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  • Writer's pictureFrank Gerritzen

Recruiting in Europe - A Nightmare?

It ought not to, with the right strategy and partner

In 2018, Europe’s workforce was some 230 Million people strong. A recent McKinsey report cites: Total employment in the 27 European Union countries plus Switzerland and the United Kingdom rose by almost 10 percent between 2003 and 2018 to record highs. Our analysis of Europe’s regional labor markets suggests that the future of work has already begun unfolding.

This may not come as a surprise: the phenomenon is worldwide and bodes well for economic growth. It is even exacerbated by the planned post-Covid economic spurt. And despite globalization’s negative publicity, the trend is clear. Companies need to recruit, now and fast. For internationally focused companies, Europe is a crucial market where they need to either set foot or grow.

This is only the big picture. When you start focusing, you realize that Europe is made of thousands of large and small markets: countries, of course, but also regions, cities, towns, and rural areas that have their own specificities. Unlike the United States, with a somewhat comparable talent pool in size, education, and training - Europe is constituted of an incredible diversity of people.

Recruiting in Europe can thus easily become a nightmare for Global Talent Acquisition leaders: 47 different countries, 24 official languages - if you only focus on the European Union, the European Economic Area, and associated countries.

Too often, “regional differences” are interpreted as “different languages”. The disparity is not limited to spoken and written idioms. If the problem only lays there, the hurdle would not be that high. Research, plus empirical observation, and experience are showing that English is becoming the lingua franca in Europe, especially among the more educated, mobile, and young talents, the ones you are probably trying to recruit. Languages are only the visible part of the iceberg. Many more issues are at play.

In order to underpin the problem, it is useful to look at the most familiar challenges that recruiters are facing in general, i.e., without any regional consideration. We then discuss how these problems translate in Europe - the land of many countries, customs, and, yes, languages. Stated differently, how Europe’s idiosyncrasies exacerbate the problems. [1]

1. Building a strong Employer Brand

A must if you seek the best talent. Let’s assume you have done your homework, your company is well-known wherever it is located in the world, or even in some (major) European countries for that matter. But as soon as you cross the border to a secondary market, you are unrecognized.

According to LinkedIn, an overwhelming majority (75%) of job seekers consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job.

You cannot catch up with notoriety in a few months or even years. A well-settled, third-party supplier who has been present in that market, like a recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) partner, can overcome this obstacle. The supplier knows you and, more importantly, knows the market. Its credibility and reputation will do the rest with candidates.

2. Lack of qualified candidates

The talent shortage for certain positions can be an insurmountable challenge, second to none. The problem is worsening by the day. According to the same McKinsey Global Institute study, in 2020 companies in Europe needed 16 to 18 million more educated employees than were going to be available. A pan-European local partner can support you and is able to identify less well-known spots in Europe where talent is at par with expectations and educated enough to be trained in the skills you require.

Serendi, as an RPO supplier, has developed its own network in Europe and can reach beyond the usual sources that local organizations rely on. So being very local and international in Europe is key: do not forget that traveling for two hours by car from, say, Milan to Zurich, means crossing a deeper cultural gap than taking the red-eye from L.A. to New York.

3. Targeting passive candidates

We can bet that the talent, the crème de la crème, you are looking for is not actively seeking a new job. Passive candidates are the ones you target. Headhunting, for lack of a better word, is very developed in some countries in Europe (the U.K., France, and Switzerland, to name a few) and an almost unheard-of concept in other regions (Eastern Europe, …). If your RPO supplier uses the same approach with a London banker as with a Polish engineer or a Portuguese HR Manager, you may face rejection, at best, or reputational damage, at worst. Every culture has its customs and Serendi has recruited people in almost all of Europe’s regional markets.

4. Attracting the right job candidates

Attracting candidates is not in and of itself difficult: in every market, even the dried-out ones, there are people looking for employment. What you need are the right candidates. It is time-consuming to shift through (many) applications of little value, and where the adequate profiles are difficult to identify. Wasted time is time not dedicated to strategic challenges such as Employer Branding, Recruitment fairs at educational institutions, or interviewing top talent. An RPO supplier, such as Serendi, will ensure that the time management of the process rests with them, and frees up your schedule for what matters.

As we all know, it is not the number of candidacies that is important, it is their quality. Simpler even: for each opening, you need one person, and in theory one candidate suffices. If it’s the right person, you are in business. Why does it matter? It does because shifting through many applications makes you lose focus on whom you are searching for. In a setting where you are unfamiliar with schools, education facilities, diplomas, this sorting and selecting can become tedious. A service provider (agency, headhunter, or RPO organization) will help you overcome this hurdle. It is even more valuable if you hire rarely in a specific area, so in sourcing, this competency is of little interest.

5. Building talent pools proactively

Since Serendi has had numerous mandates and executed thousands of searches since its inception in 2008, its talent pool often contains the ideal candidates. Not that it matters so much for you: your agreement with an RPO supplier should be based on successful hiring only. Nevertheless, the recruiters using a constantly updated and qualified database can spend more time selling the benefits of working with their client – you! - if they have matching candidates at hand.

Europe is our playground

Once a talent database has been built, the importance of staying connected with its members is vital, otherwise, the work has been wasted. It is critical to engage with that pool, in the best manner according to local uses and methodologies.

6. Efficient talent sourcing

Here we encounter one of the major hurdles when we discuss “recruitment in Europe”: as we hopefully have made clear by now, the diversity of systems, cultures, development stages, work habits, and so forth are such that not one method applies to all countries. By applying the same methodology across all markets, you run the risk of being successful in one country and inefficient in another. Therefore, using a local provider (agency, headhunter, ideally recommended by your local partner) is the best idea, especially if you recruit rarely. If you are launching a large campaign or have contracted with an RPO organization, make sure that they know their way around not just in the major countries but also in countries that are now educating and providing the best professionals in many areas: Spanish architects, Polish engineers… you name it.

7. Providing memorable Candidate Experience

We shall not offend our professional readers by stressing this point: we all know of the importance of a seamless recruitment process to attract and convince the best talent pool. Nevertheless, do you know the difference in expectations of candidates in, say, Greece and Denmark? Is there any? Well, if the devil is in the detail, you better make a pact with Lucifer.

Candidate experience is not only important for employer branding but also a factor when your best candidates are evaluating your job offers. The way you treat candidates during the hiring process mirrors the way you’ll treat them once onboarded. If they had a bad experience, they’re less likely to accept. Conversely, positive candidate experiences can enhance your employer brand and encourage good candidates to apply and accept your offer.

The secondary effect on missing on this one is quite perverse: assuming you are launching a new business in a country and all your candidates have so-so experiences, this reflects badly on your organization not only as a potential employer, sadly enough, but also on your potential clients.

8. Diversity

Let us focus on a limited aspect of diversity, gender equality. It has been academically documented that diverse teams are more productive and, without knowing exactly why are financially more successful. Let’s say you are hiring in a predominantly Muslim country (there are such countries in Europe), do you know how to handle the issue? How far can your equal opportunity employer policy bring you without hurting feelings and faith in such a country? These are genuine issues that you need to address before the launch of a recruitment campaign, lest you may just never succeed. So, imagine dealing with all the potentially delicate subjects as LGBTQ, disabilities, etc.

9. Choosing the right candidate

Ever seen a goalie succeeding every time in stopping the ball? It just does not happen, like successfully hiring every time. But training and methodology help enormously, like in football. Getting a provider who has lots of experience in European countries increases the probability that bad hires are minimized. Additionally, contrary to an internal recruitment team, an external partner comes with some kind of money-back guarantee should the chosen candidate not be up to expectations. At least that is Serendi’s policy: we refund the fee of a miss-hire until 3 months after she or he has started on the job

10. Hiring fast

ERE Medis’s research states that top candidates stay available on the job market for 10 days only. Which begs the question: in which industry? In which country? Is this a European phenomenon? What we have found out is that on this subject, globalization is at work.

Where twenty years ago one had the luxury to make adequate candidates wait for a decision, there is now one geographic uniformity: you need to be fast. Especially the younger generation has become mobile. If the candidates are good, you are, as an employer, not only competing with the local players but with international ones. You better have your act together.

11. Creating an efficient recruiting process

Lack of knowledge of a particular region may strain the relationship between the internal recruiters and the line managers. Resentment can build up because the internal recruiters do not know the market, and the full process takes too much time. By externalizing recruitment in markets where you rarely search, you avoid internal tensions that are unnecessary, costly, and demoralizing. In addition, should the recruitment be a failure, at least there is no one internally to blame…always a good thing for team building.


Recruiting in a geographic region like Europe, large by its population and economic weight but small by its regional entities, and with so many distinctions, is more than a challenge. And if on top your corporate structure requires only a few recruitments per year in some countries, the whole project can become a nightmare.

A disaster in waiting: non-Europe-based recruitment managers either leave the recruitment to their local HR leaders or ask their global RPO partner to cover all of Europe.

Global recruitment managers, who are not based in Europe, tend to overcome this challenge in two ways: either they leave the recruitment challenge to their local HR leaders or they ask their RPO partner to cover Europe through an alliance or the RPO’s own presence.

On the one hand, keeping the European continent with your internal teams may adversely impact the quality and consistency of recruitment: smaller units in Europe will not have the bandwidth to leverage excellence in recruitment. On the other hand, turning to active candidate sourcing for possibly five to ten positions a year may not make sense either. And if you add building talent communities, following consistent processes, complying with corporate requirements, ensuring a high-quality selection process, not over-using external headhunters and agencies for cost reasons – it becomes a real, tough, next to impossible job to manage.

Partnering with a global RPO provider will save you a lot of coordination realignment efforts. However, global RPO programs do not work out as expected because the selected vendor has not the same experience and understanding of the talent markets in other regions than its home base geography, probably the Americas or a European country.

Let’s face it, the most successful RPO programs are the ones that operate with one RPO vendor in each geographic region. A region is defined here as North America or Latin America or, together, as the Americas; Europe, the Middle East, and Africa together as EMEA, and then Asia and the Pacific region as APAC. These three to four regions should cover your global recruitment needs. You might be saying: “My job does not allow me to coordinate three to four different vendors”. There is a but: imagine how important the success of your talent acquisition operation is in a geography with such a diverse linguistic, cultural, and legal structure.

We recommend to benchmark and select the best-in-class RPO provider of each region.

The recommendation: to benchmark and select the best-in-class RPO provider of each geographic region – Americas, EMEA, APAC. Then you can manage each provider in your preferred operational framework of KPIs, processes, and standards and also allow adaptations to regional differences. That is the learning out of Serendi’s fifteen plus years of experience in global and regional Recruitment Process Outsourcing.

Serendi has its focus on Europe and the EMEA region. The company delivers recruitment in 28 countries in Europe, its consultants speak 18 different European languages and operates service hubs in 8 different countries. From Finland to Spain, from Ireland to Greece, from Russia to Germany, Serendi understands the European talent landscape and can serve your business in all European countries. Regardless of whether you have a big operation in Germany and a few sales positions in Bulgaria or whether your EMEA headquarter is in the Netherlands and your production sites are in France.

Imagine how important the success of your talent acquisition operation is in a geography with such a diverse linguistic, cultural, and legal structure.

If you are looking for a recruitment solution for your European or EMEA business operation you should book a meeting with one of Serendi’s consultants to find out how it can support your recruitment in this overly diverse, rich, and complex geography.


If you are still wondering if going RPO is the right thing to do for your organization and the specific challenges your Talent Acquisition is facing, check out our RPO Quick Guide to find out more and to define your organization’s RPO suitability score. Download our RPO Quick Guide here.



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