middle Eastern and African candidates.
Another survey found that recruiters were less likely to call candidates who had “ethnic”-sounding names, particularly if they were women.
That said, bias doesn’t end at resumes and callbacks. It can also carry through to interviews.
For instance, an interviewer might be more likely to assume that a language barrier indicates more incapability when they’re interviewing men than women. Interviewers may also accept cultural differences more readily from some ethnicities than others.
All of this means that you’re blocked from the benefits of international hiring, particularly when it comes to diversity.
International recruiters need more support to make unbiased hiring decisions and eliminate situations in which stereotypes are their only means of comparing international candidates.
Traditional hiring can’t offer this – but skills-based hiring can.
How skills-based hiring breaks down the barriers to international recruitment
The challenges of international recruitment aren’t unique.
They merely indicate the weaknesses of traditional hiring methods, chiefly the fact that a lot of what you usually measure in traditional hiring is less about the core skills of the role and more about how candidates present themselves.
Skills-based hiring, on the other hand, enables you to tap directly into candidates’ skills regardless of where they come from. This is a large reason why the strategy is already used by successful companies around the world.
Here’s how skills-based hiring changes the game when comparing international candidates.
How skills-based hiring breaks down the barriers to international recruitment: Summary table
Short on time? Here’s a summary of how skills-based hiring makes comparing international candidates easier.
|Barrier removed by SBH||How it happens|
|Language barriers||Quality skills-based tests, like those offered by TestGorilla, can be administered in multiple languages. Language proficiency tests are also available to help determine a candidate’s skills for roles where knowledge of multiple languages is required.|
|Lack of familiarity with candidates’ backgrounds||Replacing resumes with skills testing enables you to view candidates’ proficiencies directly instead of using unreliable proxies like a college degree.|
|Cultural differences||Skills-based hiring shifts the focus to culture add, enabling you to welcome differences and create diversity of thought in your teams.|
|Bias||Removing resumes drastically reduces bias during screening, while the structured interview process minimizes it during the interview stage.|
1. Skills tests can overcome language barriers to test skills directly
Skills testing is the biggest recruitment tool in the skills-based hiring arsenal, and the first barrier it helps you overcome is language.
At TestGorilla, all of our tests can be administered in multiple languages, so even though you might view the results in English, your applicants can navigate the test with no barriers to entry.
You can also test all candidates directly on their language proficiency.
For example, you might test their English fluency to assess whether they’ll have difficulties communicating with the head office or during the interview. You can also test their fluency in the language of your target country to ensure they can work effectively with customers on the ground.
It works: Our State of Skills-Based Hiring report found that mis-hires reduced in more than 90% of organizations after the switch to skills-based recruitment.
2. With direct insight into candidates’ skills, you can ditch resumes entirely
Because you’re testing candidates’ skills directly, you don’t need to rely on broken measures like resumes and degree requirements for candidate screening.
This significantly reduces the chance of hiring unsuitable candidates who lie on their resumes. Unfortunately, this is more common than you might think: One survey found that 78% of candidates had lied on their resume – or at least considered it.
By contrast, skills-based hiring drastically limits the impact of candidate cheating on your recruitment efforts through extensive anti-cheating protocols.
Measuring skills is also a more effective tool than any of the information that you get from a resume. A study at Google found that years of work experience only predicted job performance with 3% accuracy, while skills testing was almost 10 times as effective.
In fact, much of the demand for skills-based hiring comes from the fact that employers are waking up to the brokenness of traditional hiring measures.
In short, degrees are not guarantees of required skills, particularly when those degrees are not directly related to the role you’re hiring for.
On the contrary, requiring degrees cuts you off from a huge pool of talented candidates known as STARS, or workers who are “Skilled Through Alternative Routes.”
Degree requirements also perpetuate bias, with elitism affecting diversity in many industries.
In the UK, an investigation into the educational backgrounds of trainees in the largest investment banks showed that more than half came from elite universities that disproportionately enroll highly privileged students.
3. Shifting focus from culture fit to culture add makes you more culturally inclusive
Many of the difficulties that arise due to cultural differences when comparing international candidates come down to the concept of “culture fit,” In other words, whether the candidate would “fit in” with your existing team, replicating the qualities that are already present in your workforce.
This might lead you to privilege candidates from cultures more similar to your own, or to stick to domestic candidates despite finding a wealth of skills available abroad.
Not only does it perpetuate bias, but hiring for culture fit also produces an environment of groupthink and can lead to issues, including cliques in the workplace and a lack of innovation.
All employers, and perhaps especially those who hire internationally, should instead shift the focus from culture fit to culture add.
Instead of reproducing the superficial characteristics of your existing workforce in a new country, culture add is about ensuring that candidates share your organization’s underlying values and vision while also adding something new.
This might be the way they approach problem-solving, their communication style, or their leadership qualities.
Comparing international candidates’ culture add enables you to maximize the benefits of hiring internationally. Largely because having differing sets of cultural norms in your team is highly likely to increase diversity of thought.
This has been directly linked to innovation, with Deloitte research showing that diversity of thinking increases innovation by about 20%.
4. Skills-based hiring techniques minimize bias
Finally, as we’ve touched on in each of the above points, skills-based hiring limits opportunities for unconscious bias when comparing international candidates.
It does this at the screening stage by eliminating the need for resumes and instead testing candidates’ skills directly. It also limits interviewer bias by providing a basis of data with which to compare candidates’ proficiency.
It’s not only skills testing that can help here, either.
Using structured interviews (a skills-based hiring method) can also help to eliminate bias in hiring because it encourages interviewers to ask every candidate the same set of questions in exactly the same order.
Rather than collecting different answers from every candidate, structured interviews make comparing international candidates easier because you’re working from the same set of questions.
There is significant evidence to suggest the skills-based hiring approach works.
A study of more than 2000 candidates found that the number of women hired into senior roles increased by 70% when skills-based hiring methods were used.
It may even encourage more racial and gender diversity from your applications since marginalized groups may feel that they have a better chance of getting through your unbiased screening approach.
4 skills-based international recruitment best practices
Now that you know how skills-based hiring can help you compare international candidates with more accuracy, here are our top tips for making the most of these practices.
International recruitment best practices: Summary table
If you’re already starting your international recruitment, don’t worry – here’s the short version.
|International recruitment best practice||Example action|
|Be strategic about the roles you hire internationally for||Prioritize roles you struggle to find domestic applicants for due to skills shortages|
|Tailor your recruitment plan to each target market||Research average salaries in the region to understand what a competitive offer looks like|
|Prioritize providing a good candidate experience||Replace resumes with skills testing to maximize efficiency for candidates|
|Maintain a strong employer brand||Advertise that you use skills-based hiring techniques to maximize efficiency and reduce bias|
1. Be strategic about the roles you hire internationally for
As you probably guessed, international recruiting can be a time-consuming and expensive process, particularly if you’re hiring someone to relocate to your country from overseas.
For this reason, you should be strategic about the roles for which you recruit internationally.
You might look at the roles that have been hardest for you to fill domestically due to skills shortages in your industry or region. It’s a candidate’s market out there right now, and there may be stiff competition in your local area.
One study by ManpowerGroup found that 75% of organizations worldwide reported talent shortages in 2022, the highest in 16 years.
Skills shortages may also vary by function. According to the same study, the top five in-demand roles in 2022 were:
- IT and data
- Sales and marketing
- Operations and logistics
- Manufacturing and production
- Customer-facing and front office
2. Tailor your recruitment plan to each target market
Once you narrow down the roles you want to fill with international candidates, you also need to be strategic about where you hire them from and tailor your strategy accordingly.
This means advertising the role on local job boards, but also looking up what a competitive salary is in your target country.
This is particularly important when skills shortages come into play.
Not only will you be able to gauge what a competitive offer looks like to attract top candidates, but you can also focus your recruitment efforts in countries where the skills you need come at a cheaper price.
One example is data engineering, where the average salary for a data engineer differs massively from country to country:
|Country||Average Data Engineer Salary||Average Annual Salary|
3. Prioritize providing a good candidate experience
It’s important to provide a good candidate experience and make sure that applicants are treated with dignity and respect, no matter which market you’re hiring for. There are many best practices for doing this, including:
- Keeping application forms short
- Putting the salary range in the job ad
- Being flexible with interview times (especially factoring in what timezone your interviewee is in)
This carries all the way through onboarding, even – or perhaps especially – when your company leverages virtual onboarding.
For example, in our team, we have remote members working all over the world.
To ensure the best candidate experience possible, we send new employees videos made by senior members of our team that explain the company and how it works.
The videos not only ensure employees feel they know who the key leaders in the organization are, but they’re also accessible at all times to fit with the employee’s schedule and any unique time zone differences.
Regardless of the market you’re hiring within, providing a gold-standard candidate experience puts you ahead of the pack, since nearly 60% of candidates have suffered a poor candidate experience in the past.
The best part is that these practices won’t just affect your current hiring spree, but your future ones too.
The same study found that 72% of candidates have had a poor candidate experience with others, whether online or directly. Experts say it could take as many as 40 positive experiences to reverse the harm of one negative review online.
All of this connects to our fourth and final point.
4. Maintain a strong employer brand
Your employer brand refers to everything that candidates know about you before they apply. It includes what your product or service is, but it also takes in factors like:
- Your mission, vision, and values
- Employee benefits
- Your remote working policy
- The candidate experience you provide
It’s a key factor in standing out to candidates because 60% of people would choose a place of work based on their beliefs and values. Given that being known for providing a bad candidate experience can set you back considerably, you want to prioritize building a solid brand.
The good news is that by advertising your skills-based hiring technique, you can project a positive employer brand and demonstrate that you’re:
- Working to fight discrimination in your hiring process
- Assessing every application you receive
- Prioritizing efficiency and not wasting candidates’ time
All of this can have a positive effect on recruitment across borders, as well as making the recruitment itself easier and more objective.
Use skills assessments to create a hiring strategy without borders
As we said earlier, international recruiting has never been more accessible, but it also has its own set of challenges. In this blog, we’ve discussed the ways in which skills-based hiring practices can reduce or even eliminate many of these challenges, including:
- Overcoming language barriers
- Assessing foreign resumes
- Navigating cultural differences
- Removing bias from the equation
If you’re ready to expand your team abroad, read our blog about how to apply skills-based hiring practices within your organization.
If you want to brush up on your remote hiring techniques, read our guide to conducting digital interviews, or check out our Culture Add test to see how it could help you find the best candidates, no matter where they are.
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- Bourke, Juliet. (January 22, 2018). “The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths”. Deloitte Review, issue 22. Retrieved March 29, 2023. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/deloitte-review/issue-22/diversity-and-inclusion-at-work-eight-powerful-truths.html
- Thomas, Andrew. (February 26, 2018). “The Secret Ratio That Proves Why Customer Reviews Are So ImportantIt’s what you don’t know that hurts you”. Inc. Retrieved March 29, 2023. https://www.inc.com/andrew-thomas/the-hidden-ratio-that-could-make-or-break-your-company.html