4 International Hiring Best Practices: How to Speak Globally

Employers that hire internationally can benefit from a wide pool of skilled professionals who bring different perspectives. Hiring from different countries and cultures requires a high level of cultural sensitivity. We walk through best practices for hiring and communicating globally.

Pilot Team
Pilot Team
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In a 1995 interview with journalist Brent Schlender, Apple founder and business magnate Steve Jobs credited his success to his hiring practices. “The secret to my success,” he told the future author of his biography, “is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” Little did he know that decades later, companies all over the globe would pick up on the many benefits of sourcing talent across borders.

Hybrid and remote work models disrupted the way organizations traditionally operate. Employers are in a position to source talented workers from anywhere in the world and enrich company culture with skilled individuals who bring fresh perspectives to the table. Jobs’ secret to success is now a recipe many companies are on track to replicate.

The process of employing a high-performing, engaged team of international talent often requires a higher level of cultural sensitivity than domestic hiring. As you open the door to candidates from other countries, you’re inviting their culture in as well, and both should be welcomed with respect. This means that your international hiring practices need to reflect the company’s openness to and understanding of cultural differences.

Conduct research on candidates' cultures

When you’re in the process of hiring someone from another country, familiarize yourself with their cultural norms. Understand how communication differs between you and a candidate, so you avoid offending and being offended and show potential employees your company cares about cultural sensitivity.

Culture informs the way we communicate. The habits and behavioral patterns with which we grew up dictate how we express ourselves and how we perceive the way others communicate. Something that’s just an innocent gesture to you might be extremely disrespectful to someone who was brought up in a different culture.

For instance, a “thumbs-up” is a common way of signaling a job well done in the U.S. In places like Australia, Greece, and the Middle East, however, it’s downright offensive. In Europe, making eye contact while someone is speaking is a sign of interest, but in Asia, it can be perceived as rude. From the right way of addressing someone to how assertive or modest they present themselves, verbal and non-verbal communication cues vary greatly between cultures.

Before you sit down to interview a candidate, conduct research about their country, their customs, and their behavioral norms. Make sure you get your information from a reliable source — researchers and experts on the candidate’s culture or people from that culture. Once the interview rolls around, you’ll be prepared. You’ll know how to address the candidate and what gestures to avoid and won’t be surprised or taken aback by something that would otherwise be unexpected to you.

Be conscious of time zones during the hiring process

There are over 24 time zones in the world. When you hire internationally, you’re bound to come across candidates living in different time zones. Be mindful of schedule differences when you’re setting up interviews and sending emails. You want to be respectful of potential employees’ time zones and not force them to be available too early or too late in the day.

The recent rise of hybrid and remote work forced companies to hone the art of asynchronous communication. The widespread availability of tools like Loom, Slack, and MURAL enable international teams to collaborate seamlessly in spite of differing schedules. You should set a precedent for asynchronous communication and collaboration during the recruitment stage and not wait until an employee is officially hired. If you don’t show potential candidates you respect their time, they might assume that will always be the case and choose not to work with you.

Include a question in your application form asking candidates what time zone they’re in and what their preferred working schedule is. Use this information to:

  • Schedule emails to arrive in the candidate’s inbox at a time when they’re available. Most email service providers, like Gmail and Outlook, provide easy scheduling options.
  • Suggest several potential times for both of you to meet when it’s time for an interview. Select times when both your time zone and the candidate’s overlap, so no one has to be online after hours.

During the final interview, bring up the topic of time zones again and ask potential employees to reiterate their preferred working hours. Assure candidates that your company is mindful of different schedules, and encourage them to set boundaries with their team once they’re officially onboarded.

Communicate in precise, logical, and plain English

Slang, colloquialisms, and idioms are fun ways to embellish speech, but international candidates might not be familiar with certain expressions. Avoid miscommunication and discomfort throughout the hiring process by using plain English in the job description and application form and during interviews.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, English officially became the lingua franca — a language people from different countries have in common and use to communicate. Over 1.3 billion people worldwide speak English either natively or as their second language, making it the default language for business, politics, and international relationships in general.

As widespread as English is, it would be a mistake to assume all of your candidates speak it with the dexterity of a native. You might be tempted to throw around expressions like “the cat’s out of the bag” or say “gonna” instead of “going to.” These expressions may be second nature to you, especially if you’re a native speaker. The candidates filling out job applications or being interviewed, however, might feel alienated or misunderstand you.

Make a conscious effort to facilitate communication by writing and speaking in precise, logical, and plain English. Use tools like Hemingway and the Plain English Foundation to help you craft concise job descriptions and application forms. During interviews, avoid using slang, colloquialisms, and idioms. If you accidentally slip, make sure you take the time to explain to candidates what you meant by a certain expression.

Ask candidates to perform a test task

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have implicit biases. These unconscious attitudes and inclinations may affect the way you evaluate candidates from other cultures and taint the hiring process with unfairness. Allow candidates to prove their skills with a test task, so you prevent any implicit biases from clouding your judgment.

Use a situation they’d typically come across if they were to fill that role — a writing sample for copyeditors or a coding task for developers, for example. Sample tasks help you evaluate candidates more objectively, and your biases won’t have a leg to stand on if the necessary skills are there.

Implicit bias results from the inclination to process information based on our unconscious associations and feelings, even when they aren’t in line with our conscious beliefs. Our experiences, cultural contexts, and societal stereotypes all contribute to the creation of implicit biases.

In the context of international hiring, your biases might unconsciously affect your decision-making process. Depending on how and where you grew up, implicit biases can lead you to believe that someone from a certain culture isn’t adequate to fill a role. And it can happen even if nothing in the candidate’s resumé points to that possibility.

Build a culturally aware organization for the long term

Your cultural awareness efforts should continue past the hiring stage. Once you onboard employees from across the world, build a company culture that fosters inclusion and doesn't just respect but also celebrates the culture of your workers.

Host special virtual events where employees can share more about their cultures and make the company holiday policy inclusive for all employees. Your people are the secret to your company’s success. Make them feel valued, welcomed, and respected because of their professional skills but also because of who they are as individuals.


⚖️ Legal Disclaimer: The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.


Cover photo courtesy of Louise Viallesoubranne on Unsplash

Pilot Team
Pilot Team
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