Increase the diversity in your startup

Cora Graßhoff, HR at Munich-based travel startup Holidu with employees from 40+ countries, about how to recruit for success

In Germany, tech startups are almost always reliant on employees from abroad, as there is still a huge lack of experts here. We at Holidu specialise on holiday home rentals, we have expanded internationally and launched domains in several additional countries. Therefore it was our goal to hire appropriate native speakers with local expertise from the regions. 

Holidu is a startup, founded in 2014, which built up a worldwide search engine for vacation rentals. As a comparison site, we scan millions of vacation rentals from different booking platforms.

Today, 156 out of our 225 employees in total we’ve hired from outside Germany. Even the first-ever employee after we were just getting started at Holidu did not come from Germany, but from Pakistan. 

We see the advantage of diversity above all in learning from each other - both personally and professionally. Diverse teams are usually more creative and innovative than teams with similar backgrounds and discussions as well as brainstorming sessions are so much more exciting,

Here’s something every employer in Germany has to consider: 231.000 expats are currently living and working in Germany. 64 percent of them were concerned about the language barrier before moving to Germany, according to a study by the world’s largest global expat network, InterNations.

So if you want to recruit international talent you have to acknowledge and address that - and other - concerns. Here are some best practices that we’ve found useful to get more internationality and diversity for your team:  

Be visible, digitally and in real life  

First of all, in order to catch people’s attention (as their potential future employer), you have to promote your company’s idea and your visibility on international employer portals, such as LinkedIn, Indeed, angel.co as well as international university job boards. Additionally, use your social media channels to introduce yourself, your team and your specific corporate culture. The more insights you give, the easier it will be to imagine working with you from the distance.

I also recommend you to attend international career events and present your ideas there. This creates another level of visibility and enables potential employees to get a more lively picture of the company and future colleagues. 

Facilitate onboarding

The second step is to establish a personal relationship with the applicant from the start and to set up and automate internal processes to make recruiting and onboarding efficient and easy. Offer concrete support - from visa applications to finding accommodation. 

The bureaucratic effort to recruit employees, especially from countries outside the EU, is very high for both sides. For very complicated visa applications, it’s often easier to work with an external agency that supports employees. In case of long waiting times for visas, especially during the corona crisis, it is very important to keep in touch with the applicant. In addition, the HR team should help with the registration of health insurance for foreign employees in Germany. 

Overcome possible language and cultural barriers

As soon as the international employees join the team, it’s important to overcome barriers such as a new, complicated language (like German) or a new (work) culture. Our approach to that is our “buddy program”. We provide every new colleague with a personal contact, who he can turn to with questions or difficulties. Communication via tools like Slack can help as well. At Holidu, for example, we have established a channel called “What’s up in Munich?” with personal tips from our team, from restaurants and excursions to events.

In addition to that, we have been offering internal teaching classes to learn German in the office at various levels. Nevertheless, if you want employees from all over the world to feel at home in your startup, you should focus on living English as a corporate language. 

In order to give the people who just moved to Munich a first point of contact, we offered for a certain period our “Holidu flatshare”. Up to four employees can live there for up to six months.

Approach every single employee 

Last but not least, it is very important to make your new foreign employees feel welcome. Organize regular team events – also special take-off events for “newbies” - , offer individual development opportunities and intercultural training. Furthermore, you could carry out personal check-ins and team surveys on employee satisfaction to get feedback.