Recruitment in Europe – viewed from a candidate

My inbox is filled with mails from recruiters and head hunters encouraging me to send them an updated CV so 2013 will be THE year when I’ll land my dream job. And of course they will help me in that process.

So I started to think a bit on my experience as job hunter in Europe and how recruiters in different countries can meet you. This is by no means an international survey with an academic touch; it is simply my personal reflections based on my experiences. Someone else will have different experiences and thus different reflections. And I am only speaking about my experiences from a candidate to international communications roles.

I am amazed about how much our mother tongues and national cultures spill over in this process. I think it’s nice and as you might surmise I like living abroad and I like living with all the small daily hiccups living abroad will mean. Yes, my life would certainly have been easier if I had stayed in well-organised Sweden, but also (maybe) more boring.

Being Swedish I start with “home.” I haven’t lived here since 1998 so my experiences are those of an expat candidate. And my experience is – don’t even bother. 15+ years international experience is of zero value in Sweden. Far more important in Sweden is if you know “one of the old boys.” Literally the old boys’ network, because despite the image that Sweden is equal and men and women have the same chances, it is incredibly male chauvinist. Which is odd, we are a relatively small population so one would think that a country couldn’t afford to treat almost 50% of the population as lesser valued. Every now and then I am contacted by Swedish head hunters and while this is very flattering there is rarely a match. More and more I have the impression that we Swedes are a bit like Ibsen’s Peer Gynt – self-sufficient. I am sure I “suffer” from that myself. Maybe it’s our long dark winters and living in the periphery of Europe (read EU) that makes us like this, I don’t know. But in Sweden, do as the Swedes, because we are the best. Outside of Sweden, too. Even if the Norwegians always beat us in skiing.

The Dutch and Swiss recruiters are probably the most international minded of the nationalities I’ve been in touch with.

The Dutch are far more relaxed in their approach than most and often they realise that you don’t have to be serious just because you are serious. Of course they are professional and result oriented, but in my experience you quickly enter into a conversation about the position and what you hope to achieve if you are hired. However, it took me some time to get used to Dutchlish, i.e. speaking Dutch in English. It can be very “direct.” Not that I mind and nor can, or will, I say anything, after all we are two people conversing in a foreign language so f course there might be misunderstandings and missed nuances.

I find Swiss recruiters charming, although it took me a few interviews to learn what they 9 times out of 10 will look for in an interview. I mean, if you picked strawberries a summer in school and for some reason this is listed on your CV be prepared to answer the question how many litres you picked. And they will walk through ALL your entries in your CV with the same level of detail. Once this is achieved, you’ll enter into a conversation. And in my experience there is no difference between the different Swiss “nationalities” i.e. if the recruiter speaks French, German or Italian.

German recruiters are bit like the Swiss only far more so. Very much more “ordnung muβ sein” and in my experience there is not as much conversation going on, it is much more a question and answer session. But in all honesty you do get to ask questions as a candidate too.

Of course the French are, well, French. For those of you that have missed this, in France there is a system of “grandes écoles.” Originally launched by Napoleon to break the elitist system of universities these schools have become the elite they were founded to combat and unless you have an exam from one of these schools, there are approximately 250, you don’t have much value on the French job market. It is, slowly, getting better but still more often than not your ordinary French recruiter doesn’t know what to make of you if you haven’t got a grande école. And rewrite your CV, a French CV always start with the school and ends with the last experience.

Belgians have changed of lately and are becoming less and less international in their approach. Unless you speak Flemish, a minority language in international business, your CV will be weeded out. From personal experiences I know that it doesn’t matter if you are the best person for the role. You don’t speak Flemish you’re out and this whether or not you need it for the job or not.

The only recruiters in the UK I have had experience from are based in the London area. And broadly speaking there are two types: those that are very internationally versed and those that are very British. Let’s start with the last group, and I must admit I’ve often asked myself why they are tasked with international recruitment. To a far higher extent than other nationalities they can be quite insular and I have been met with the attitude “But you’re on The Continent.” Yes, capital continent, one can hear it. I gently point out that it is quicker for me to go to London from e.g. Brussels than someone in Glasgow but it is still “you’re on the continent.” It doesn’t matter how interesting the position is, I just fold there is no need to continue. That gap is wider than across the Atlantic and back.

The first group is growing, not only in the UK BTW, but they are a growing breed “all over” and personally I always enjoy these interviews. These recruiters have sort of stepped “above and outside” nationality and are only looking to experience and achievements and if there is a possible fit with the role and the company. In a perfect world this must surely constitute the best approach for international recruitment? Then again, one can state that we don’t live in a perfect world and we are all humans and as such fallible. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be boring if things were perfect?

Can this change be seen in the candidate pool too? I don’t know since my experience is limited to one person – myself. But if a recruiter would care to comment I’d love to hear more.

Finally, there is another generic recruiter group. These have been taught recruitment in an US corporate environment and as such are well-tuned into equality, fairness and above all how to avoid being sued. In my experience no recruiter is unfair nor do they not give every candidate the same chance, but there is an element of personality match between the recruiter and the candidate and since we are people this will always be. Not that I mind, on the contrary. In particular if it is an in‑house recruiter because then I can assume I will fit in the company culture. Or not, as it may be. But this group of recruiters are impersonal to a T; they read ready-made questions from a questionnaire, note your answers verbatim and then move on. Sometimes (often) there are two recruiters so you as a candidate sit between them and turn your head like at a tennis match. Of course as a candidate you can be certain that you will have the same questions as your competitor and in a sense this is good, but personally I prefer some differences to this feeling of talking to a wall.

If any recruiter would care to comment on my experiences I would be more than interested in hearing them. After all – we need each other and the more you know about the “other party” the better it is.

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8 svar till “Recruitment in Europe – viewed from a candidate

  1. Congratulations on your observations and your honesty, from a strictly personal point of view. The fact that your inbox is choking with contact emails is a very encouraging sign in the current climate.

    I am a ”recruiter” and concur with a lot of your findings. In the main I would like to point out that Recruitment is an art. However, over a number of years now it is nothing more than a tick box process.

    Good, and the very good Recruiters know the black art of skills transfer, attitude and personality, passion and drive. A cv/profile cannot and will never meet this criteria, only the personal touch achieves this. Alas, the majority, and I’m not convinced it’s necessarily a cultural/nationality thing, look for the easy route to market. Namely number one – a good degree (2.1 or above), now what has a First in the History of Art got to do with being a good Financial Accountant or a outstanding Sales Director – these are finely tuned skills learned and not theories. Fine, as a Vet, Surgeon or Dentist – you must have the theory, and let’s put Lawyers in that category also.

    Let’s not forget that 97.6% of MBAs are ‘taught by academics who have never ever worked in commerce’. It’s big business. $billions business globally.

    Suffice to say, before I can’t get off the soap box, recruitment processes are now about the cv of a candidate resembling a clone of the job specification/people profile. Often, screened by a piece of software using key bio data.

    Great teams/employees are undoubtedly made up of multi-cultural (and that doesn’t just mean nationality/ethnicity/age, it means different backgrounds and experiences brought together to deliver mutiple viewpoints/ideas/innovative approaches and learning outcomes for all.

    How often have you read ”must have a background in financial services/retail/oil & gas – why? Is an outstanding IT Director not just that? Technology does not have a sector specific bias! Just one example.

    Candidates – are you made to feel valued? You should do. That’s where the fees come from after all. Candidates are the ‘products for sale’. How many are ignored, receive nothing more than an automated email or worse, completely ignored.

    Recruitment is cyclical and right now it is an Employer Market – locally, nationally, by continent or globally – mobility and flexiblity is key.

    Coming from the ‘old school’ of Recruiters – candidates are of equal importance and should be given the time and respect they deserve. The time will come again when the markets will balance themselves and the skilled and experienced once again in great demand.

    Some of the world’s greatest business leaders did not attend a grade ecole – in fact some either didn’t attend a university at all or indeed dropped out as the teachings were not meeting their hunger for achievement. No talent should be judged on academic achievement alone – but then the defination of ‘talent’ is another subject for debate.

    Look at the state of student debt – it’s classified as the next big ‘sub prime’ catastrophe waiting to happen in the USA. Schools, insurance companies, loan companies etc continue to prosper and prosper well.

    I have no axe with academia – in fact I value it enormously – just keeping it real.

    Can anyone enlighten me as to what the process in Recruitment was before cvs/resumes/profiles? Whilst ‘old school’ I’m not old enough to know. I can take a guess – attitude, skill, experience and work ethic would be right up there.

    Being in the UK – the other criteria would undoubtedly be parental lineage and what school you went to!

    Liz

    • Hello Liz, thank you for that long and interesting comment.

      I argue the same you do that competencies are transferrable, in particular maybe communications. But often recruiters want someone with experience from a particular industry, thus having an existing network with journalist, because they feel that makes it easier to get published. But journalists are not stupid: if they sense a piece of good news they’ll publish whether they know their source or not.

      About your musing on background – I think it is human nature to hire people one recognise and can relate to. Right or wrong? Can’t say but it is certainly human and after all that is what we all are.

  2. Catharina Biver

    Hi Sara,

    I find your blog post very interesting and if you don’t mind, I would like to share it on my LinkedIn profile. But I am not sure it is possible…? And if yes – how?

    With kind regards,

    CatharinaDescription: cid:image014.gif@01CAE8B6.B7199740

    Description: sparx email signature

    http://www.SparxFactory.com

    17, Avenue Victor Hugo

    L-1750 Luxembourg

    +352 691 300 222

  3. Very interesting intercultural analysis and comment, am not a recruiter myself but an EU based non-profit lobbyist with a lot of similar experiences in my own field. And there are so many parallels between seeking to get a job and lobbying a politician / official to do what you would like them to do, but for their own reasons, in Dutchlish, Frallandais or Platt Deutsch if it can’t be avoided ….

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