Successful recruiting overseas: It’s a matter of perception

Potential workers being recruited overseas need to know exactly what’s in store for them
By Kate McGovern
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/13/2001

The modern talent pool is clearly a global one and Canadian companies will increasingly find themselves looking abroad to tap into much needed human capital.

But when it comes to selling career opportunities in Canada, it is important to recognize that other people’s perceptions of what it means to live here can be very different from our own. These perceptions and sometimes misperceptions should be taken into account and, where necessary, corrected or clarified in order to attract that talent to this country.

A few months ago, I managed an overseas recruiting campaign on behalf of a multinational client. Our task was to source the United Kingdom for industry expertise to recruit a large number of technical and scientific specialists.

This was an active recruiting campaign, meaning a team of researchers was sent first, then a team of recruiters and finally, a team of interviewers.

The research and recruiting teams set up base in Oxford, chosen because the cost of operating from London was prohibitive. A remote office was created complete with computers, printers, scanners, and all of the usual office paraphernalia.

This allowed the research and recruiting effort to be ramped up very quickly.

The researchers and recruiters discovered many people had fairly accurate perceptions of Canada. These were based on either first-hand knowledge through travel or by working with people who had traveled to, or lived in, Canada. For example, most were aware that Quebec is a predominantly French-speaking province and that there have been two referendums on separation from Canada.

Interestingly, the perception of it being a French environment was seen by most as an opportunity for their children to become bilingual.

Generally speaking, most of the potential recruits believed the standard of living was higher in North America than in the U.K.

Everyone knew that Canada had cold winters, and that there is a lot of snow. What they didn’t realize is that there are benefits to the Canadian winter as well. For example, in many parts of the country ski hills are very close and family skiing on weekends is quite common and very affordable. This is very different from a ski vacation from the U.K. to Europe where the trip usually lasts at least a week (typically during school vacations when the resorts are quite crowded) and is very expensive.

With respect to salary, many of the candidates were aware that there was not a great deal of difference, and that difference continues to shrink, between salaries in the U.K. and salaries in North America. However, many of them did not know that the cost of living in Canada is much more affordable.

A considerable amount of time was spent showing the possible candidates examples of houses for sale in the city, the suburbs and the country in the vicinity of the client’s workplace.

This helped them make a comparison between the cost of housing in the U.K. versus Canada. Not only are houses less expensive in Canada, typically they are bigger, better equipped and on larger lots of land.

Many were unaware that Canada has a government-sponsored health-care system similar to the National Health Service in the U.K. Many actually thought our health-care system was more similar to the Unites States.

Also, people were generally unaware of the taxing power of the provinces and that the rates of taxation can vary significantly from one province to the next. The regional differences across Canada were surprising to many of the candidates, including differences in lifestyle, geography, culture and the cost of living.

Many people were unaware of the immigration rules regarding workers and their families coming to Canada, and we had to address issues like common-law marriages which would not have legal weight within the immigration rules. The spousal employment issue also had to be addressed realistically and accurately.

Selling the positive aspects of working and living in Canada became a major focus of the recruiting drive. This was, of course, in addition to selling the possibility of working in a North American work culture, with a generally more enlightened management attitude.

We acknowledged right from the start that this was potentially a move of great significance to the family and that the decision to make such a move should not be taken lightly or without adequate information.

As a general rule, it was not difficult to get candidates to view moving to Canada as a good career opportunity. However, to ensure the success of the recruiting campaign, we had to make sure the family was behind the candidate’s decision. It was important that families had enough information and took the time to decide whether or not this would indeed be a good idea for the entire family.

In screening interviews, candidates and their families were given a block of information about Quebec and Canada, including house prices, tax calculations, information on climate, government, schooling, health care, as well as information on the client’s organization and products.

Brochures on shopping and newspaper flyers confirmed the cost of food was indeed affordable. And it was pointed out that for some major purchases like cars, it is possible to buy the equivalent car in Canada at virtually half the price of the U.K. car.

Similarly, gasoline costs twice as much in the U.K. as it does in Canada.

Any business wanting to recruit successfully from overseas has to address all of these issues. The last thing a family needs when they arrive in Canada is a surprise. This is not just a recruiting issue; this is a retention issue. The families should make a decision based on fact, and a complete picture of the reality of their new homeland.

Success in an overseas recruiting mandate is based not only on the ability to sell the opportunity, but on the ability to present a full picture of the move. Potential candidates must make well-informed decisions for themselves, so that they are not stepping into a great unknown but into a better life for themselves.

The outcome of this trip has been very good. In total, more than 400 technical and scientific specialists were identified, of which more than 100 were interviewed and so far 25 offers have been made. The recruitment drive took just five weeks — from the arrival of the first team in Oxford to the first offer in London.

Kate McGovern is a project manager with Alan Davis & Associates Inc., a human resources firm specializing in executive search and strategic recruiting. She can be reached at (450) 458-4575 or

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