How can I hire talent from overseas?

Hiring from abroad is often touted as the number one solution to today’s skills shortage. But where do small business owners start? Kirstie Pickering explains.

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Having a global recruitment strategy gives startups access to a huge talent pool that offers different skills, perspectives and availability. Hiring international employees or contractors can also ensure startups are building diverse, global perspectives into their product, marketing, and sales strategies.

UK companies are increasingly cognizant of these benefits. Startups found that searches for ‘Skilled Worker Visa’ – the type of visa required for employers to recruit non-UK resident workers for highly-skilled roles – hit a record high in January.

However, there are challenges to consider before making the first international hire including legalities and complicated processes. Even knowing how to attract the right talent can be a hurdle.

“Without a physical presence or significant sales in that market, startups should not solely rely on their employer branding to attract top candidates,” says Annalise Dragic, partner at venture-capital firm, Sapphire Ventures.

“To find the right talent, I believe it’s important to focus on the right locations; there are a number of indicators of available talent, including local universities with excellent STEM departments, and an established startup community in the region.”

Use your network

Birdie is a UK-based startup that operates a home healthcare technology platform. At present, around 20% of Birdie’s workforce is based overseas, working across 12 different countries.

“Hiring overseas is crucial for businesses today as it enables you to grow the talent pool you’re recruiting from which, in a competitive market, is key,” says Geraldine Lafontaine, chief of staff at Birdie.

“Diversity is part of our DNA as a company. We are in the privileged position that two of our founding team were born and educated outside of the UK. As such, hiring talent from overseas was an organic process for us as we tapped into their personal networks to recruit some truly brilliant people.”

As Birdie has continued to hire from different geographic regions, the startup has leveraged both internal and external networks. Lafontaine says that when you start asking current employees, partners and investors if they know people with specific skills, it’s amazing who they can connect you with.

“We also believe it’s really important to have a presence in different regions to grow the number of inbound job requests,” she adds. “That’s why we try to attend different relevant events overseas. If there’s a large social care conference happening in Europe, for example, we’ll try to have a presence there to grow awareness of Birdie.”

Knowing the market

When recruiting talent from overseas, understanding the legal requirements in different regions can be overwhelming. An Employer of Record – or EOR – manages employees or contractors around the world by acting as a co-employer in the region in which a startup wants to hire.

An EoR covers employment aspects such as producing hiring agreements, processing payroll, and local compliance responsibilities.

“We didn’t want compliance and logistics to become a barrier to recruiting diverse talent from overseas,” says Lafontaine. “We choose to use an EoR because of their expertise on the employment laws and regulations in different countries.

“This streamlines the process of hiring from different countries. It also means that employees in different countries can access help and guidance from people that really understand the local employment landscape as well as the economic climate, giving them that security too.”

This is particularly crucial in today’s global downturn. Lafontaine gives the example that, if employees are entitled to specific benefits due to high levels of inflation, an EoR will ensure that Birdie is providing the right support to employees.”

Every country has its own compliance laws for hiring abroad. Read about Right to Work checks in the UK.

Company culture

When you have a workforce that lives in different geographic regions, it’s important that the company culture is both defined and identifiable, but flexible enough to accommodate different cultural nuances.

“Startups need to consider the work culture in the region in order to offer attractive and competitive employment conditions, including stock options,” says Dragic.

“Hiring a senior leader in the region – rather than transferring someone overseas – is often the best way to start building out a wider team, since they will be best placed to work with local recruiters, understand the local talent market and build out a world-class team.

“Global success requires product and marketing localisation, and having multilingual and multicultural employees involved in the process can make this both a lot easier and more successful,” adds Dragic.

To address the challenge of creating one company culture across multiple countries, Birdie asks its whole team to attend an annual retreat. The event enables all employees to meet face- to- face, helping to create connections.

Throughout the rest of the year, Birdie arranges regular virtual events and has set up informal channels that allow employees to share parts of their culture with the team. 

“Cultivating a positive company culture starts with onboarding team members quickly and efficiently, ensuring everyone can get stuck into the role and the company ethos from day one,” says Lafontaine. “Then, we build upon our culture over time.

“For example, when we hired our German cohort recently, they had the opportunity to connect with our teams in London face-to face soon after they had been recruited. Through discussing Birdie’s vision and mission, as well as taking time to get to grips with the product, our German cohort was able to connect quickly to Birdie as a company, as well as Birdie’s offering.”

Lafontaine notes the power of having leaders that are willing to spend time with employees in different geographic regions, as well as at Birdie’s headquarters in London. Through giving all employees the opportunity to build relationships with senior leadership teams, she says it helps foster a supportive environment.

“It’s important to recognise that a lot of building a successful company culture is trial and error,” concludes Lafontaine. “You have to try different things, and then assess and react accordingly – otherwise, it can start to stagnate.”

Next up: how to craft a positive and inclusive organisational culture for international workforces.

Mid shot of Kirstie Pickering freelance journalist.
Kirstie Pickering - business journalist

Kirstie is a freelance journalist writing in the tech, startup and business spaces for publications including Sifted, TNW, UKTN, The Business Magazine and Maddyness UK. She also works closely with agencies such as CEW Communications to develop content for their startup and scaleup clients.

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