April 4, 2016 – According to recruiters on the hunt for global talent, search assignments are reflecting a greater demand for candidates with international experience and the ability to speak multiple languages. For companies, leaders with a global background are highly desirable: They bring a more expansive network to the table, can take on broader responsibilities, and become highly valued team members and decision makers. They also make it easier for companies to move confidently and fluidly in new markets, avoiding cultural misunderstandings and costly delays that can derail progress.
Rita Kaufmann-Linke, managing director and Kaufmann-Linke HR Solutions (IRC Austria) in Vienna, knows this perhaps better than anyone. As a member of IRC Global Executive Search Partners, a confederation of executive search firms with 80 offices and more than 300 consultants across 45 countries, she sees firsthand what clients around the world are seeking. She was also instrumental in starting the network’s stand-alone intercultural management think tank, IRC Institute, in which she serves as CEO of the IRC Institute Global Executive Board.
Companies want leaders who can help make their global efforts run seamlessly. As such, the demand for well-traveled talent is only going to increase in the years ahead. “This is a growing trend and one that our global partners are experiencing practically universally,” says Rita. “Clients are increasingly requiring both a strong base of experience at a specific country level plus at least a foothold in a specific national culture combined with ability and proven experience to work internationally, cross-cultural, and with remote teams. To be competitive, it is crucial for candidates to be inter-culturally savvy and to be highly adaptive.”
For recruiters, such requirements can sometimes be tough to meet, especially for roles that call for experience on the job to go along with that global knowledge. “Sometimes senior managers have less international experience than younger generations who are known to begin seeking international exposure early on,” says Rita. “While the younger candidates are often more fluent in foreign languages, they still lack the required seniority and experience in terms of leadership. Another common challenge is motivating candidates to accept roles in locations that may be at odds with their phase of life and family situation, too.”
That’s where the benefits of an organization like IRC can make a big difference. “Within our network, we have developed exchange processes and a global database to share information about strong internationally versatile candidates,” Rita says. “From the perspective of the client, we follow the one-stop-shop principle, where one partner is the trusted key account manager and ‘face’ to the customer while coordinating the search across relevant countries in cooperation with other IRC partners.”
Before she entered executive recruitment, Rita built a career in environmental politics and human resources. She started her search firm because she saw it as the best way to take advantage of her key strengths. “I have always been curious by nature,” she explains. “I have many interests and I’m keen on learning and developing myself. In my former political role, the ability to network, influence, present and built consensus around your thoughts and ideas was very important. My work in search provides me great satisfaction in bringing people together around shared goals as well as developing networks on a more global scale.”
During her tenure in corporate HR, Rita underwent numerous management assessments, which consistently revealed that she had very strong entrepreneurial skills and drive. “HR gave me a lot of insight into organizational development and the talent acquisition process,” she says. “I knew I would need strong sales skills so I consciously strived to enhance my skills in sales very early into this phase of my career. I’m energetic and I love collaborating internationally to create synergy around the business of people.”
Geopolitics has played a critical role in Rita’s career. As the European Union has evolved, so have the needs of clients and candidates. “When communism collapsed in 1989, my hometown of Vienna became an important hub for international business for Central and Eastern Europe,” she says. “Many headquarters were established and the demand for leadership talent led to a need for competent executive search practitioners in Austria. Times are more challenging nowadays.” Changes within the political and economic landscape, she says, have seen Eastern European countries become strong members of the E.U. Vienna’s role as a hub in the region has been eroded and therefore there has been a reduction in the number of executive search projects conducted locally.
“On the other hand, the E.U. structure makes it easier for internationally mobile candidates to move with European countries and accept assignments outside of their home countries. In addition, clients have become more flexible in regards to candidates’ national backgrounds and sometimes even location. On the candidate’s side, international experience and multiple language skills have become more important than ever. These dynamics underscore the importance that multinational companies place on top talent being mobile and able to move across borders for their career.”
The motto of IRC is “Globally Connected and Locally Committed.” Among the strategic orientations that all IRC member firms must commit to when joining the network, says Rita, are strong customer focus, high ethical standards, good local market knowledge and networks, and a knack for the personal touch.
“As owners of our firms, all partners bring a strong entrepreneurial spirit to the table, which can be a challenge in and of itself,” Rita says. “In addition to our diverse nationalities, we all have a variety of different professional experiences, skills and educational backgrounds. To ensure alignment of 300-plus executive search professionals in over 40 countries we set up regular structures of personal exchange and interactions in regional meetings, industry clusters, specific work groups as well as global meetings and conferences. New initiatives, like our ‘think tank’ IRC Institute, further helps to create international cooperation in and outside of the IRC. Working on themes and content relevant to our clients also deepens the cooperation within the IRC group.”
For Rita, it remains an open question as to whether search firms should offer diverse services, like leadership assessment, succession planning, onboarding, and more. A lot of it, she says, depends on whether a particular firm is competent enough to deliver them well. “I strongly believe that a consulting firm shall offer only services based on their key core competencies, carried out by consultants who are able to deliver at a high level of quality in the respective field,” she says.
But search is an industry with a low barrier to entry, and that can cause problems. New firms open up, but too often they fall short when it comes to standards and professional qualifications. “Many of these lack the adequate academic training, knowledge and professional experience to deliver on some of the types of ancillary services being offered today,” Rita says. “Given the pressure on margins and shrinking revenues in some markets, some firms are aggressively seeking new income streams and trying to diversify – often in fields beyond their core competence.” This ultimately leads, she says, to multiple HR service offerings, diluted market prices, often low service quality, and finally unhappy customers. “In my view, it is highly unprofessional and counterproductive to offer services for which both knowledge and expertise is lacking. Do clients require a portfolio of different services from the same consulting firm? It depends. I think the jury is still out on that one.”
Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media