The World Is Full of Unicorns, But You’ll Want to Hire a Guide For the Hunt

Aug 29, 2018

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. We’re reposting each of the top 30 articles through January 2nd. This is No. 2 of the 800 articles posted in 2018. You can find the complete list here.


Has your HR director ever called someone in the evening, telling them to f-off?

I own DistantJob, a unique kind of recruitment agency. We work with companies that are having trouble finding people with the set of skills they need. We solve the problem by using our international team of headhunters to find those people outside North America. Once we do, we set them up to work remotely.

After getting good results with small and medium companies and started approaching larger corporations. That’s when we met resistance from the people we thought would be our greatest allies: HR!

We were having good conversations with the decision-makers in one such company. Then, one day, out of the blue, my colleague in charge of the account got a call at 8 pm that was the stuff of a bad breakup. The person on the other side was offensive, pissed off, and all but implying we were trying to make her job redundant. She was the HR director. I don’t know why she hadn’t been involved in the conversation sooner, but boy did we feel bad.

Here’s the thing: We never felt like our business model was stepping on HR’s toes. If anything, we saw our service as one that could make HR’s life easier. We could help the department cut expenses, cut red tape, and improve employee health and diversity. Sounds too good to be true? Let me make the case about why recruitment companies are not HR’s enemies.

How can you compete?

Sometimes, your company needs to find a unicorn. In some industries it can be brutal to locate the person with the right mix of skills and experience, within the budget. I was once involved in talks with a client who had open technical positions for over six months. Six months! We’re not talking about paper-pushers, here. We are talking about projects being delayed, costing the company money month on month.

The root of the problem is that tech hiring obeys the Pareto principle. The companies in the upper 20% of the market have the monopoly on 80% of the talent. They’ll take someone who could make a real difference in your company’s projects, and offer them a colossal amount of money to sit there and come up with a physics engine to make the peaches on the trees of the new PlayStation game sway in the wind with marginally higher accuracy.

Simply put: There are not enough qualified IT people in the US and Canada, and you can’t afford them! So then upper management comes knocking at your door asking, “What gives? We’re bleeding money!” and you shrug and say, “Unicorns don’t exist.”

Where unicorns roam

Unicorns do exist. They roam in that magical land across the ocean: Europe. Well, you can find some in South America, too, if you look hard enough. Every Western country (and most of the countries in Eastern Europe, for that matter) has doubled down on education over the past couple generations. They are producing top-tier experts in most technical fields. But when it comes to incentivizing and incubating businesses, these countries still lag behind North America. The result? Great people are underpaid and undervalued.

Of course, you can’t round these people up and dropship them into the US. Hiring people from outside the country was never the easiest process. Today, hiring international workers is a particular kind of hell that any sane HR team wouldn’t dream of touching with a 10-foot pole.

That’s where adopting remote work comes into the picture. Not every technical role can be performed remotely, but many can. It’s up for debate whether the Internet has any borders or not, but for the moment, the exchange of services remains unhindered. Your company can employ a person in Romania, and she will be working from her home there just as she would if she were in a cubicle next door. No need to go through the whole trouble of getting a visa approved.

A sniper approach

So is that it? Should you close your offices and have every employee work from a quaint village in rural France just because this one weird guy said so in an article? Well, YES! Yes, you should. OK, I can see you’re not on board with this yet, so let me show you a more realistic use-case scenario.

Remote recruitment is best used as a sniper approach to hiring. You aren’t going to hire all your employees like this. It doesn’t make sense! You already have your recruitment processes, and they work well. It’s only on the rare occasion you need to bring in a remote worker recruitment firm. Targeted global recruitment will find the person you need and set them up to work from home. They will do so following your HR processes and responding directly to your management.

Remote workers have fewer issues

Remote recruitment companies aren’t here to mess up your HR process. Instead, they are one more tool in your arsenal: A tool to deploy when the company is bleeding money from unfilled positions. There are other advantages. Remote recruitment can make your department’s life easier in many different aspects.

  • Fewer concerns about health and safety — People who work from home report less mental health issues, and suffer no workplace accidents. Lack of a commute leads to less stress. Microaggressions are much less likely to happen over video or voice-chat than in person.
  • A remote workplace is also a cleaner workplace.
  • Reduction in workplace bias — As suggested in this TLNT article, blinding yourself to elements that relate to gender or ethnicity results in less biased hiring. A similar kind of magic happens through remote work. You’ll still know the gender and ethnicity of the person you’re dealing with through video, voice or text chat. But the distancing effect of digital communication flattens your reaction to these factors.
  • Fewer harassment concerns — While it’s true that some people don’t even know how to behave themselves online, Slack and Skype are not conducive to the kind of misbehavior that ends up with a #MeToo hashtag.
  • Diversity benefits — If having a fair gender and race split in your company is something that concerns you, what could be better than an easy way to get people from other countries? And when it comes to women returning to the workforce after giving birth, there’s ample evidence that remote work is one of the better ways to help new mothers find the adequate work-life balance.
  • Improved retention — I don’t need to tell you the amount of pain you’d avoid if people started quitting less. Guess what? Many employees – especially millennials – rate remote work as one of the prime reasons that leads them to stay at the job. According to a survey done in 2016 by Deloitte, being able to work remotely was one of the top three qualifications for millennial workers (11.0%). It was topped only by work-life balance (by 16.8%) and opportunity to progress (at 13.4%). Besides the benefit of working from home, your remote employees are getting paid better than they would in the countries where they live. It’s easy to understand why remote workers want to stay.

How to pick a good partner

I make no secret about the fact that my business is in remote recruitment. But, I want you to take all I’ve written thus far at face value. I don’t want you to think that I’m here peddling my wares and what you’ve read thus far is little more than an infomercial script. So I’m going to drop some directions that you can use to do your research when you’re ready to hire an agency to help you hire remote workers.

Specialization is a good sign

A recruitment agency that scans job boards and then dumps a spreadsheet of CVs on your lap is not ideal. Agencies that go very broad tend not to go deep. This means that you will get many candidates that meet your requirements, but may not be a cultural fit, or vice-versa. Now and then you’ll get a scrub wasting your time.

An excellent remote recruitment agency will specialize in one or two specific industries. In my case, we started out only handling tech and IT. We did this because I had the background to build a team of recruiters that were techies themselves.

If you want good results, find a specialist in the industry you need to hire from.

Pros integrate with your processes

If you have an internal process for testing, interviewing and hiring, a good recruiter should be able to run with it. Remote hiring is a different beast, so a professional recruitment team will help you fill in the gaps and adapt, without shoving their process down your throat. You already know what works for you — so the recruitment agency’s job is to make it work remotely.

Security concerns should be addressed early

If your company has intellectual property to safeguard – and most do, in one form or another – then you need the people you work with vetted for security.

A good recruitment company should make this a front-and-center concern from the moment you mention it. They should not limit themselves to running background checks on individuals, but also make sure the candidates use secure connections and equipment.

Contracts and payroll

The one place where a remote recruitment agency can’t follow your lead is in contracts and payment. Every country has its own contractual does and don’ts. European countries can be especially quirky when it comes to taxes and bank transfers.

It’s easy for you to look at all this as a massive amount of overhead for your HR department and give up on remote hiring altogether. You’d be right. The resources and time you would commit to figuring out the proper legalese to hire, let’s say, a genius data-scientist from Poland would be very taxing for your team.

The modern remote recruitment company will handle all this for you, acting as a legal proxy for your overseas employee. You’ll have one standard contract – with modifications as per your processes, of course – and you pay the recruitment firm a flat fee every month. The firm will make sure to send payment to the employee.

Also, if alarm bells started to ring as soon as you read “flat monthly fee,” worry not. Even for those who follow this process, remote employment results in considerable savings. North-American unicorns are expensive!

Now what?

So there you have it. This has been my attempt to dispel any myths about remote recruitment, and about the agencies that can help you with it. If you have any questions about any of this, the best way to reach me is by tweeting @distantjob – but I’ll make an effort to be aware of the comments below.

Live long, and prosper!

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