Avoid these TEN common executive recruiting mistakes when hiring in the United States


Following over 10 years of retained executive searches in the USA for European and Canadian-based business, we’ve identified these top executive recruiting mistakes.

#1  – Keep your European benchmarks for education, compensation and job descriptions

Recruiting sales and business development VPs and directors, plant managers or operations managers is unique in the USA. . The educational system is different from elementary school up to college. The starting salary for the average college graduate in 2018 is $50,390 as summarized in this recent CNN article https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/14/pf/college/class-of-2018-starting-salary/index.html. Certain titles do not mean the same thing and jobs are often organized in a different way. The US and Europe differ in many ways so companies coming to the US should refrain from direct comparison.

#2 – Skip the compensation homework in relation to the region, industry, and level of education

The US is a country made of 50 states and it is a huge country, comparable to the size of Europe https://mapfight.appspot.com/us-vs-europe/united-states-europe-size-comparison. The same way compensation between a remote area of Greece and the city in London will vary, compensation will vary greatly depending on location in the US. When you add other criteria such as local taxes, cost of leaving and transportation, you realize that differences will be even more significant. Therefore, this should be considered before choosing a location. Once a location is decided, again, a local and precise approach to compensation is required.

#3 – Overestimate the importance of industry experience over other important criteria when selecting candidates 

Often, companies are looking at candidates with unique prior experience in their industry. While it can be an important criterion, it should not be the only one and certainly not one that weighs too much. We have seen many examples of failures because too much faith was put into this belief. Cultural open-mindedness, previous exposure to working with other cultures, willingness to learn and curiosity as well as other soft skills are extremely important but also more difficult to identify. You want candidates who will not be complacent thinking they “know it all”.

#4 Keep your European lenses when interviewing candidates

“American candidates do sell themselves very well”: I have heard that phrase a thousand times. Yes, Americans are well-trained from an early age to talk about themselves, be confident and convince their audience. It is such an important difference with many other cultures that it becomes easy to only see that aspect. First, when interviewing candidates, companies need to sell their company and then, they need to be prepared with in-depth questions to dig behind the first initial impression.

#5 – Underestimate the cultural differences when communicating and managing people

This one seems obvious and many books have been written about it. However, it keeps being an issue when companies come ill-prepared and quickly forget about these differences. For example, expectations from the headquarter regarding the deliverables of an employee – especially a manager – should be very clear and included in the job description.

#6 – Think that your great product or service is enough to attract talent

Companies need to show they are serious about doing business in the US and that they are investing. A well-designed website (catered to the US market), resources to develop the business, willingness to address US unique requirements: all just as important as an “innovative product or service”. Candidates will care and will expect companies to demonstrate a certain ability to adapt.

#7 – Think that candidates are waiting for you

The US marketplace is very vibrant, with a low unemployment rate. This is currently what employers call a “candidates’ market”. However, even in more difficult times, the relationship between most employees and their company is quite different than in Europe. People are in charge of their own career: they must, there is no safety net for them when things go wrong. Therefore, candidates need to be convinced that joining your company is a good choice. It is not just all about the salary: other benefits and how well prepared you are to do business in the US will certainly be very important to attract the right candidates.

#8 – After hiring, forget to acknowledge and reward good performance 

“Why should I congratulate someone for doing their job?” this is something else I have heard. Again, Americans are used to be told they are doing a good (or great) job. Acknowledgment is ingrained in the culture. Successful sales people expect to be rewarded in a motivating way. The cost of that should be accounted for early enough in business plans and incorporated in the price of goods or services.

#9 – Downplay the importance of LOCAL marketing and customer service

“We need to sell first and then we will invest in marketing and customer service”. This is a very risky approach. In the US, customer service in any industry is part of the product or service itself. Clients expect it and will value your service or product accordingly. This is one area that requires local attention with a local phone number and local hours. The same applies to Marketing that needs to use the local practices and codes. It can be challenging to expect one person to do it all.

#10 – Micromanage your US team

There is a fine line to be found between being totally hands-off with the US subsidiary and micromanaging. This is the main reason why selecting the right people is so important. Micromanaging will lead to lack of motivation, fear of initiatives and even fear to discuss issues. A good approach is often for a high-level executive from the home country to spend a few years in the US to create bridges.

What is your experience?

Myriam Le Cannellier – Co Founder & Director, DSML Executive Search