This article was published on July 19, 2014

How to avoid getting burned when hiring overseas

How to avoid getting burned when hiring overseas
Joseph Pigato
Story by

Joseph Pigato

Joseph Pigato is the Managing Director of Sparked, which helps companies throughout the world retain their customers through sophisticated p Joseph Pigato is the Managing Director of Sparked, which helps companies throughout the world retain their customers through sophisticated predictive analytics and engagement tools. Joseph is based in San Francisco and has lived and worked in Singapore, India, England, Australia, and South Africa.

Joseph Pigato is the Managing Director of Sparked. Joseph is based in San Francisco and has lived and worked in Singapore, India, England, Australia, and South Africa.

Recruiting, interviewing and hiring staff overseas can be an adventure. There’s amazing talent across the globe, but finding it, discerning the best candidates and making a successful hire that works out can be a roll of the dice. 

Getting burned, on the other hand, is easy. Bad hires are common, as are disaster stories. It’s a matter of inexperience hiring abroad and not understanding nuances and idiosyncrasies of the country and culture you’re navigating. Here are some tips to help you succeed, with several cautionary tales to illustrate how things can go wrong.

1. Assemble a battle-tested team

Savvy locals

Don’t try to run a search and make hires without primary or significant guidance from a local resource, someone originally from the country where you’re staffing up. 

If you don’t have an internal HR person in place or budget for a local independent hiring contractor or agency, ask a trusted local employee to help recruit and interview candidates. Their ability to understand nuances in a job candidate’s professional career, personality and educational background are absolutely critical. 

Forego this and you’ll soon be writing your own hiring disaster stories in short order. I once interviewed a candidate in China who seemed perfect but my colleague felt otherwise, saying he was a “government guy” who would only leverage a job with us to go get more money and a sweet placement in Beijing within six months.

We passed and another US company snapped him up. My colleague was right: it only took three months for him to jump ship for a plum job in Beijing. 

empty office

Experienced Americans

Find a US team member who can relocate, even temporarily, with direct experience living and working in the particular country (it’s a major bonus if they previously interviewed and hired there). If not, you’ll want someone with other international experience, and you’ll need to lean even more on your local resource to help your US colleagues.

No matter how well traveled or globally aware one might be, the idiosyncrasies of hiring people and building teams in foreign cultures is simply learned through first-hand experience. 

For example—In India, after months of assembling a team, an engineer tried to sell our code in his first month, an account manager sauntered in two hours late every day for her first (and last week) and a new hire was a no-show on his first day. Turned out he had used our offer solely as leverage for a promotion and raise at his current job.

I later learned he hadn’t planned to work for us even if he hadn’t secured the new position and salary. 

This practice can happen anywhere, but an Indian colleague who had worked in the US told me he only gives verbal offers in India because of this. Lesson learned (the hard way).

2. Mine networks online, then hit the ground

If you’re not a large company, you probably can’t afford the services of a search firm. Some obvious choices are: listings on job sites, digital ads, social media, university recruiting and others. Each depends on the size of your company, budget, brand name, attractiveness of industry, etc.

Here are some additional resources that can be quite effective. 

Personal network

In an increasingly connected world, your collective group of friends likely has extensive connections to other countries through travel, family, school, professional colleagues, social networks, etc. There’s something exciting about professional opportunities overseas, so it’s often easy to ask this network to share news of your company’s open positions. 

Startup ecosystem

Of the top 20 startup ecosystems in the world, 14 are outside the US Shared workspaces, incubators, tech meet-ups, and other drivers of business communities teem with talent across the globe. Your local team needs to dive in and network.

Representing a US company with a local office looking to hire will make them extremely popular targets for networker and job candidates.  

LinkedIn networking


Sixty seven percent of LinkedIn members are now foreigners (200 million people). You’d probably be surprised by the number of your second-degree connections associated with any given country. These people could be great job applicants, may refer you to other candidates, or point you to other helpful local resources.

Use advanced search by country and ask your first-degree colleagues to connect you to any interesting second-degree contacts. 

American Chamber of Commerce

The quality of “AmChams” varies widely between countries, but they can connect you to relevant local resources such as professional groups, networking opportunities, business experts, and other ways to plug into the local business community as you establish your presence and attract interest in your company. 

Foreign students at US universities

American universities are filled with bright foreign students who return home after graduating. These well-educated students have first-hand exposure to US culture and can be recruited and interviewed without going overseas.

Consider both undergraduate and graduate programs. If you’re looking for slightly younger talent and have the time to wait for seniors to graduate and join the workforce, this is a fantastic opportunity.

3. Nail the hiring process

You will need guidance from your local team to help you understand cultural norms when interviewing. There are illegal questions in all countries but adherence to them is tenuous. It is still common for an interviewer to discuss a person’s age or marital status, and photos on CVs are standard in some places.


People are also generally more prone to over- or undersell themselves in different cultures. In Singapore, candidates are often relatively modest about their accomplishments, so I learned to dig a bit deeper to extract ones that I knew they were likely understating.

In China, interviewees can be disarmingly candid so don’t be surprised when someone says they’re attracted to the opportunity because it pays more or the hours are better.

And while your local team interviews in person, your US team should conduct video calls. Ask candidates to come into your local office to first chat with the team. Have them stay for the group call to help you assess the candidate’s answers.

At Sparked, we set up group video calls with sales candidates in London to narrow down candidates for the final in-person interviews, and we fly someone over to visit clients and interview at the same time. These practices significantly raise the quality of our finalist pool, and give us quality face time with key customers.

Attracting the best

American companies are typically attractive to professionals everywhere. But in many countries, there’s a much larger premium placed on large corporations because of the stability and job prestige.

You may run into a slightly greater penchant for big companies, but the buzzing startup scenes globally are creating larger populations of more adventurous and non-traditional professionals. Stock options are more prevalent in the US, but granting equity to foreign employees is complicated, varies by country, and requires excellent legal resources.

In many countries, it’s simply not as attractive as in the States. People often prefer a more competitive salary than one decreased due to stock grants. By understanding what motivates the candidates in the country you’re looking to hire, you’ll be able to better position your company as an opportunity that can’t be missed.

International expansion is a huge opportunity for growth, as you experience the excitement and business impact of building a customer and revenue base in new global markets.

After assembling your team, the next adventure will be learning to manage these employees overseas (which comes with its own challenges and rewards). But if you start with a solid foundation built on successful recruiting and hiring practices, you’ll already be miles (or kilometers) ahead.

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