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Busting the international recruitment myths

Posted on 31/12/2013

International recruitment involves searching, hiring and deploying people to another location for a position where they can perform effectively. It is usually a complex and long-drawn-out process. With over 17 years of experience in the life sciences sector, coupled with the last five years specialising in executive search for the industry, I am aware of various misconceptions about international recruitment. Some of these are false impressions arising from past scenarios or rare one-off cases which remain in people’s minds. This article aims to bust some of the common myths associated with international recruitment.

Myth: Individuals hired from overseas are “stealing” jobs from local talent

Reality: This is one of the most common myths that can be easily debunked by the fact that recruiting from overseas is more time-consuming, complicated and expensive than recruiting locally. Companies and recruitment consultancies will almost always favour recruiting individuals from a local talent pool. It is only when they cannot find a suitable match in terms of the required skill sets and qualifications that they start looking overseas.

Furthermore, rather than taking jobs away, the arrival of foreign talents, in many cases, can result in the creation of more new jobs for the local talent pool. This occurs frequently in young economies like Singapore, where international experts are brought in to head a team, build up capabilities within the organisation and then transfer knowledge and skills to the local management team. For example, a pharmaceutical multinational set up a small Research and Development unit in Singapore, recruiting the director for this operation from the US. The hiring decision was based upon his 15-year experience in bringing new drug compounds from the laboratory to market, as well as his extensive domain knowledge in a specific therapeutic area. There was no local talent available with the equivalent experience, qualifications and expertise. After bringing the director on board, the company continued to recruit another four individuals from Singapore, who worked directly under this director. As a result, these local talents were able to build up their own knowledge and capabilities.

Myth: A local talent can do the job as well as, or even better than a foreign talent

Reality: This issue is closely related to the first myth and often the two go hand-in-hand. As in the earlier situation, if recruiters can find a local talent with the right qualifications and experience, he or she will likely be offered the job. However, recruiters will have to look internationally if there is no suitable local match. In particular, for most high technology industries, recruiting at the senior management level has unique requirements. For example, in terms of education qualifications, companies often look for candidates with a PhD qualification in a specific discipline. In addition, they often require candidates with rich experience and a solid track record in the key tasks that they will be responsible for within their new position. As can be expected, finding such an individual in Singapore’s small local manpower pool is very difficult. This is when international recruitment becomes necessary.

Myth: Expatriate salary packages are over-inflated and a waste of company resources

Reality: Expatriate salary packages vary according to the company and industry. However in Singapore, one trend is clear – fewer and fewer companies are offering entire expatriate packages, which can be costly, as they include housing, children’s education and other perks. In addition, for developed cities such as Singapore, where standards of living are high, companies are unlikely to provide “hardship” allowances. Another emerging trend is the changing face of expats. In the past, these workers were older and more senior individuals who came to Singapore with their families on hefty packages. These days they are more likely to be young and single individuals being brought in at a much lower cost, with many of them accepting local packages. As businesses are rapidly becoming more cost-conscious, we are also seeing cases of companies repatriating expats and replacing them with local talents.

Myth: Singaporean talents are not able to become expatriates

Reality: This myth is rapidly evaporating as more Singaporeans venture overseas, where they are hired as expatriates in other countries. Top regional countries favoured by Singaporean expats include China, Indonesia and Vietnam, due to similarities in languages, work culture and strong business potential. Being brought up in Singapore’s multi-cultural and multi-lingual landscape, most Singaporeans find it easy to relocate and adapt to other countries in the region. Furthermore, their good work attitudes and international outlook often make Singaporeans a favourite among employers. Another noticeable trend that is emerging within the international life sciences scene is that many organisations are keen to hire talents that have experience working in Asia. Such companies frequently look favourably on hiring Singaporeans for regional or even headquarter positions.

Myth: Foreign expatriates are usually posted for a short period of time, and have no commitment to their host country or local job

Reality: Out of all the myths listed, this one may seem closest to the truth, as nowadays life-long job commitments to one profession are rare, let alone having the commitment to stay in a single company or country. However, it should be noted that the majority of expatriate positions are typically for a specified period of time, ranging from several months to a few years. During this time, foreign expats are fully committed to achieving the goals set by the company, for the specified position. In doing so, they are helping to strengthen and further develop the long-term capabilities of the host country.

Acquiring and deploying the right talent for the right job at the right location remains crucial for companies to grow and succeed. With more individuals becoming global citizens and more companies expanding into markets worldwide, international recruitment activities will increase. However, rather than a threat to people’s livelihoods, international recruitment presents a multitude of opportunities for the individual, the industry and the country. It is an opportunity for transferring skills and know-how. It is an opportunity for strengthening industry capabilities and innovation. It is also an opportunity for bridging diverse cultural perspectives and bringing nations closer.

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