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Expat Spouses Initiative: ESI Live networking ‘turned traditional recruitment upside down’

(Editor’s note: This post will be updated with information about outcomes from yesterday’s recruitment event.)

Eindhoven’s effort to turn “trailing spouses” into leading talent advanced Tuesday with a new event.

ESI Live put 17 expat spouses representing 11 nationalities – Belgians, Indians, an American, and a Sri Lankan – in front of 12 employers at IGLUU co-working space in Eindhoven.

Former expat exec Guus Frericks from HghTechXL warms up the crowd.

Former expat exec Guus Frericks, founder and CEO of the HighTechXL hardware accelerator, warms up the crowd as the candidates look on.

The event, sponsored by professional services giant EY, was to match talent from Eindhoven’s huge international expat community with companies with talent gaps such as RaboBank and Philips.

Expat Spouses Initiative organized the event meant to “turn traditional recruitment upside down.” That is, instead of companies setting up booths to lure jobseekers, ESI Live put career candidates on stage during a three-hour event that included drinks, company/candidate speed dating and networking. Each of the candidates took the stage for a 3-minute pitch outlining their skills, experience and interests.

ESI Live was the group’s first formal talent event and included a startup-style pitching session during which jobs seekers pitched their skills and experience to potential employers.

Career candidates included a high-tech engineer, an investment analyst, a process/project manager and an executive assistant. All are multi-lingual.

Most people associate “spouse” with wives of corporate recruits, but one of the more surprising elements yesterday was the balance between male and female participants. Though women were in the majority, there were five male spouses/candidates.

Kavitha Varathan, left, and Anne Yanni, founders of the Expat Spouses Initiative in Eindhoven.

Kavitha Varathan, left, and Anne Yianni, founders of the Expat Spouses Initiative in Eindhoven.

On the employer side, finding the right match is a lot like finding the right match in romance. Mr. or Miss Right doesn’t always turn out to fit the conventional profile, and sometimes the chemistry is just right. That magical chemistry with just the right person was exactly what Heide van Borneveld was hoping to find yesterday. Van Borneveld didn’t know exactly who she was looking for, but she also knew you never know if it’s a match until you get to know someone.

“For us, it doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s where you want to be.”

Van Barneveld was at the event as an executive for BrandLoyalty, a ‘s-Hertogenbosch-based company that handles loyalty campaigns for some of the largest retailers in the Netherlands including the Albert Heijn supermarket chain. She was looking specifically for a native Magyar (Hungarian) speaker for BrandLoyalty’s Budapest operation, said Van Barneveld, who said she’s worked in HR for 16 years.

But as she waited for more pitches, van Barneveld also was on the lookout for other native speakers for marketing and sales to work with clients in the 50 countries where the company has operations.

Her company judges people by what motivates them, then gives them a work environment with the latitude to “create their own futures,” she said. Self-motivated entrepreneurial employees who don’t need someone “looking over their shoulders, telling them what to do” do best.

On the candidate side, Carla, a tall, self-assured Belgian woman with experience as an executive assistant in recruitment, management and events producer, seemed a possible match. “Admit it,” Carla said in her stage pitch. “You are a leader in a dire need of a project manager!”

She added an employer will be “mesmerized how I respond to changing conditions, changing flights … and I can liaise in four languages!”

ESI-logo-e1442475811390-300x129There was Monalisha, a process and project management expert from India; Nandika, the financial analyst and investment advisor from Sri Lanka;

Laurent, an engineer from Belgium looking for a fast-paced environment “at the forefront of tech” and others.

Founded in 2014 by Kavitha Varathan and Anne Yianni, ESI helps fellow expat spouses resume their careers while solving one of multinationals’ biggest problems … overseas assignments that end early because of unhappy spouses.

ESI is taking advantage of Eindhoven’s good fortune of having a concentration of super-sophisticated tech companies, companies that have brought at least 9,000 talented expats to town. The only problem is, those engineers or physicists working at high-tech companies here have also brought 9,000 spouses who have in many cases parked their own careers. Yianni and Varathan founded ESI to help spouses repair the gaps in their CVs, and the group already has more than 700 members.

Varathan and Yianni quickly realized ESI’s potential to work with recruiters looking for exceptional talent, and ESI has already placed dozens of people in new careers.

There was a certain irony in that the event was held in a former Philips lightbulb factory where the electronics giant grew in the 1930s by recruiting women from rural Netherlands to make lightbulbs.

In the keynote address, Guus Frericks, founder and CEO of HighTechXL hardware accelerator at High Tech Campus, noted the 21st century Netherlands, with its mega-high-tech sector, is facing a talent shortage. Holland has a particular need to integrate highly skilled spouses and other expats as not enough people enter the Dutch workforce to replace retirees.

If Eindhoven is going to create a fertile business network for new companies, “we need to make sure we can offer dual career possibilities,” said Frericks, who leads Eindhoven’s signature startup and innovation effort.

Frericks, whose own expat engineering and management career includes assignments to Austria and France, noted even he wasn’t aware there were 9,000 highly skilled internationals in Eindhoven until ESI came together.

Such a diverse workforce will be key to Eindhoven’s success as a high-tech center, Frericks said. “Research has shown diverse teams have a 70-percent better chance of success. Go to Silicon Valley and you see teams mixed by gender and nationalities.

“It’s a big melting pot.”

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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