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Top 10 mistakes made in hiring foreign nationals

Don't make these errors when you choose who's going to work for you in another country.

(1) Assume that they can do anything and everything regarding their country.

Too many times, we've seen Chinese engineers acting as negotiators, French diplomats take on the role of market access people, and Taiwanese sales people try to source factories for their employer.

Would we hire an engineer to negotiate in America? Why would we ever do that overseas?

International is an adjective. Being Indian doesn't mean you know everything about India -- from production to marketing to advertising to negotiation to dentistry. If we define specific skill sets to accomplish goals in America, why would we lump all the skills into one person for a Hispanic market?

(2) Assume that they respect your authority.

You may have positional authority (in that you hired them). But in many cultures, true leadership needs to be earned. Your "foreigner" may have more affiliation to a client, market, co-worker or an ex-boss.

In Central and Eastern Europe, entire governments and economies have changed hands because authority was defied. If everyone magically listened to the boss, China wouldn't be the world's factory, and Poland wouldn't be the fastest-growing economy in Central Europe.

(3) Treat them as translators.

Someone who speaks Greek isn't necessarily a Greek translator. And if you have employed Greek managers, then those managers have their own jobs to do and their own agendas in meetings.

Translation is a specialized skill, like sales, accounting or security. If you haven't got a translator when you need one, then you simply haven't invested enough money in your endeavor.

(4) Task them as you would Americans.

Today's management styles are about tasking with autonomy, getting "out of the box" and saying things like: "Here's the job, you are the team, make it happen."

But do foreign employees really want to take initiative? Many cultures will be paralyzed by that type of approach, and wait for leadership.

Employees all over the world are people who are tasked, not who are entrepreneurial.

Entrepreneurs leave their employers, start their own businesses and get written about in newspapers. It is uniquely American to have intrapreneurs, that is, entrepreneurs who work within an organization.

(5) Pick one foreigner to do another foreigner's job.

This is often seen when a firm hires, for example, a British country manager and tasks him with developing all of Europe. The assumption that "he's European" is an incorrect one. Can he sell in Poland? Is he well-connected in Belgium? Does he speak German? How much does he know about Eastern Europe?

Additionally, country managers often are picked cross-functionally and given marketing, management, sales and production responsibilities. This is a unique and expensive skill mix.

(6) Assume they understand you.

Barring language, do they understand the task? Many cultures need to read rather than listen.

Is your language peppered with euphemisms? Are you using jargon they don't know? Are you saying things like "bottom line" or "ASAP" that they won't know?

A tip: Ask your "foreigner" to write down a description of what you've just asked her to do. See if her description matches your wishes. It will take some extra time, but how much time will a misunderstanding take?

(7) Assume they'll tell you when they don't understand.

In one example, a Russian subsidiary was sent boxes of new software to install on company computers. It never happened, as the Russians never were taught how to do it.

They waited for leadership, as good employees would. And rather than communicate their lack of skills, which would be embarrassing, they assumed headquarters would find out and fix the problem.

(8) Assume they will train you.

It's a confrontational, risk-taking endeavor to turn to your boss and tell her she's wrong. Most American employees don't have the courage to do this.

How can we expect an immigrant -- hoping for the American dream, trying her best in a foreign culture and living with frequent misunderstandings -- to confront and correct her boss, even if that's written into her job description?

There are Chinese employees in Asia who don't even know their own salaries until they start work. If they can't negotiate salary with their bosses, they sure won't correct us on our faux pas.

(9) Make no effort to be friends.

Business is personal. The thought that work friends are different from other friends is unusual for many cultures.

Once confronted with American systems of segregating relationships, "foreigners" may not approach you to socialize. In almost any country, the boss and co-workers would look after their "foreign guests." Dinner invitations, holiday celebrations, and questions about home, family and hobbies would be commonplace.

(10) Assume they work for you.

This is particularly worrisome when employing someone abroad. They may carry your card and cash your paycheck, but who are they working for? What are their affiliations?

The best advice is to hire slowly. Get to know the person you're hiring and their motivations.

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