The Ten Commandments (And Myths) Of Staffing Your Company In Japan

  1. Thou shalt hire only bilingual (Japanese – English) speaking staff.

This makes sense, and is usually necessary, if the position reports to someone back in headquarters or in a regional office, and the Japan staff has to communicate with the people overseas on a regular basis.

However, if the position reports to a Japanese manager who in turn reports to the overseas person in English, is fluent or business level English really a necessity or is it a “nice to have skill?” Bear in mind that the person will most likely be working with, calling on, or selling to other Japanese. These conversations and negotiations will most likely be done in Japanese. Read more on the proficiency of English for Japanese in my article, HAYSTACKS, NEEDLES, and UNICORNS in JAPAN.

At iSearch, our focus is on finding bilingual candidates for our clients. However, we always encourage clients to not make the mistake of hiring the best English speaker rather than the Best Candidate for the job. We’ve seen companies do that and while it often works out well there are stories galore of when it didn’t work out well.

  1. Thou shalt not hire anyone over the age of 45.

Age discrimination in Japan is just as illegal as it is in most other countries. In days gone by companies could actually advertise positions specifying gender and age. The Employment Measures Act prohibits discrimination based on age or gender for hiring unless there are specific reasons for it. With a rapidly aging population, where 26% of the populace are already over the age of 65, and a shrinking labor market companies have become more open to hiring people in their 50s or in some cases even older. Women now make up 43% of the total labor force and their unemployment rate is only 3.1% vs. 3.6% for men.

Out of a population of 127 million the labor force, according to official government labor statistics, is 66 million. With an overall unemployment rate of just 3.4% the “silver group” should not be overlooked for well-educated employees, many of whom may have significant overseas working experience or experience working in foreign companies in Japan.

  1. Thou shalt hire everybody on a contract.

Most Japanese prefer to be hired as a sei-shain, that is as a regular employee. Being a regular employee gives them a sense of security and belonging that may be missing if they are hired on a contract. It is legal to hire people on a contract basis. However, the term of the contract should be clearly spelled out. Generally, foreign firms that hire on a contract basis hire on an annual renewable contract. There are instances where companies hire on a three or five year contract, but be aware that longer contracts may wind up costing the company the wages for the full contract term if the employee is terminated early and decides to take the company to court for breach of contract.

If you are hiring people on a contract make sure to have a good lawyer, who is familiar with Japan’s labor regulations, draw up the contract for you. iSearch can recommend lawyers if needed. The contract may be in English, but it’s a good idea to have in translated into Japanese to ensure your Japan hire understands it completely. Labor disputes can be long and costly affairs and the courts have a history of siding with the employee unless the company can present a strong case of dismissal for cause or other real business reasons.

  1. Thou shalt hire only men for sales positions.

You may have heard that Japan is a “man’s world” especially in the world of business. In days past when procuring sales often entailed late night drinking and entertaining, or weekends spent on the golf course, companies tended to hire men for sales positions and women were seen as “Office Ladies.”

Sure, there are still occasions for drinking with customers, or a round of business golf, but after the end of the 1980s “bubble economy” these practices diminished tremendously. Today’s generation is more interested in getting the job done without spending every evening soaking their livers in alcohol and many of them don’t even play golf. Quite a number of foreign companies have learned that women may indeed be the best man for the job when it comes to sales. They are just as tenacious (in some cases more so), have the skills, know or learn the products just as readily (if not faster than the men), and with more of the women remaining single longer they can, and do, work just as diligently as any man. I remember one candidate telling me, “I can do the work of two men!” And you know what? I believe her!

  1. Thou shalt hire quickly after only one interview.

You’re convinced that the person you just interviewed is exactly what you’re looking for. He or she interviewed well, speaks English well enough for the job, and is within your budget. On top of that your boss is pressing you to “get that position filled.”

One interview hiring can, and does, work out well. We have clients who do this and they (and we) are happy. However, in most cases we recommend at least a two interview process with a few days in between. Just don’t make the mistake of letting that few days run on to a week or more. If you’re convinced the candidate is just right for your company you can bet that there are at least one or more other companies that will be just as sure. Remember the old saying, “the early bird catches the worm” and when you find the ‘perfect’ candidate you need to catch that worm quickly or another bird will take him or her away from you.

  1. Thou shalt hold numerous interviews.

Okay, we said you may not want to do a one interview hire, but on the other side of that coin are the companies that think running the candidate through a gauntlet of 8, 10, 12, sometimes even more interviews is the way to go. Yes, you want to be sure that you’re hiring the right person, but does the candidate really need to interview with managers who have nothing to do with the department they are being hired for, or with three or more of his or her future coworkers, or with a few people in the regional office and then more people in the head office?

Like another old saying goes, “time kills all deals” and not only does time work against you, but as mentioned before the good candidates are most likely being interviewed by a few companies and the companies that snooze, lose. We see companies lose excellent candidates every year because someone “just wants to meet another candidate or two” or someone from the home office is going to be in Japan in two weeks and “we want the candidate to meet him before we decide” (this is where video calls come in really handy).

Do your due process, conduct the necessary interviews, but don’t drag your heels and don’t get sucked into that whirlpool of having to meet another candidate or two. That whirlpool may never stop spinning, but the stream of people being fed into it will stop. Companies who drag out the process quickly get a reputation in this very small market and can get on the “black company” list without even realizing it. Yes, there are black company lists on the Internet in Japan and since most of them are in Japanese you may never know your company is being talked about.

  1. Thou shalt cast thy net wide.

In other words, throw the job out to ten or fifteen recruiters and see who brings in the best fish. Think about it. If you were starving and only a couple of fish could save your life and stave off starvation, would you rather trust your life to the fisherman who just throws out a net hoping to catch that one fish you need, or would you rather trust your life to the fisherman who knows exactly where to fish and what bait and tackle to use.

Check out some recruiting firms and select the one that knows your industry and is actively recruiting for your industry. They will also know where the fish you want is and they will certainly know how to get him or her because that is what they do day in and day out.

So, you can’t do a retainer due to some obscure notion in the head office that “we don’t do retainers.” That’s fine; how about a time-period exclusive with the recruiting firm of your choice. For recruiters that’s the next best thing to a retained search since the recruiter knows he or she won’t be trolling for the same candidates other recruiters are talking to for the same job. Remember, recruiters are not selling people to you. We are selling you our time and our expertise in finding, interviewing, qualifying, introducing, and doing all the rest of the range of things needed to be done to get candidates in front of you for interviews.

If you’re really stuck by some company rule that absolutely requires you to use more than one recruiter the rule of choosing the firms that know and recruit for your industry still applies. In that case, you should let each firm know that you’re working with another recruiter for the same position. The firms you contract with can then decide how much time and effort to put in, or not put in, on your search.

  1. Thou shalt recruit from thine home country using LinkedIn ©

This is probably one of the biggest myths for recruiting Japanese candidates. That is, a recruiter in your home country tells you they can do just as good a job on your search as a recruiter in Japan can do. After all, aren’t all the engineers, or sales people, or whatever role you’re trying to fill putting their resumes up on LinkedIn?

Have you ever run a LinkedIn search just choosing the location Japan? You can see that there are less than 1.5 million people who come up and a fair number of those are not Japanese. Actually, there are quite a number who are not even really in Japan, but they list Japan as their base. Then, there are the ones who have two, sometimes three, sometimes even four profiles on LinkedIn because they don’t know how to update their old profile so they just make a new one. Oh, and let’s not forget the ones who don’t list anything more than their name; and then there are those who only post in Japanese.

At iSearch we sometimes work with overseas recruiting firms to help them fill their clients’ requisitions. Some of them have come to us after trying to connect with candidates on LinkedIn and then being surprised when they never get a response from the potential candidates. When the candidates see that the contact is coming from overseas, or the recruiter doesn’t have an office in Japan, their general inclination is to ignore the InMail or connect request. We have placed people who were on the overseas’ recruiters list of people contacted on LinkedIn, but weren’t responding. When we reached out to them from a local number or email we got a response and helped our partner make the placement.

  1. Thou shalt not pay a higher recruiting fee than thou pays in thine home country.

If you’re used to working with recruiters on a 15% or 20% fee “back home” and you are hoping to negotiate that same level fee in Japan you might as well save your breath. Fees in Japan are typically 30% – 35% of the candidates total annul remuneration. For some critical position placements companies may even need to pay 40% or more.

It’s not that recruiting firms in Japan think that they are worth so much more, but they do know just how difficult it is to find – and convince – the candidates to talk with them and their client companies. And that’s just the first hurdle. There are many other hurdles to overcome including the family’s concern about the candidate changing from a stable environment (at least in their mind) to a potentially unstable one, even if the foreign company has been in Japan for years. After all, it’s a foreign company and it can always leave Japan anytime the company wants to.

Keep in mind that we are dealing with a much smaller number of eligible candidates; the number of people with the skills, the experience, the language abilities, and the aforementioned willingness to leave a secure domestic company for the uncertainties of working for a foreign company.

Finding those needles in the haystacks is what you are paying the recruiting fee for and it’s what we do well.

  1. Thou shalt just do it on thine own and use an advertisement to attract good candidates.

There are companies that do this, but generally speaking they are advertising for part-time or entry level staff, not for the professional employees that recruiting firms typically source.

If you’re truly just recruiting a part-time secretary or office admin person there are staffing agencies that can help you. Temp staff agencies and recruiting agencies work under a different license in Japan. Some firms will have both licenses, but in most cases you’ll be looking for permanent professional people in which case you will want to work with a licensed recruiting firm like iSearch.

In addition to finding the right media to run your ads, and hoping the right people will read the ad, do you really want to deal with an influx of resumes from both qualified and unqualified people? Or to be disappointed at the lack of applicants?

True example: We had a client who asked us to advertise in a magazine that was specifically targeted to engineers in their industry. We advised them against spending the money, but they wanted to run the ad so we helped them set it up and let them use our phone and fax numbers and email for responses. Results?  A big zero. We did find the right person for them, through our usual process, but the money spent on the ad was definitely wasted.

So, there you go. The first Ten Commandments and myths of filling those open positions for your company in Japan. Avoid the pitfalls and work with a professional recruiting firm. We are here to help.

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Tel: +81-3-5545-7803

Copyright: Joe Peters 2017

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