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Global talent hunt: where pay matters most

If you can’t pay your people enough (a problem for a lot of bosses these days), how do you get the best talent to come and work at your company? I posed the question to Citigroup chairman Dick Parsons last week. He had a fascinating answer: Appeal to “patriotic duty,” he suggested.

Of course, only a few basketcase “too big to fail” corporations — Citi, General Motors , AIG — can dream of employing the patriotic proposition. The rest of the penny-pinching corporate world must use other bait. And for anyone hunting talent globally, it helps to know that even in a flattening world, geographical and cultural differences abound.

This is what Egon Zehnder International, the search firm, found recently when it conducted an online questionnaire of 1,003 executives around the world. I had  lunch with CEO Damien O’Brien, and as he says, the findings suggest that companies that tailor their appeals will get a leg up in the war for talent.

In lieu of high pay, what do you offer? Decision-making latitude. Status. Opportunity for personal development. All those things matter to managers everywhere. But one other thing matters most of all, even more than pay, to execs pretty much across the world: “content of the work,” according to the survey.

Geographic differences kicked in particularly strongly when Egon Zehnder asked: Would you take a drop in salary for a more interesting job? Executives in Europe (where I am right now, penning this Postcard) expressed much more willingness to switch than Americans did. (Quality of life, including life at work, matters a lot here.) No execs were more willing to sacrifice pay than the Swiss: 84% said they’d switch. Sixty percent of surveyed U.S. executives  said they would trade a better-paying job for a more exciting one.

And who, according to Egon Zehnder’s research, seems to be the most stuck on pay? Japanese executives. Only 40% of the Japanese who took part in the survey said they’d give up money for more interesting work. Hmm, an even higher percentage responded “I don’t know” — suggesting that execs in Japan are puzzled by the very question. — Pattie Sellers