Why write this article?
Over the last several years, I've been working at a leading firm within the Healthcare Executive Search space, and I have seen firsthand the challenges and difficulties for people of both Japanese & foreign citizenship to effectively change their job and advance their career.
Among my circle of friends and acquaintances, I am often known as the recruiter guy. It often bemuses me to see how little my friends actually know about the process. I watched them struggle to navigate the many agencies, over-populated recruiting market, and the challenges in finding the best recruiter to suit their needs.
On a chance discussion with Tyson Batino, the founder of Tokyo BFF, I decided to share my knowledge and insight with the intent of providing some guidance and support before you make the next step to your career.
What does a recruiter do in Tokyo?
In simple terms, a recruiter's job in Japan is to help clients (companies and corporations) find top talent for their organization's employment needs. Although recruiters are often great resources for understanding the career market and industry masters in their chosen field, their ultimate goal is to help the right talent hire on with their clients. After all, the customer is always right, and never more so than when they're the ones paying the bills.
If you search on LinkedIn within recruiters in Tokyo, you'll find over 15,000 agents who are working either in-house, within a major international or Japanese firm, at a specialist boutique firm, or even on their own. Within my own industry of healthcare, there are over 100 recruitment firms alone.
In 2017, over 4.395 Billion USD went to pay recruiting fees to agencies, with over seven million private sector job posting, across both paid and free agency services. These numbers are only on the rise as the battle for hiring top talent heats up.
Why does every job in Tokyo seem like you need to contact a recruiter?
There are many reasons why the recruiting marketing in Tokyo and Japan has become so recruiter centric and apart of the talent recruiting needs
Some of the main reasons are as below:
- Lifetime employment culture: As we may all know the traditional path way for many companies and workers in Japan is the culture of Shūshin koyō (終身雇用) or lifetime employment from new graduate entry until retirement.
- Company structure and Worker expectations: Because of this cultural trend companies were not structured or organized to bring in external talent nor have the operations internally established. In addition, on joining a company salaryman and workers expect themselves to have a strong loyalty to their company and career in one organization to stay to the very end.
- Focus on new grad hires: the main recruiting efforts for all companies comes in the new graduate hire period or shushoku katsudo (就職活動) the job-hunting season for new graduates which is one of the most stressful times in a young person's life. During their last year of university, hundreds of thousands of students actively attend job fairs, job seminars and apply to possibly thirty to forty companies at once in order to secure future employment.
- Worker & Talent shortage: Japan has always been known as a candidate or talent driven market where top companies are in a constant battle to ensure that the best graduates and people joined their organization. With the ageing society and companies needs for external talent increased and external and mid-career hiring became more prevalent, As of 2019 Japan has had a job availability ratio up to 1.64 jobs to 1 worker which means for every 164 job openings there are 100 available workers.
Because of these cultural, traditional and business organization trends over the years recruiting companies have gained a major foothold in Japanese society and are now an important part of the mid-career job hunting market.
Although, there are many companies now that are also doing direct application/hiring and started to develop their own mid-career recruitment practices. Due to the large headcount needs and also the overall competitive market many are still working closely with external recruiting agencies on a regular basis.
Different types of Recruiting Agencies in Tokyo
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 its 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.
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.
How to Prepare yourself to speak to a recruiter?
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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