Talent Acquisition

The Headhunter’s Guide to National Stereotypes

So, I was asked to share some of the stories from my 2 years as a headhunter, which got me thinking about all the crazy people I encountered in that time. My market was international telecoms, so I have, at some point, attempted to sell to, or recruit, different people from pretty much every continent on the planet. The lasting legacy of this global telesales tour has been a collection of memories of my customers, their CVs (or resumes), and their national stereotypes. I could write a whole new note on some of the hilarious names I have seen, but call me a stickler for data protection as I draw the line at publicising people’s personal data on the internet. Of course that won’t stop me from making sweeping generalisations about their country’s culture.


Memorable People

One of the main pitfalls of recruitment is that you are never off duty. Hence, on one cold Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the office listening to the most excruciating conference call of my life. I was there to preside over an interview between a west African engineer and a Chinese manager, neither of whom had even a basic grasp of the English language. This is how it started – and no I am not making this up!

Engineer: “Hello!”

Manager: “Tell me how you do job”

Engineer: “Helloooo!”

Manager: “Tell me how you do job”

Engineer: “Helloooooo!

Manager: “No. I ask question. You give answer”

It went downhill from there and lasted 25 minutes. Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

Next up, the woman who called me and introduced herself as a post-op transexual whose last job was developing software for Iranian missile systems. I’ll just let that one sink in slowly.

Memorable CVs

I once opened up a CV from a guy who had responded to one of my adverts for a vacancy in some far flung place on the other side of the universe – Wales, I think. He had inserted a picture of himself at the top and this bloke was the meanest, biggest, toughest looking badass I had ever seen. Hands as big as my head and bling everywhere. I was getting nervous about calling this dude. Then I saw the accompanying email he sent as a cover letter, which simply read:

Please see attached for my CV

Hugs 🙂

Most memorable CVs stand out because they are so wildly different from every other, so why do I so vividly remember the application of a project administrator whose profile was totally ordinary and very similar to the 100 CVs I had seen before hers? The answer lies in her ‘hobbies’. There was: reading (normal), seeing friends (normal), going for long walks (normal) followed by….

I am currently building a robot.


Finally, spare a thought for the South American telecoms engineer who built telephone masts and towers for a living and had to write his CV in English even though he barely spoke the language. He decided the best way around this problem was to use as few words as possible to avoid showing himself up. Unfortunately no-one explained the concept of sexual innuendo when he listed his key skills as: “erection, installation, and acceptance”. Good for him!

National Stereotypes

The bit you’ve all blatantly been waiting for. I am not kidding with this by the way. These are all alarmingly accurate – provided you’re a man and a telecoms engineer. Otherwise it’s probably a steaming pile of bullsh*t:

  • English: Straightforward and to the point, but only interested in what you can do for them. An Englishman will tell you what he wants to do, where he wants to work, and how much money he expects to earn. Just don’t expect him to win any awards for motivational speaking.
  • German: Efficient, thorough, and terrified of change. If you can find one who doesn’t insist on being given three months to leave their old job and another three months to negotiate their salary and benefits package at their new job, then you might just be on to a winner.
  • French: OMG! They just love being French. An admirable quality if you respect the pride a people take in their nation. A right pain in the arse if you’re trying to get them to move abroad for that deal you’re banking on to pay off your student loan. Those damn Frenchmen, refusing to come over here and not taking our jobs (wait, what?)
  • Spanish: High-maintenance, but friendly and trustworthy. If only it didn’t take them 2 weeks to decide what clothes to put on in the morning, they would be my favourites. After all, they could be worse. They could be…
  • Italian: Selling to an Italian is like a doomed love affair. First, they tell you exactly what you want to hear: “I luv-a this-a job-a! I would-a start-a tomorrow if I could-a!”. So, you get them an interview and they charm your client just as they charmed you.Suddenly, they start taking longer to respond to your voice-messages and emails, but it doesn’t matter because they’ve just been offered the job, so what could possibly go wrong? Then, comes the phone call: “I am-a so-a sorry-a, but-a I can’t-a leave-a Italy-a. I must stay-a home-a with my family-a”. Finally comes the line we’ve all heard before: “It’s-a not-a you-a. It’s- a me-a.” (pull the other one Giuseppe). Only after losing out on FIVE deals, did I learn my most valuable life lesson: the only thing more difficult than working out what women want, is working out what Italians want.
  • Greek: The ultimate power players. If they know you need them more than they need you, they will milk it for all it’s worth. They are under some strange illusions about how the industry works though like the guy who tried to bribe me when I told him is application had been rejected. I politely explained to him that he could offer me the world, but that still wouldn’t change the fact he didn’t speak German.
  • Romanian: Ideal candidates because they will go anywhere. If they had their own TV show, it would be called “I’m a Romanian. Get me out of here!”
  • Russian: I swear their phones must be bugged 24/7 because talking to these guys is like being a character in a Tom Clancy novel. The only way around it is if you happen to have a Russian colleague who can calmly explain to them in their own language that the English dude with a ridiculously posh accent is not James Bond and does not secretly want to kill him, which reminds me: ‘Thank you for that, Anastasia’.

Countries you can count on:

  • Netherlands: The most laid back people in the world.
  • Brazil: Like Italians, but can actually be trusted.
  • New Zealand: I am yet to meet a New Zealander who I did not instantly like.
  • Philippines: The hardest-working people in the world. You can call them up at 3am and they will take your call – really they will; I tried it.

There ends this post. I hope you have had as much fun as I have and I look forward to reading your stories next.

Hugs 🙂

By Tony Koutsoumbos

Tony Koutsoumbos is a public speaker, campaigner, and entrepreneur who runs a communications consultancy named CLDS Debate Training Ltd. He previously worked for two years in IT and telecoms recruitment and kept a journal of his most interesting encounters and the lessons he learned from them.