Searching for talent abroad: A key challenge for SMEs

Identifying the right talent abroad is one of the most significant hurdles SMEs face on their way to international growth. Very different success factors are at work in each market. One of the most recent SME surveys from Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) and the experts at BRAINFORCE® demonstrate this.
Germany, USA, China: How do the SMEs find the right employees on the market?
Agreement during the job interview

Establishing subsidiaries is an increasingly important step in the internationalization of SMEs. Over 40% of the SMEs surveyed already employ staff abroad, and a quarter of them are planning on hiring new people in the next 18 months.

Finding good employees: The key to international growth

“The strong franc and the shift of global consumption to Asia are compelling SMEs to internationalize more intensely and broadly,” explains Alberto Silini, Head of Consultancy at Switzerland Global Enterprise. “Establishing a branch abroad with one’s own staff is a critical step in that process because more growth can often be achieved only through increased proximity to the customer, especially in distant markets.” Over 40% of the staff of the SMEs surveyed are employed in sales, marketing, or customer service, which means they are interacting with the market more intensively than they could with a distribution partner in many cases.

For three quarters of the SMEs, the biggest challenge in this process is identifying good staff. “In most cases, an SME that is still new on the market and little known does not have the reputation and attractiveness necessary to recruit an experienced local manager – who is needed in order to set up and structure a branch,” says Martin Schneider, CEO and owner of BRAINFORCE AG. “One option for overcoming this hurdle is employing an interim manger. By doing so, companies can avoid the learning curve in the target market, which is usually very expensive.”

Advice for the talent search in Germany, the USA, and China

Generally, companies should prepare themselves thoroughly when founding a subsidiary and looking for staff. Very different legal and cultural conditions must be taken into account during the talent search and recruiting process in the most important target markets for SMEs: Germany, the USA, and China. “While personal recommendations for a new staff member can often be quite helpful in Germany, for instance, references must be checked critically in each case in the USA. In China, on the other hand, such recommendations for a candidate must be evaluated very carefully,” says Schneider.

About the publication

The publication “Talentsuche im Ausland: Hürden und Lösungen für KMU” [Searching for talent abroad: Challenges and solutions for SMEs] describes the most important steps and provides advice for recruiting in all three markets. The data is based on a survey of 120 SMEs from the sectors pharmaceuticals/chemicals, mechanical engineering, consumer goods, paper, electronics, the metal industry, the precision industry, and the service industry. The survey was carried out in August and September of 2016. 71 of the companies come from German-speaking Switzerland, 49 are from Western Switzerland. 80 of the participants have fewer than 50 employees, 36 of them have up to 250 employees, and 4 have even more.

About Brainforce®

BRAINFORCE® – founded in 1979 as a pioneer in temporary management in Zurich and a hallmark for interim management solutions – can prove its success like no other interim management service provider in German-speaking Europe. Quality and sustainability are its most important business principles. As a company group, BRAINFORCE® distinguishes itself from other providers in the field of interim management and expert solutions thanks to its more than 37 years of experience and internationality. BRAINFORCE® has the following ten locations worldwide: Zurich (headquarters), Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Tallinn, Moscow, Johannesburg, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. It also manages an international pool with over 5,000 selected managers for interim management and project management tasks. For further information, please refer to



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