Viewpoint: Cultural Differences in EU Influence Recruiting

By Jannike Huisman August 2, 2019

​Employers should consider cultural differences to successfully recruit in Europe. Europe has more than 40 countries, each with a different culture. Of these countries, 28 currently belong to the European Union (EU), where residents can travel and work freely. The cultural and labor market differences between these 28 countries, however, are enormous, even between neighboring countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or Belgium and the Netherlands.

Not only do their job boards differ—almost every European country has its own leading job board—but applicants' expectations in the job interview and the duration of the application process also vary.

"While the goal of recruitment is largely the same, you do observe differences in candidates from different countries," said Monika Stear, a consultant with Talent Acquisition Europe Signify in Amsterdam. For example, she noted that work/life balance is a higher priority for job candidates in the Netherlands than elsewhere.

If employers adapt their approach to the regional and cultural differences between job candidates, they are likelier to recruit the most-competitive candidates. So what are some of the cultural differences?

Greater Hierarchy in Some Parts of Europe

There usually is more hierarchy in organizations in southern and eastern European countries, according to researcher Geert Hofstede, Ph.D., who examines the cultural dimensions of organizational behavior. Employees in these areas may find being addressed by the right title important. There is also often a dress code, more formality and a greater reliance by employees on the boss's orders. In contrast, in the Netherlands and Sweden, the atmosphere in the workplace is frequently informal, and using first names after a first meeting is more common.

"The cultural differences between candidates also influence what information they give during the job interview. In Scandinavia, applicants even put the name of their pet or children on their [resume], where candidates in Germany are much more formal," said Jolie den Boer, associate vice president of recruitment in continental Europe and Africa at Cognizant in Amsterdam. "In countries with more hierarchy, such as Germany or eastern Europe, applicants are unlikely to say no or give their opinion, whereas the Dutch are much more open. As a recruiter, you take into account who is in front of you, and if you know that candidates are more reserved, you will have to ask more questions."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Global Human Resources Discipline]

Other Cultural Differences

In some countries, you can appeal to candidates by emphasizing a healthy work/life balance. For example, employees in many western European countries, such as Austria and Germany, value a work/life balance more than elsewhere. On the other hand, in Romania, Greece and Croatia, doing your work well is often valued more than a good work/life balance, according to the Global Talent Acquisition Monitor.

More than 35 percent of employees from Slovakia, Germany and Croatia sometimes see their colleagues as competitors more than teammates. In Estonia, Norway or Lithuania, fewer than 9 percent of employees see their colleagues as competitors.

Workers from southern or eastern Europe want clear instructions about their work tasks and do not like insecure and unfamiliar situations, the Global Talent Acquisition Monitor also found. For example, 92 percent of workers in Greece expect clear instructions. This expectation may clash with the culture that exists in companies from northern and western Europe. For example, in the Netherlands, only 68 percent of workers think detailed work orders are important.

When hiring an international candidate, modern leadership and a progressive HR management team are needed to quickly bridge any cultural differences, noted Rob van Elburg, global executive search and senior recruiter at Van Elburg Notte Global Executive Tech Search in Amsterdam. Knowing your job candidate increases the chance of a successful hire.

Jannike Huisman is with Intelligence Group, a Rotterdam, Netherlands-based international data and technology company in the field of labor market and recruitment data. The firm focuses on collecting, storing and enriching labor-market-related data to improve employee recruitment and increase international mobility.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Member Benefit: Global HR Resources

SHRM's Knowledge Center has compiled a wide variety of employment law resources for over 40 countries.

SHRM's Knowledge Center has compiled a wide variety of employment law resources for over 40 countries.

View the Global Express Requests


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.