Sackett's Guide to International HR

Tim Sackett - Going Global, Baby

I traveled to Canada last week to speak at the Achievers user conference – so, basically, I now have International HR experience and I wanted to share it with the FOT nation! (BTW – side note – HR vendor user conferences might be the best kept secret in HR conference action!  You get some great Trench HR pros speaking, folks you haven't seen before, sprinkled in with Dancing Monkey's like myself – much better than a lot of the state SHRM conferences – and better food!  It's a different crowd for sure and great energy – Achievers does the user conference thing correct.)   Ok, International HR.

Before traveling to Canada last week, my International HR experience consisted of traveling to California!  Let's face it – American HR Pros – California is a country upon itself in HR – it's worse than working International HR – the State of California has to be the worse state in the U.S. to practice HR in – but it's sunny, so companies still go there for really that reason only – because in terms of people practices it's a nightmare.

So, here's what I learned about International HR:

1. HR in another country, is not HR in the United States!  Brilliant right!?!?  I was told this a couple of times – apparently when you speak about HR “internationally” people like to point this out when you give them examples from an American HR perspective,  that's now how it is everywhere!  Thanks for the tip – an all along I thought HR was the same everywhere… This is an international “we th

ink all Americans are idiots” bias coming out – I would have given “international” examples but you kept telling me California is an American state!

2. Other countries, outside of the U.S., don't fire people because they are black, or female, or Jewish.   Apparently other countries don't discriminate, only the United States. Not sure how International HR got rid of discrimination, but I sure hope they would share with the United States!  Again, from feedback I received after my little talk.  I was told other countries “value differences and other cultures” – which really means “we don't think you Americans give a crap about anyone except yourselves” – probably, mostly right. USA! USA! USA!

3. You can drop an “F-Bomb” 11 times in a 1 hour HR conversation in Canada and they feel like you were holding back.  American HR is uptight, we all know that.  Just take a look at the presentation titles for SHRM National – it's Vanilla city.  Other countries – Canada, European countries, Scandinavian countries, Australia, New Zealand, etc. – are not as uptight – by a factor of like 3 Million, as compared.  They know they are valuable and they aren't trying over-act the professionalism aspect.  It makes for much more dynamic conversation.  I have a feeling I would fit into an HR role much better overseas! (preferably somewhere warm on sky blue water and sandy beaches – just in case someone is in need!)

American HR Pros – what has been your experience with International HR? Hit me in the comments…


FOT Background Check

Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. Modd Man says:

    In Italy – there is no Equal Pay Act of 1963. Basically, the way compensation works over there is the older you are the more you are paid. Period.

    (Drops mic, grabs balls, walks off stage)

  2. Ed Baldwin says:

    For me being successful at International HR is more about having two key skills and the ability to overcome one overwhelming and often true American stereotype.

    First, the key two skills: (1) Move your HR knowledge needle from ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘consciously incompetent’. That means learning quickly what you don’t know. Being inquisitive, asking lots of questions and listening more than you talk are important here – which as Americans is sometimes hard to do. (2) Be resourceful. Once you’ve figured out what you don’t know then find and cultivate relationships with resources inside and outside the organization that can help you answer those global questions you can’t personally. And finally, the stereotype to overcome: When an American goes to any other country of the world preaching that “we are going to work collaboratively to globalize our business model”, that translates for all non-Americans to “uh-oh, we all are going to have to do it the American way”. As Americans engaged globally we have to recognize our insanely American stereotypical approach to business – it’s all about us, our business and more specifically profits. Our mindset is more capitalistic than any other in the world. What more is there, right? And we are the “bull in the china shop” culturally which means we assume that America is the rule when in fact, more often we are the exception.

    Good stuff Tim. Love you raising important topics like this for your readership.

  3. Sandrine says:

    Thanks for this tongue-in-cheek post Tim !

    I love working in international HR, have been doing it for most of my career, in Paris, Rome, Dubai, Milan, London, Turin and more… The beauty of it : even after years doing international HR, you still learn something new.

    Sandrine (yes, I’m French…)

    PS : if you are really looking for sky blue water and sandy beaches – why not join me in Abu Dhabi ;-) ?

  4. Fun post to read Tim. This line really resonated with me: “They know they are valuable and they aren’t trying over-act the professionalism aspect.” I think so many HR folks in the US suffer from insecurity, rather than assert themselves proudly and calmly in the conversation.

  5. Jim says:

    This is the third company that I’ve done international work for, and so I’ll add my two cents.

    Although discrimination may not be overt it is equally prevalent at the very least abroad. In some circles, southern Europeans, and eastern europeans are treated with much less respect and dignity. Immigrants are treated often worse, particularly those from north africa.

    In Asia there is a great deal of tension between countries and sometimes inside of countries. Skin tone can also play a role in discrimination in Asia, including India.

    It’s definately out there, the US doesn’t own horrible behavior.

  6. TM says:

    100% agree with Jim. I was thinking the same thing…as someone who may not be in International HR but has traveled to Europe…minorities (especially with darker skin) are not in any way shape or form treated the same as native Europeans.

  7. Rachael says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the post and greetings from Singapore. Wow! Really? No discrimination and lot’s of swearing??? Maybe I should pack up and move to the US! :) Given that my New Year’s resolution is to remove all nasty words from my professional language I am definitely in the wrong place!

    Unfortunately it’s like culture isn’t it? We don’t understand you (apparently) and you don’t understand us (apparently). The fact that the differences make up about 2.5% of what should be a commons sense conversation isn’t an issue.

    I feel it is a matter of all of us getting out of the way of our own egos, listening a little more and focusing on the commonalities rather than the differences. However, given that we don’t discriminate what would I know??? :) :)

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