Finding the Perfect Recruiter in Tokyo

By  Gregory Thomas Aug 16th 2019

Edited by D.L. Barr


This article is a part of our series on recruitment in Japan and an article in our massive guide to jobs in Tokyo.

Perfect Recruiter - Diving Board

Time For A Reality Check

Changing jobs is actually a big deal!

No matter how I look at it, changing jobs is one of the five most important decisions in anyone's life, along with marriage, buying a house, moving locations or countries, and having kids. When you think about the magnitude and impact of these decisions, they should not be made lightly.  

Most people don't marry someone after meeting them for the first time. Normally, there's a courting/dating process, evaluating multiple options, and then the choice to settle down. In the same way, most people who shop for apartment or houses will usually see multiple properties before submitting an application.

For some reason, the recruiter industry here in Tokyo does not seem to be given the same consideration. Many people go with the first result on the search screen and never think that the second or fourth result might be a better choice.

In my role as a recruiter, I have successfully contacted someone to get their personal details, never met face to face, and still helped them find a job within a few months. I completely changed his life, and we didn't actually know each other.

To add to this story, I didn't even have his correct details when I contacted him; he had to give me his current position and background information. He allowed a blind cold call to totally change his life. 

How do agents and agencies work?

We recruiters need to fill the hiring needs of our clients. Targets are real, and achievement and success are by hitting and clearing those targets on a yearly basis. At the end of the day, our job is to lead you, the candidate, to join the desired client.

Let's take a look at some traditional business models of recruiting firms in Japan.

There are three kinds of recruitment firms in Japan:

  • Globally-branded firms
  • Big-named multinational Japanese firms
  • Niche or Boutique firms

Each firm has their own strengths and weaknesses, depending on your needs. 

Globally-branded recruitment firms

These recruitment firms generally have the largest number of recruiting staff in their organizations. Many of them are global, brand-named companies with overseas branches, covering a wide variety of functions, industries, and levels of positions. They may be a Japanese firm with a global reputation, as well. 

They tend to have the largest client network and the ability to develop local clients quickly due to widely recognized name. They're also able to leverage clients from their global network who are looking in or are already based in Japan. 

Most of these companies have Japanese & bilingual teams and have connections to both multinationals and Japanese companies. As many of them cover a variety of industries and clientele, you maybe able to consider multiple roles within multiple industries. 

Niche or boutique firms 

These firms are often established by long term Tokyo recruiters who decide to go independent after their time in a larger firm. 

They are often smaller organizations and focus on one or two industries and particular functions. They tend to have a greater specialization in their chosen industry, and they'll have a high understanding of the domestic market conditions and knowledge. This gives them a deep network with numerous connections and experiences.

Recruiters in this space live or die on their networks and knowledge. Most of them work directly with their clients, which allows them to develop a strong understanding of the organizational needs and expectations. 

Executive & retained search firms

These firms work on a retained basis, in which one client will pay an upfront fee to engage the agency to search for the specific needs of the individual client. 

They often worth with companies that want to hire for senior roles and positions, sensitive searches such as replacements for senior level staff (e.g. the replacement of an under-performing country head), new companies looking to become established in Japan, or companies that need a deeper connection to the market to fulfill their hiring needs. 

Perfect Recruiter - Thinking

What type of firm should I choose?

The best firm is the one that works for your specific needs, expectations, and desired career. That's not very helpful, I know. You'll have to do the research to find the agency that will get you where you want to be.

There are great recruiters under all the systems, and due to the interesting nature and quirks of the Tokyo market, I feel that some of the best recruiters worldwide are working within Japan.

Perfect Recruiter - Research methods

Prepare for a smooth process

Before we move into the traits of a good recruiter, let's take one step back. How can you prepare to deal with meeting multiple recruiters? You need to choose a specific recruiter who has the skills, network, and unique profile to meet your needs. 

You've already decided to change your job and are looking at new opportunities. Before contacting various agencies and firms for support, consider the following questions.  

  • What career am I in now and what isn't satisfactory about it?
  • What would I like to do in the future and in what industry?
  • What is my biggest concern? e.g. salary, work life balance, no promotion or career progression ...? 
  • What is my timeline to make this move?
  • What are my hard conditions and must-haves? e.g. compensations, allowances, location ...?
  • Am I prepared to say goodbye? What will I tell my boss when I leave? Am I ok with that? 

By understanding for yourself why you want to change jobs and what you need from the new employment, you'll have equipped yourself for your next step. If you're going to take a leap of faith, you need to have a clear idea of where you want to land!

Your preparation will also help the recruiter understand your needs and match your expectations to roles, interviews, and negotiations. They can also help you manage your expectations based on the current market conditions. 

The most common reason why you can't get an acceptable job offer is because of misaligned expectations. When you can't give your recruiter a clear understanding of your goals, they can't pass that along to the companies, and the companies can't send back the needed information. This lack of effective communication not only delays your getting a new and better job, it can also hurt your chances to change.

Do your homework and know the market

Take the time to research companies you think are good possibilities and take that information to your recruiter. Knowing the market you want to enter makes you a more attractive hire to your target companies, which will make your transition a little smoother. Who knows, you may even find a more direct route to approach the company!

As the movie character Rocky once said, "if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth". Start by developing a clear image of your future career, and you'll be able to figure out what you want to do next and how to get there. 

Take a deep breath. You don't have to have every single detail planned out ahead of time. Some things can't be decided on until other things fall into place. A good recruiter will support you and help you understand the career opportunities ahead.  


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