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Making your first international hire

Chris Wilkinson

Head of Talent @ Forward Partners

The best candidates will be cautious when thinking about accepting an offer to be your first international hire - especially if you are an early stage startup.

Key Takeaways

  • Involve the Founder / CEO in the hiring process from the earliest point possible;
  • Meet the candidate in the location you are hiring for during the hiring process and show commitment to regular face to face interaction;
  • Address the added risk by giving longer notice periods
  • If possible hand over as much responsibility as possible for recruitment in the local market - it shows long term commitment to the market;
  • Be open and honest on how much power they really have. If they don't have executive decision making power then don't imply that they will. It will only encourage buyer's remorse.

This is no surprise. The role usually means spending long periods away from home; coordinating, or attempting to coordinate, key strategic and tactical decisions with HQ over Skype or Hangouts; where time zones often force meetings into unsocial hours, with key information being lost in translation over a conference call; with all of the pressure of executing with pace but none of the camaraderie, trench like mentality, and benefits of being with the core group; in a market that is often in test phase with the added risk putting the candidates job in a precarious position.

The opportunity, on the other hand, is clear. A real chance for a candidate to own a market, be responsible for its success and add huge amounts of value and reap potentially huge rewards. Getting a candidate to think about the opportunity rather than the challenge is tough. Mostly because the bad experiences are well documented and obvious.

This challenge of finding the first international hire has been particularly acute for a number of our partner businesses recently as they have started to launch their international operations much earlier than before. By following a few simple steps many of them have been successful in landing their preferred candidate and scaling international operations rapidly and seamlessly.

Below we outline some of these steps in more detail.

Involvement of Founder / CEO:

The candidate will likely want to see an extra level of commitment from the executive team - in particular from the founder - when interviewing for the role. Having the Founder / CEO involved from the get go shows commitment and serves to allay some the fears the candidate may have about how serious the organisation is in pushing international operations forward.

Meeting the candidate face-to-face & in-location:

If you are hiring a candidate in-market then it is essential for as many of the team as possible to fly out and meet them where the role will be based. Again, it shows another level of commitment to the candidate and offers up another opportunity for you to sell the candidate on how serious you are about making this hire work.

If you are hiring a candidate locally, who will then move to the new offices, then it is equally important to travel to the location with the candidate. In addition, it is important to regularly travel out to meet the candidate once hired. This is important in both scenarios but more so for the candidate who has moved to be there - they won't have the network of friends and acquaintances that the in-market hire will have and therefore they will be more prone to feeling isolated.

Address the added risk by giving longer notice periods:

This serves to reduce the risk on both sides. The candidate will feel more comfortable in the knowledge that they have extra notice to play with and the hiring manager will feel more comfortable knowing that they won't need to execute a last minute and complicated search remotely for a replacement hire.

Hand over as much responsibility as possible for recruitment in the local market:

Nothing shows commitment more than giving your first international hire the responsibility to hire a team. They see that operations are expanding and they get to hire the team they want to work with. Moreover, it takes the burden of recruiting the international team away from HQ. It is a win win situation. However, it is clearly only an option of you have the resources, and ambition, to build a team internationally.

Be open and honest:

If your first international hire won't have executive decision making power then don't suggest to the candidate that it will. Clearly communicate what their responsibilities will be and what growth potential the role has. The candidate will become jaded quickly if they feel that the role has been oversold to them - this is true in all cases but especially in the context of your first international hire.

Useful Links

Chris Wilkinson

Head of Talent @ Forward Partners

Chris has helped build the leadership teams for some of the world’s most innovative digital companies. Prior to Forward Partners he was a Senior Associate at the digital headhunting firm The Up Group and placed C'level executives at companies such as Skyscanner, JUST EAT, WorldRemit and Circle. Chris is passionate about disruptive businesses and is now hands-on with helping Forward Partners’ portfolio scale their businesses from a people perspective. In his spare time Chris enjoys playing jazz piano, writing sitcom scripts and drinking IPA.

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