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While European jobs normally require a number of tools, the criteria by which they are judged differ. Students and business people interested in gaining international experience, as well as multinationals and executives who must recruit Europeans need to know these differences.
Throughout Europe, recruitment tools appear astonishingly similar. Despite the various application forms, the different ways in which selection interviews are conducted and the uses made of certain tests, what emerges is the attachment of these tools to the national cultures from which they issue (Tixier, 1994). It is the variety of these instruments and their use which this article intends to address.
Let us state also that, although differences other than nationality affect the way in which resumes and letters of application are written, this article presents a cross-national comparison only.
The methodology of the investigation
To study recruitment tools in Western Europe, two recent research visits at a two-year interval in the early 1990s to the 14 countries under consideration were necessary (Tixier, 1992). These countries included the countries of the Economic Union (other than France), Switzerland, Sweden and Austria. For each country 25 interviews were conducted; and five were conducted in France. The individuals interviewed were mainly the managers of large headhunting networks and recruitment agencies, and the human resources directors of large groups. To these main populations a few others had to be added: the general managers of French subsidiaries in Europe and of European subsidiaries in France. The services of embassies and the directors of MBA programmes also were solicited.
The interviews, which were qualitative and at first unstructured, became more and more structured when it became necessary to integrate the data sought in each of the countries. We were able either to consult or to obtain 100 job applications in each country, which allowed us to clarify information obtained orally from the specialists. Finally numerous works and documents written in the languages of the countries involved and intended to improve the prospects of those seeking managerial employment were consulted.
The main difficulty encountered was in obtaining a reflection of current practices rather than the proven methods that a recruiter should adopt. The diversity of individuals interviewed allowed us to cover the recruitment tools used for both inexperienced and experienced, managers.
Among the latter, recruitment tools for senior executives (via direct approach) and lower echelon managers (newspaper advertisements) were covered. The quality of individuals interviewed helped us to define also the cultural variants of recruitment in each country well.
The employment application form, the selection interview as well as tests and graphology will be covered successively across Europe as they are the three main tools used by European recruiters.
The employment application form in Europe
The alternative to the CV in those countries where it is not the norm or an obligation is the employment application form. It is widespread in Ireland and in Great Britain, where 93 per cent of the companies use it while it is more rare in Denmark and Sweden. In other countries, like Germany, its use is not systematic, but these forms frequently are filled out by job seekers in Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria and Greece.
These employment applications often are more widespread in certain sectors than in others (for example in the banks in Luxembourg or the State sector in Sweden), or are reserved for young university graduates or middle managers, as in Italy. The application forms have various names depending on whether they come from a company, a university, or a recruitment agency.
In England, for example, there is the "standard application form" (SAF) which students use in about half the cases and which they obtain at the careers and appointments services of their universities. In the other half of the cases, the company prefers the applicant to use its own version of the employment application or the "employer's application form" (EAF). The "standard introduction form" (SIF) is the version most commonly used by Irish recruiters (Shackleton and Newell, 1991). In certain countries, like Belgium, the employment application is often in English. With rare exceptions (Austria, Belgium) the applicant's photo appears on the application where it is also the norm to put it on a CV.
In certain countries, like Sweden, companies using employment application forms do not ask the applicant any open questions, and the applications are only simple administrative files. The reason is that open questions are considered best suited to face-to-face encounters, for example the interview.
In fact, it is forbidden in Sweden to retain certain qualitative information about an individual, even if he has given his permission (for example, questions about alcoholism, sexuality, etc.). It is illegal to store any evaluation about an individual in any form. Any person can consult, at any moment, what has been written about him. This information is in the public domain …