Recruiting US talent as a UK business: key considerations

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Access to talent is one of the key challenges facing any business, but it is particularly important when looking to grow in a new market. Brett Pentz recently spoke to CEO Today about the key considerations to bear in mind when it comes to hiring if you are looking to expand into the US:

Location, location, location 

Finding great people is important and should be a key contributing factor for choosing where to set up shop when expanding into the US. There is no set rule for this, and it will vary greatly depending on the sector. A location with several top universities, like Washington DC, can ease the process of finding potential recruits, and tech centres such as Phoenix can be an ideal location for businesses looking to hire software engineers, for example.  

While there will of course be many factors that dictate where you want to open a US office, such as customer locations and transport links, many businesses will find access to talent to be the key decider. For example, when ECI portfolio company MiQ first expanded into the US, their expansion strategy was employee-led, basing location decisions around top talent they could recruit from competitors.  

A roadmap for growth 

Wherever you are located in the US, it is important to develop a staffing plan for your new office or offices, considering how many people you will need to hire, in what roles and functions, and what the roadmap looks like over time. It may be that you have the appropriate individuals or teams already, particularly if you expanded through an acquisition; regardless, it is important to agree  on what the future hiring picture looks like as this will help you prioritise what support may be needed to realise the plan. 

Aligning hires to values 

As your business grows, so does the importance that culture plays in its ongoing success. To get the culture right, it’s important that the people you hire reflect your values and allow for a continuity of culture across different markets. 

For some, this might mean relocating an existing member of your team so that hiring policies and training are put in place by someone who is already embedded in the culture. When MiQ began its expansion into the US, Co-Founder Gurman Hundal took this upon himself and moved over from the UK for four years, so that he could hire and train people the MiQ way.

A local person with no prior experience of the business will have an uphill struggle creating a culture that they’ve never experienced, and there is a risk of creating a sub-office that feels disconnected from the rest of the business.

Moneypenny, another ECI portfolio company, tries to integrate its culture through regular rotations of staff in both directions across the Atlantic. As well as taking UK talent state-wide, it also places US talent back in the UK, bringing the two cultures together and focusing everyone, regardless of their market, on the same initiatives and goals.  

It is important for businesses to recognise that the US consists of culturally different states and regions, which should all be treated as a separate market in their own right. Failing to understand a local culture can harm your ability to grow. For example, sales techniques in the highly competitive New York market may be very different to the Midwest. 

UK v US talent 

At a more tactical level, there are key differences between hiring in the US and UK, including salaries and job titles, which businesses will need to consider. Expectations around pay and benefits in the US are frequently higher than in UK counterparts. Indeed, hiring sales talent is an important step to raise a business’ profile in the US as part of its expansion, but there is a large delta between expectations over salary and benefits in the US vs the UK. The same is true in specialised tech talent areas like data science.

You also see this in certain sectors, as certainly there will be a large gap in salary expectations in the professional services sectors between the US and the UK. Companies will need to review local markets to understand competitive salary, rather than contrast with their home market, or risk being out of kilter. With the Great Resignation ongoing in the US, salary expectations are only increasing, so companies will need to get their heads around the need to invest if they want to both attract and retain the best employees.  

It’s also important to think about the benefits packages a US employee might look for, as this will likely differ from the UK. For example, with no equivalent to the NHS, paid healthcare is something most candidates have come to expect, but others may include pension or 401(k) contributions and other financial benefits like loan or child care assistance, mental health coverage and other wellness benefits.

Outside of salary and benefits, there are other key considerations. Job titles, while a seemingly small matter, differ quite widely between the UK and the US. It’s important to understand the equivalent title or level in the US – e.g. ‘Director’ is a very senior level in the UK, but is considered more junior in the US. In the US ‘Vice President’, for example, might be a more appropriate fit.

Hiring to build a future 

When hiring new personnel, it’s crucial to think about the longevity of your new offices and hiring people that will help build your company’s future. MiQ, for example, was committed to developing its junior talent as well as taking on more senior positions. The business was also more aggressive on variable compensation, bringing people on board to be part of and lead the MiQ story in the US by promoting from within as well as bringing people over from the UK. This combination ultimately worked well to create an autonomous leadership team.

The US is a very competitive market for talent and recruitment can be a challenge. For your business to succeed internationally, you must take the time and invest in the right people, who you can trust to lead your overseas operations.

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About the author

Brett Pentz

I joined ECI in 2020 as a Growth Specialist focussed on North America, opening ECI’s New York office. It means I start my mornings working through emails from my ECI and portfolio company colleagues as they are just starting their afternoons. My role entails helping our portfolio companies with their M&A and business growth ambitions […]

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