A German is well-prepared but sceptical – and why is that important to know?

International headhunting: 3 key points to bear in mind when recruiting across borders and cultures.

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Irene Rajani

Senior Research Consultant, Denmark


+45 28 44 33 51

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Rebecca Saks

Research Consultant, Denmark


+45 21 82 95 32

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As international headhunters, we look beyond Denmark’s borders on a daily basis to find the right leaders and specialists on behalf of our clients. That’s why we know that it’s not enough to just brush up on our English and then hit the ground running. It takes a lot more, and you can read what ‘more’ entails in this article.

We asked two of our international researchers to answer this question. They have come up with three key points for you to consider when recruiting from abroad and or even considering contacting headhunters like us for the best possible outcome.

But first, why is it important to discuss international headhunting at all? The answer to that question is quite simple. Denmark is experiencing a shortage of specialised labour, so we need to look abroad for the skills that Danish companies are lacking. With offices in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and London and specialisation in 6 industries, we cover a wide range of customers. This applies both to customers who need to attract talent to their local offices and to customers with offices around the world who can’t find local headhunters to fulfil their recruitment needs.

Irene Rajani was born in Germany and has a broad cultural understanding that is characterised by her upbringing in southern Germany and current residence in Copenhagen. With language skills in German, Danish and English, Irene has both an international perspective and a unique insight into German and Danish culture.

As an international researcher, she has over three years of experience, which strengthens her ability to analyse and understand complex issues. Her educational background is also notable, as she holds a Master’s degree in Service Management from Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and a Bachelor’s degree in Innovation & Management in Tourism from the University of Applied Sciences in Salzburg.

Irene Rajani

Senior Research Consultant, Compass Human Resources Group

For readers who may have worked abroad or have many international work connections, it should come as no surprise that an understanding of cultural differences is essential. The Danish way of doing things cannot simply be transferred 1:1 to other countries. This also applies to recruitment and headhunting. We have a specific approach to contacting Danish candidates that we cannot use unchanged when, for example, we need to engage in dialogue with a German or Swedish candidate.

In Denmark, for example, we are far more adaptable and open to change than our German neighbours. This also applies to some extent to our Swedish neighbours, and similar tendencies are also seen in Norway. However, it is different if we move outside the European context, where we face completely different cultural challenges. In this article, however, we focus on Germany and the Nordics as examples. Because even though we are neighbours, there are significant differences that both recruiters and we as headhunters need to be aware of to achieve success.

Rebecca Saks is Swedish and speaks Swedish, Danish and English. Her residence in Malmö gives her a broad understanding of both Swedish and Danish culture. Rebecca has almost three years of experience as a research consultant, which has given her a strong analytical background.

Her academic background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Business Languages (Spanish) and International Marketing from Copenhagen Business School (CBS). In addition to living in Sweden, Rebecca has also lived and worked in Norway, Spain and Canada, further contributing to her extensive cultural understanding.

Rebecca Saks

Research Consultant, Compass Human Resources Group

Here are three of the most important points about international headhunting that both Irene and Rebecca recommend you take into account:

1. Cultural Understanding

Having a deep understanding of the culture candidates come from is essential. It’s not just about respecting common customs and traditions, but also understanding the subtle nuances of communication and business practices that can vary significantly from country to country. This insight allows you to create a more meaningful and respectful dialogue with potential candidates.

It’s not only important to understand the candidate’s cultural background; it’s equally crucial to highlight the nuances between what they are familiar with and, for example, the Danish organisation we’re recruiting for,” says Rebecca Saks, Research Consultant. She elaborates: “Because I have an in-depth understanding of both Swedish and Danish culture, I can explain these on an objective basis to a Swedish candidate I’m talking to about a job in a Danish organisation.”


2. Reach out in local language 

Although English often acts as a lingua franca in the business world, the ability to communicate in the candidate’s native language shows valuable respect and recognition of their cultural background. It can also open doors that would otherwise be closed by breaking down any language barriers and making communication more personalised and direct.

It’s always important to personalise your communication when reaching out to candidates. But when you do it across borders, it becomes even more important to understand the distances that aren’t just measured in kilometres. “For example, when I reach out to candidates in Germany, I will always do it in German. I will also include far more details than when I reach out to Danish candidates. This increases the likelihood of candidates engaging in dialogue. Germans can be sceptical and may not take the approach seriously if you contact them in English from a company that is foreign to them,” says Irene Rajani, Senior Research Consultant. She continues: “It’s a natural icebreaker and puts the candidate at ease when I address them in professional German.”

We also generally see that German candidates expect to read more details about a role and prefer to receive well-prepared written material before agreeing to spend time talking to a headhunter. Whereas Danish candidates often prefer a more informal chat and clarification of expectations before they want to spend time reading a lot of material.


3. A more resource-intensive process

International headhunting often requires more time than domestic headhunting. Differences in time zones, the need to navigate different legal and labour market conditions, and the need to build trustworthy relationships across cultures all contribute to the process taking longer.

Patience and a methodical approach are essential to ensure both companies and candidates feel confident and well-informed throughout the process. Irene Rajani emphasises this point: “The process requires an in-depth understanding of law and labour relations. It’s a process that requires insight, patience and, not least, respect for the unique background and needs of each candidate. The extra time we invest at the beginning ultimately proves to be crucial in creating stronger and more lasting relationships between companies and their new international talent.”

By taking these points to heart and putting them into practice, companies and headhunters can improve their ability to attract and engage with top international talent in a way that is respectful, efficient, and productive.

We’ve explored the key aspects that make international headhunting both challenging and rewarding. By delving into the three key areas: cultural understanding, local language communication and the more resource-intensive process, we highlight the importance of an in-depth and respectful approach to cross-border recruitment. The experiences and insights from Irene Rajani and Rebecca Saks emphasise that success in international headhunting requires more than just skills and good intentions. It requires a commitment to understanding and appreciating the cultural context of each candidate, as well as patience and dedication to the process. As a result, companies and headhunters can not only overcome the obvious challenges of international recruitment, but also create strong, lasting relationships that benefit both companies and their new international talent.

The insights and adaptability we develop through this process are not only crucial for recruitment success, but also for building bridges between cultures in an increasingly globalised world.

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