Passing Through Customs: Resumes and Job Postings

Recruiting practices, like a lot of cultural customs and business best practices, vary tremendously across borders.

In one country, it may be perfectly normal for a candidate to list their gender, religion, marital status, and political views on a job application. In the United States, that’s a hiring manager’s nightmare.

But that’s the hurdle that companies face if they’re trying to recruit internationally. Resume writing and job posting protocol from country-to-country can be galaxies apart. In Europe, for instance, a resume can be four to five pages long and include a passport photo and details dating back to a candidate’s high school accomplishments.

Stateside, if a resume is longer than a page it better be worth it. American resumes tend to contain quick, digestible bits of information that invite the hiring company to ask questions later.

This is all relevant because businesses — especially those that sell software — are no longer insulated or isolated. They operate in a global marketplace, often with international customers, vendors, market opportunities, and employment pool. If those companies and the people that want to work for them don’t understand the variety of recruiting and hiring practices in different countries, they might be hurting their chances to compete.

Understanding the Gap

It gets even wilder in Asia and the Middle East, where some countries have far looser (if any at all) employment discrimination and equal opportunity laws in place. Job seekers can be chosen based strictly on age, gender, health, and other factors that would undoubtedly warrant a lawsuit in the United States.

Take the practice of writing job postings. In the United States, companies are expected to provide the job title, list of duties, location, and educational requirements. In Asia, it’s not out of the ordinary for a job posting to require full disclosure of the candidate’s health and overall appearance. As an American recruiter and human resources professional, that gives me the shakes.

Quite simply, fair hiring laws are virtually non-existent in Asia. For example, have you ever seen a 60-year-old flight attendant on Singapore Airlines? Probably not and those discriminatory practices seem to have benefitted the Asian airline industry, which had four companies listed among the world’s 10 best airlines according to a recent Skytrax survey.

While it’s true the Asian culture tends to be more service-oriented and that philosophy undoubtedly creates a better in-flight experience, it also helps that those airlines can purposefully hire young staff that demand less pay, work more hours, and rarely get sick. That spells out optimum productivity and minimal health coverage. If Delta Airlines attempted to do the same thing it would spell out a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Sure, there are companies in the United States (Hooters, for example) that have found a way to hire employees with very specific profiles. But that’s because they’re able to “discriminate” based on a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (think Hooters being permitted to hire only females for its wait staff). Unlike Asia, however, a BFOQ is very rare in the United States and companies need to go through a complicated application process to qualify for it.

So what does this all mean for startup and expansion stage businesses in the United States?

It means that companies can’t assume anything when they’re attempting to hire international candidates. The same goes for US citizens seeking employment outside of the country. Despite rapid globalization, there is not a standard, universal template to write an internationally accepted resume or job posting.

For example, Zmags (an OpenView Venture Partners portfolio company) was founded in Denmark in 2006, but moved its headquarters to Boston in 2008. While Denmark’s recruiting and hiring practices aren’t as extreme as the ones used in Asia, there are still subtle differences that Zmags had to take into consideration when trying to hire US talent.

The best practices rule of thumb is to go with the protocol of the country in which the company will be working, not the one in which it was founded. Global offices hire most of their talent locally, so why not adhere to local standards? For example, if Zmags was currently based out of Denmark, but a candidate was interested in working in the company’s Boston office, that person’s best bet would be to omit the personal passport picture and the blurb about which classes they took in high school.

The idea is to think global, but act local. After all, it is your responsibility to customize your content accordingly. Otherwise, who knows what employment practices you’ll be offending or violating.

Victor Mahillon
Victor Mahillon
Director of Recruiting

Victor Mahillon is the Director of Recruiting at Kamcord. Previously he was a Talent manager at OpenView.
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