In an increasingly globalized world of business transactions, regardless of the current uncertainty fostered by illiberal politicians, the capacity to be effective and successful depends upon one’s cultural intelligence, which goes beyond cultural awareness and the dos and don’ts of behaviors.

It requires a capability to adjust to changing circumstances that are not part of the usual playbook of international business. One’s personal traits for dealing with ambiguity, tolerance of differences, patience, willingness to learn and judge objectively, and listening skills, both verbal and non-verbal are assets to be developed and cultivated.

The knowledge content we expect employees to master has also shifted into a higher gear. In the past, many overseas industry assignments focused on recruiting Americans with specific technical knowledge, while previous experience in the culture was a plus.  These days, US pre-eminence in most sectors is being challenged around the world, and as the increasingly strained issues of sanctions continues to muddle the commercial landscape, overseas staff must be able to reconcile business practices with local sensibilities often influenced by the general political environment. And US workers overseas are not alone; the same applies to foreign nationals in this country, whatever their visa status.

So rather than leave recruitment  to trial and error, a company’s bottom line requires greater attention to recruiting beyond language competence, travel experience, and screening algorithms used by online recruiters. For years, cross-cultural specialists have stressed the importance of pre-assignment training and in-country support. Unfortunately, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, this is becoming a luxury as competitors seem to put people in place who have no problems adjusting and performing abroad. So while there is no “silver bullet” for recruiting the right people for the job assignments overseas and ensuring their success, there are some talismans that can act to insulate human capital hiring staff from making costly mistakes.


I recently participated in an event sponsored by Ed Cohen, publisher of and host of Global Business TalkRadio. His various media platforms bring together experts and practitioners to exchange experiences and insights emerging from their daily activities. Our group on October 4th 2018 at WASHINGTON BELTWAY GLOBAL HR EXECUTIVE NETWORK consisted of experts in transportation and logistics, recruitment, and talent mobility management, to discuss the impact of changes resulting from changes in the global workforce environment.  Here’s more…

The Chair of the Committee on International Trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Hampton Dowling, led-off with an overview of how political trends are affecting global business. With his extensive background in international business, he surveyed the impact of changes in US trade policy and regulations, noting that to succeed today requires a broad view of what’s going on in the world and how this affects your business model. This current period of disruption brought about by technology has shifted momentum away from traditional practices and the resulting transformation requires a change in thinking about talent and mobility. He believes that a new vision of business environments is needed to encompass the impact of technology, artificial intelligence, changes in markets dynamics, and evolving consumer demographics.

Samir Bajaj, who has extensive overseas experience with Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss, and high-tech companies, took a look at challenges posed by recruiting millennials. They stay in a job an average of 1.8 years, prefer developmental assignments where they can acquire skills and experience, and don’t have the same emphasis on savings as previous generations. At an average age of 32, 67% of them are homeowners and there will be increasing competition to enlist them into sectors that meet their lifestyle and professional expectations.

He also made the point that being an international company does not mean a global company. An international company is based in one country with operations in others wedded to a specific operational and business model. A global company adapts to its environment and the local management shapes the company’s culture based on the overall vision of the leadership.

So, what did we learn? There are good boutique recruiting firms combining the latest programs for identifying candidates with hands-on face-to-face interviews and survey instruments to give clients a high-degree of certainty that they are making the right hire. Some are featured on the It was helpful that among the most coherent presenters were people who themselves had broad overseas experience, many with government agencies, and have a lot of data to guide their processes.

There was general consensus that companies include two issues on the recruiting agenda: (1) support throughout the assignment including employee return, and (2) the related issue of retention. With many governments around the world emphasizing the importance of hiring locally, companies are challenged to satisfy the partner while hiring effective employees. The hiring pool, at all levels, is increasingly selective, mobile, and talented, which may initially cause “heartburn”, but the success of American companies worldwide should give comfort that there are solutions to the most vexing problems, hopefully!

The bottom line is clear. International competition for qualified human resources requires both expatriate and local labor. With an eye towards having a competitive-edge in recruiting and retention, companies need to rethink their strategies for garnering human capital that both meets their operational needs and contributes to the company’s brand as a preferred employer.