When it comes to hiring talents in the US, French startups are often in a hit or miss kind of situation. With cultural differences to understand and to overcome, completely different legal requirements and higher salary standards, hiring can become a real challenge for any French entrepreneurs. Here are some basics takeaways for you to nail your first hires.
Understanding cultural differences
Education is different
There are strong cultural differences in the workplace between French and Americans that can be traced back to educational backgrounds.
Starting from kindergarden, American kids learn teamwork, public speaking, and communication. The emphasis is on interpersonal skills when French schools tend to only focus on academic excellence. This goes on in high school and in university with French students learning to be more versatile (even when they have chosen their field of study) and Americans a lot more specialized (because of their major). The result of this education system is more talented, expert, and confident salespeople on the American side and a multitasking french workforce with higher technical abilities on the other side.
Even if the Grande Ecole system in France makes it very easy to identify the pool of talents in the expertises you are looking to hire for (marketing, finance, etc), the American majors-minor system allows American students to study eclectic subjects based on their interests and not necessarily on a business-oriented competency. This can make it harder for you to target your American talents first. You might need to incorporate case studies and technical tests to your interviews to assess your applicant’s capabilities.
Management will also differ. You will not manage your American team the same way you would manage your French one. Americans are less used to multi-tasking. Americans will not go over their work hours, as work-life balance is very important to them. Their vision of work is very different from the French as well. For instance, Americans won’t naturally take over projects they were not hired to do, instead, you will have to ask them if they wish to take on those projects. On the other hand, they are less likely to question their managers on the tasks they are assigned to.
Now that you have all those cultural differences in mind, we can move on to discussing the difficulty of the task itself. Where to look? How to know if you’re looking after the right people? How much will it cost?
Hiring Americans is very expensive, especially in big cities like New York and San Francisco where the living costs are high. The US economy is at full-employment and qualified workers don’t have any trouble finding a job. This means you are competing with thousands of employers, and you will need to act fast. Also, because the US market is really heterogeneous, recruitment strategies and talent pools are constantly changing from one state to the other.
Strategy is key when it comes to hiring the right people for your company. Be clear about which qualifications you are looking for the job and be creative about finding the people with these capacities.
Salespeople are the most difficult to hire, but they operate a key function for your company. Businesses really take-off only when they manage to have their sales team ready and going. Selling in the US is very different from selling in Europe, and although starting with French salespeople might seem like a good idea, it is not recommended. The market can be very specific and have its own rules and specificities, hence only locals have the cultural background, interpersonal skills, and understanding of the market to sell successfully.
Hiring good salespeople means paying them dearly: count around $300K, but they are expected to double or triple that amount in ROI. If you’re reading this thinking it is too expensive, think again — making the wrong hire in sales will cost you even more because you will have invested a lot of time and money. Often, it will take you several months to realize it, that many months of possible revenues lost. You need to be really careful during your interview process. Without the right references and an applicant’s ability to pitch, you can end up with bad and expensive salespeople. The entrepreneurs we met recommended not to lose any time and lay off your salesperson if you see it is going nowhere. What ends up happening is that those entrepreneurs will gradually raise their standards as they grow when hiring their sales team. Once you’ve got your star employees, your new challenge will be to keep them!
Besides sales, if you really cannot find the right applicants for your open positions, another option would be to train your team in-house.
Getting qualified leads
Considering the saturation of the current job market, it can be very easy to give in to the pressure and hire the first person who comes to you. Outsourcing part of your recruitment process to recruitment agencies can be a smart way to get your job offers out there and get qualified leads. This is especially useful if you are still too small to have a dedicated HR team in-house.
However, to use their services effectively, you need to clearly state your expectations. Take the necessary time to really specify your needs and list the type of questions you want them to use when screening candidates.
The other option to source applicants is using your network. Some companies resort to co-optation. You can put in place a program where your employees are able to recommend certain people based on pre-set profile requirements and the company culture. You can offer compensation to encourage participation. How do you attract the best talent to your company? Those people have a choice between you and big tech companies or sexy startups with many perks. With little to no visibility and fewer resources, it is even harder for you to compete and attract those talents. Most of them also have a huge student loan they have to repay quickly after they graduate and it can be risky for them to take on a position that pays less.
To attract them, you need to work on your employer branding. Emphasis the non-financial benefits of working for your company: one of these is employees’ well-being. This means building a great company culture and making them feel part of a family from day one.
As a CEO, make sure to spend time with them and focus help them grow rapidly. Show that you are different from other American companies, and better — because you will invest time, projects, and money into their own ambitions and professional development. Having a good benefit policy (401k, vacations, good health insurance) is helpful as well.
You need to be creative in getting your message across to the pool of talents. Go on campuses, talk to people, think about how you can convey your culture and values through concrete actions.
Management in the US
Your company culture should be part of the management practices across all levels of the organization.
As a manager, you need first to inquire about your employees’ primary needs and answer them. Find some time to be with the people that work for you. Think also about what you are expecting from them. Being familiar with how your teams operate will make it easier for you to build procedures and best practices to facilitate their work.
You might have to change how you interact and behave in the workspace to fit with cultural expectations. Rules of courtesy differ from France; for example, touching people can be very problematic in the US. You need to follow cultural codes, find out what is appropriate or not in office environments. For instance, you are not allowed to ask an applicant where they live; and you must follow certain methods when giving feedback. Another example is how straightforwardness is different in the U.S.: American employees may not welcome a manager telling them they have done a bad job. Instead, they will expect constructive criticism, including ideas on how to improve their performance.
All of this is something you need to learn as an entrepreneur, but it is also something your other French employees should know. You need to find a way to make your cross-cultural team work together and engage in the new international company culture.
Contracts in the US
Most contracts are “at-will”, this means that companies can fire without notice, and employees can leave the company without notice as well. Some more-binding contracts exist too, but make sure to consult this with your legal counsel before making any offers.
In all cases, you need to be careful when it comes to your employees’ dismissal process. The entrepreneurs we met with said that they often reach out to lawyers to protect themselves during lay-offs. Also, when they did fire people, they always made sure to have a witness with them and not to give too many details on their reasons for the firing. The employee could misinterpret and use anything you say against you. Most entrepreneurs decide to keep their French habits and would still give out a few weeks notice. This also gives them time to adjust.
Now that you know the basics, we hope you can hunt your next American talents with confidence!