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Staffing your European offices: don't go it alone
By Stephen D. McLaughlin

No matter what your business is, or where it is located, staffing is one of the most challenging aspects of any expansion you do. Finding the right people for the right position, making sure they will fit into the culture of your company, and ensuring their expertise at their job can be difficult and time consuming even in the most ideal of circumstances. When the positions you are trying to fill are for your expansion into Europe, the challenges are even greater. 

Regardless of the type of industry you are in, when expanding into Europe, the odds are very good that a significant percentage of your staff will be made up of Europeans that you will need to hire, at all levels. In addition to the toll relocating your current personnel can take on them, and the cost of doing so, many European nations require that a certain percentage of positions in foreign owned offices be filled with their nationals or, in the case of some European Union nations, citizens of the EU. Some EU nations will not grant extended work visas if there are comparably qualified EU applicants for a specific position.

For subordinate positions, of course, the process of finding and interviewing suitable candidates is fairly straight forward, and not terribly different from the process you engage in here -- in the United States. As an example, if a job’s single requirement is proficiency with a certain type of equipment; the hiring process will be relatively uncomplicated and familiar to your Human Resources professionals. For senior staff and managerial positions – positions of responsibility and trust – however, this is not the case. 

To understand just how different the process of staffing senior positions in your European Offices is going to be, it is necessary to understand a little about recent European history, and specifically some of the after effects of World War Two. When the Nazi’s occupied a nation, one of the first things they did was gather massive amounts of information about that country’s citizens. This information was then used to round up and transport what the Nazi regime considered “undesirable elements” (Jews, Gypsies, Communists, Partisans and others) to the concentration camps. As a direct result of these abuses – and subsequent abuses of the same nature by the Communist regimes in Europe – one of the first things many of the liberated nations did was effectively make access to personal information about its citizens extremely complicated and difficult to get.  

In the United States, for good or ill, information on individuals you are considering hiring is readily available to your Human Resources professionals. Virtually anything an applicant for any level position has in his or her resume or job application can be checked and verified in a matter of hours. Criminal record, credit rating, education, previous work experience – due to the freedom and accessibility of personal information here in the United States, all you need is a Social Security number and any applicant’s life can become virtually an open book. As a matter of fact, many European companies that are looking to hire staff for their expansions here in the United States are shocked at just how readily available the information on the people they are considering is. 

This is not the case in almost all of the European nations you will be expanding your operations into. Because of their history and their culture, Europeans take their privacy very seriously. Even with the expressed permission of an applicant, many Human Resources departments we have worked with in the past have found it to be virtually impossible to get the information they need to make their decision. Even something as relatively simple (here in the US at least) as verifying that an applicant graduated from a certain University with a specific degree can take weeks of phone calls and emails; and still may not prove to be successful. In some European nations it is a criminal offense for companies to release even basic employment histories of former employees without many complicated regulatory statutes being satisfied by your company first. 

It isn’t that the information doesn’t exist. It is there – just like here in the United States. It is simply that in most cases, no one will give it to you. 

When staffing your European expansion, it is crucial to remember that in virtually all of Europe, both finding the perfect candidate and doing a background check on them is a process that is almost entirely based on personal contacts. Due to the way their cultures have evolved, the “person-to-person” connection is far more important in Europe than it is here in the United States. Knowing who to go to in a specific nation – and more importantly how to approach them – is essentially the only way you will be able to get the information you need most of the time. Knowledge of the regulations and the most efficient way to comply with them is critical to your successful search. Unless your company already has a well established European presence and a continental Human Resources department in place with years of experience, you will in all likelihood find it necessary to hire a firm to hold your hand through the process.  Most importantly, having a reputation for honesty and obeying the various privacy laws will be the key to establishing a presence in this market—Europeans have good reasons for protecting their privacy and you should respect this. 

The following example illustrates the above point.  We were engaged by a U.S. client in a search for a senior executive who, at the client’s request, had to be European.  We identified a strong candidate and after several interviews were ready to introduce him to the client.  Prior to doing so we needed to verify some of the client’s professional experiences but were unable to do so through direct enquiries at the former places of employment.  Making a judgment call, we decided to tell the candidate that we would contact his former employers; having established our reputation for honesty and sensitivity to European business practices neither the candidate nor the former employers objected and we obtained the required information. 

Much has been written about both the benefits and the risks associated with the amount of information that is readily available to everyone about citizens of the United States. New laws, combined with the massive amounts of information available on the internet, have made our open society more open than at any time in our history. This is, in large part, based on our unique cultural traditions and development. Based on their cultural traditions and development, most of the nations of Europe have gone in exactly the opposite direction. It is important to remember that they are not wrong – just different. As with every other part of your expansion into the European Markets, if you want to play on their field, you are going to have to play by their rules. 

Attempting to go it alone when staffing your European expansion is, in most cases, going to be difficult, frustrating, time consuming and can prove very, very expensive. Hiring a respected and well established European based Executive Search firm – and specifically one that has a proven track record of successfully staffing US based companies’ expansions in Europe – will usually prove to be both cost effective and get you up and running in a more timely fashion. While there will be many challenges in your expansion into Europe that you will be able to handle alone, the odds are very good that staffing will not be one of them. For that challenge, having someone hold your hand is definitely better. 

Author Bio:  Steve McLaughlin founded Global Market Insights, with offices in Europe and the U.S., with his vision of giving clients two synergistic competencies: knowledge of the global marketplace and industry expertise in manufacturing, finance and information technology. Steve has over twelve years of international experience in three continents, having started in executive search as a Beckett-Rogers Associate. Steve is a graduate of Rice University, where he was student body president, and completed post-graduate studies in International Economics at the Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile. He is available for consultation and can be contacted directly by Email: or Phone: 352-26364921. Additional information is located on his website:


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