Need to Build a Great U.S. Team? Copy Growth Companies' Tactics

I've recently talked to several Japanese technology companies that intend to hire scores of people in the U.S. in the next 6-12 months. In each case, the companies are worried about their ability to find and hire top-notch American talent. Although Japanese employers have often struggled to staff their American operations, they need not despair: It's not easy, but they can build great teams in the U.S. by avoiding some common Japanese pitfalls and adopting some of the best practices of American growth companies.

Let's start with the pitfalls. Japanese companies are often anchored to a Japanese employment mindset that puts them out of step with the U.S. labor market. They often search in vain for long-term "employees" instead of targeting the key skills and talents they need to accomplish their mission.

Worse, they do a poor job telling their own story and further handicap themselves with a woeful recruiting process. Dull job descriptions, opaque screening requirements, poor candidate communication, and lack of workplace flexibility combine with below-market compensation structures to scare away all but the most committed (or desperate) candidates.

Fortunately, they can fix many of these problems. Successful high-growth companies in the U.S. have figured out a wealth of ways to overcome size and budget limitations in order to build great teams.

First, they start with a well-articulated vision for the business that permeates the organization. The leader, the employees, the website, the job descriptions and every interaction with a candidate reinforce the message that the company is doing exciting work and that it needs excellent people to help it accomplish the mission. The company strives to sell potential employees on "the story" and make itself a "best place to work" in the eye of the candidate.

Second, successful U.S. companies use creativity and flexibility to find choice candidates. They start by putting great people in key roles – and they do what they must to find and hire those people. They also make exceptional use of their internal resources, asking their employees, customers, vendors and other partners to recommend and recruit prospective employees. Others mine underutilized candidate pools (e.g., sponsoring visa applications of foreign-born workers, seeking out independent contractors who want more flexible work arrangements, etc.). They all use online recruiting tools and social media effectively.

Third, strong recruiters "close the sale," converting a high percentage of job offers to hires. What they aren't able to offer in the form of compensation or brand name, they make up for in a well-run recruiting process that lavishes personal attention on each candidate. This might mean having the CEO and peers call all offerees, or doing other things to make the candidate feel special, such as sending a small gift related to his or her personal interests.

As the economy improves, many Japanese companies are showing increased urgency around building their U.S. presence. However, economic growth will also increase competition for employees, making it all the more important that these companies are equally focused on building the team as they are on creating the market.

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