The Ultimate Guide to Recruiters in Tokyo
By Gregory Thomas July 25th, 2020.
Edited by Bryony Kentfield.
This article is a part of our series on finding a job in Tokyo and Japan. This Ultimate Guide to Recruiters in Tokyo will tell you everything you need to know about
- Recruiting Agencies in Tokyo
- Using a Recruiter in Tokyo
- Tokyo Job Hunting secrets
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What does a recruiter do in Tokyo and why do companies use them?
If you search on LinkedIn for recruiters in Tokyo, you’ll find over 15,000 agents who are working either in-house, at a specialist boutique firm, at a major international or Japanese firm, or even on their own as an independent recruiter. Within my industry of healthcare, there are over 100 recruitment firms alone.
With so many names, companies and recruiting agents in the market, we have created this guide to help explain this growing yet somewhat mysterious industry and how to create win-win relationships with recruiters in Tokyo.
In-house recruiters vs recruiting agencies
In-house recruiters work for a single company and focus on bringing in candidates of all levels, from new graduates to executives, to fill positions in their organisation. They use job boards, online advertising, job fairs, LinkedIn and sometimes direct contact to find job seekers.
This model works well for positions where the talent pool of possible candidates is large: for example, entry-level positions that can be filled by new graduates, entry- to intermediate-level marketing positions, and part-time positions or contract work.
An in-house recruiter also spends their time talking to department heads and hiring managers about their hiring needs, creates an ideal candidate persona, places the job ads and interviews candidates.
The hiring manager makes the final decision, but the in-house recruiter filters candidates and does the initial interviews, similar to a security guard at a popular club who decides who gets to enter and who doesn’t. They are also the ones who work with external recruiting agencies and other sources to bring in more candidates.
So why would a company use a recruiting agency?
In-house recruiters may also work with recruiting agencies for positions that are harder for them to source themselves, such as a top-level salesperson, marketer, programmer, or executive. This applies to situations where there is both a small candidate pool and outrageous demand from the market. Therefore, companies will pay the additional cost to hire the right person.
For high-demand jobs, like senior programmers, a recruitment company can sometimes charge the company up to 50% of a candidate’s yearly salary because they are hard to find through job boards/direct applications, they are not already known to the company, and are not actively on the move in the market.
The best candidates in the market are often doing very well at their current workplace and are happy in their current position, meaning a job ad will not help a company to find them. However, a recruiter who knows them well may be able to help organisations get in touch with them, understand their career goals and situation and set up an interview or a casual discussion.
This means that a position that has higher requirements and/or a smaller talent pool will often rely more on recruiting agencies alone, as their internal methods may not manage to find suitable candidates.
We can see some examples of this below.
Examples of Positions for Foreigners
Tokyo Talent Pool
Agency Recruiting Usage
English teaching, foreign language teaching, education, recruiting, part-time work
English/native language only
Coding, IT, app development, cybersecurity
Ranges from minimal Japanese to N1 and above
Working in a corporate Japanese environment in traditional business functions
Business level Japanese and higher. Holds N1/N2
Why does it seem like every job in Tokyo requires you to contact a recruiter?
There are many other reasons companies require recruiting agencies to help bring in talent to their organizations.
Lifetime employment culture: As we may all know, the traditional pathway for many companies and workers in Japan is the culture of shūshin koyō (終身雇用), or lifetime employment, from straight after graduation until retirement. Because of this, until the early/mid-2000s, most people were joining their first employer with the goal of it also being their last employer.
Company structure: Because of this cultural trend of lifetime employment, companies did not need to bring in external talent nor have HR operations established to find them.
Emphasis on new graduate hires: The main recruiting efforts for all companies are carried out in the new graduate hire period or shūshoku katsudō (就職活動). This is the job-hunting season for new graduates, and is one of the most stressful times in a young person’s life in Japan. During their last year of university, hundreds of thousands of students attend job fairs, job seminars, and apply to thirty to forty companies at once to secure future employment.
Worker and talent shortage: Japan is known as a candidate- or talent-driven market, where top companies are in a constant battle to ensure that the best new graduates join their organization. With the progression of Japan’s ageing society, companies’ needs for external talent have increased, and external and mid-career hiring has become much more prevalent, As of 2019, Japan had a job availability ratio of up to 1.64 jobs to each 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. They are now an important part of the mid-career job hunting market for both big and small corporations all across Japan.
Would a Tokyo recruiter be interested in me?
To give you a heads up and save you time in your job search in Japan, we have come up with a quick summary of what to do based on your skills and life and career situation.
Please note all information provided is on the premise you fulfil the following conditions:
- You have a degree from a local Japanese institution or your home country.
- You are living in Japan and are eligible for or hold a valid working visa in Japan.
We have 5 possible persona's for you to choose from: Which one are you?
- If I am based overseas, where do I start?
- People looking for entry-level work with limited Japanese skills
- People looking for entry-level work with Japanese skills considered being business level or higher (N2/N1 holders)
- People looking for entry-level work with limited Japanese with a high-demand skillset
- People with Business level Japanese skills and multi-years work experience in Japan
If I am based overseas, where do I start?
If you are based overseas and looking for support, can you see our page here for visa options in Japan
First, before doing any form of job hunting, we recommend that you figure out the best way for you to come to Japan. There are a variety of options depending on your stage of life and which country you are moving from.
If you are looking for education options as your first step, you can find our guide here on Japanese language schools.
Second, if you are looking to improve your Japanese before you get on the plane, we actually offer online and offline Japanese lessons at Japan Switch (our sister company).
Recruiter viability: Low to none.
Your best bet is to find a way to come to Japan before considering your next step job hunting-wise. Unfortunately, most recruiting agencies will not support applicants from overseas.
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People looking for entry-level work with limited Japanese skills
Japanese Self-study techniques:Many recruiting agencies mostly target job placement for bilingual talent, meaning they prefer those who can communicate fluently in a Japanese business environment.
At this stage, it may be an idea to consider other options like improving your Japanese and/or other marketable skills before talking to a recruiter, as most roles will require business-level Japanese.
With this in mind, there are still many career opportunities in the following fields that can provide a work visa and keep you going while you improve your Japanese level.
- Education/English teaching
- Automobile sales
- Recruiting companies
You can see our guide to full-time jobs in Tokyo, which covers jobs for non-bilingual foreign talent.
I can vouch for several friends who have used these industries as a stepping stone to bigger things once they gained more experience living in Japan and improved their Japanese to at least business level.
Others have carved out successful careers in their chosen field above and are now business owners or market leaders. You can still be extremely successful if you choose to work in these areas.
For those who are looking to study part-time, here are some possible options.
Our Extensive Guides on How to Learn Japanese
Private online and offline Japanese lessons at a reasonable price:
Recruiter viability: Low to none.
Most of the above jobs for non-Japanese speakers have direct application processes and use job boards or referral systems to advertise positions.
You will not need a recruiter to help or support you getting into these industries.
Affordable Online and Offline Morning Lessons in Tokyo
In addition to providing great content at BFF Tokyo, we also provide good and affordable Japanese lessons.
- Affordable Japanese Lessons
- Monthly Contracts
- No Entrance Fees
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- 200+ Students
- Online or Offline Lessons
People looking for entry-level work with Japanese skills considered being business level or higher (N2/N1 holders)
Congratulations on improving your Japanese skills to the minimum requirements for a foreign worker in a Japanese company!
By being able to achieve JLPT N1 or N2, you have shown a commitment to the language and have the potential to explore a variety of career opportunities here in Japan.
Keep in mind, the job market is highly competitive. It is common that a lot of talent from the Asian and European markets will, along with their base skill set, probably be trilingual; Their native language, Japanese, and also high enough English proficiency for a Japanese workplace.
Being a native English speaker with a high level of Japanese is just one strength out of many, and a lot of companies will consider the total package a candidate can bring and not just language abilities.
Other factors such as good communication skills, a business mindset, the ability to fit in with the culture of the organization and also just general capabilities will also play a large part in whether you get the job.
New graduates/Postgraduates/Those with work experience
Depending on your situation, you may fall into one of the following three categories.
- Those who are looking for their first job after graduation, postgrad or a Japanese language course with N1/N2
- Those who have full-time work experience and have graduated from a Japanese university or a Japanese language course with N1/N2
- Those who are working in Japan in a non-Japanese speaking position and have N1/N2
Recruiter viability: Low to high depending on your situation on the above
New graduates/Postgraduates (Masters, PhD, or Japanese Language School graduates) with no work experience
Most likely the traditional job-hunting pathways will be best for you. This includes job seminars, setsumei-kai (説明会) and job fairs. With no base work experience, your profile will be the same as a new graduate for entry level roles.
We have another ultimate guide here for job fairs in Tokyo.
There are a growing number of recruiting agencies that support new graduates as they transition to the workforce, so it is possible to get support from some recruiting agencies. The benefits are that they can also coach and help you through the job hunting processes, as well as provide additional support regarding making a Japanese resume, interviewing techniques and just helping you in general on the journey.
Many Japanese language schools and university education institutions will also provide support through their career centres.
Postgrads (Masters, PhD or Japanese language school graduates) with work experience or those currently working in Japan
For those who are working, using a recruiter will be a more viable option as you would not fit the profile for a new grad applicant. Previous work experience alone may disqualify you from the new graduate application process. Also, the time commitments needed to search for newly graduate-level positions will not match a full-time working schedule.
See our section below on boutique firms that help foreigners with N1/N2 proficiency
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People looking for entry-level work with limited Japanese with a high-demand skill set
No Nihongo, no problem! There are some industries that have full-time jobs that are specifically OK with N3-level Japanese or lower (i.e. limited language skills).
For Japan, the IT and tech industry is booming, and the supply of local candidates does not fill the demand at all. Therefore, companies are more flexible on language requirements provided you fit one of the profiles below.
- IT Security
- IT consulting firm
- IT System engineer
- Software/app/program development
- Data Science
Recruiter viability: Mid-level with a variety of other possible channels
There are currently many firms that focus on IT recruitment for foreigners, which would be the best to support you in finding these job opportunities.
However, many IT and tech companies also advertise on job boards, and many IT related businesses have well-established internal referral programs if you know someone who can introduce you.
Some examples of these sites are below:
People with Business level Japanese skills and multi-years work experience in Japan
So you have worked in Japan for 3-5 years, are fluent in business Japanese, and are looking for the next step. Within your chosen field in Japan, your profile and skills should fall in line with those of native applicants.
Your pathway and career direction will follow the current trends and, provided you can meet the level and expectations of the market, you will have plenty of choices to move forward with your career in Tokyo.
Recruiter viability: High
At this stage you should be able to work with most recruiting companies in the market who specialize in your field of interest or career aspirations.
People with executive-level skills and with Japanese or no Japanese
Before changing jobs, what should I consider?
A recruiters job is to get people to apply to their desired client. Because of this, there is always a level of bias to the decision-making process when they recommend positions and clients to you. After all, it is their job to make you say yes and move forward in the application process
Therefore, it is very important to ask yourselves these 5 precautionary questions below before embarking on your career change.
For those looking for support on levelling up your career, we also have a guide here by a top career coach in Japan.
What are my principal reasons for a career change, and could I achieve those goals at my current workplace?
Make a list of all the reasons you are changing jobs, be it career advancement, salary-related, fresh opportunities or more responsibility.
Take this list and double-check to make sure you could not get the same opportunities in your current situation. This will ensure you are determined that it is time to leave and find new chances elsewhere.
Have I discussed internally my career goals and how achievable are they in my current company?
A lot of times people decide simply based on the grass looking greener on the other side. A new, shiny job prospect comes along and it looks so much more attractive as most things appear at first, leading you to eventually make a career change based just on this.
There is always a chance that your career goals could be achieved internally, making it vital you ask first and get the right information.
Below are some common points to consider.
Promotion: Have you talked to your boss or otherwise researched how to get a promotion?
Relocation: Does your current company provide the opportunity to work in another location or not?
Internal career change: Does your company have a program to change positions internally that would get you closer to your career goals?
Salary: Have you discussed the possibility of a raise openly with your boss and showed the skills necessary to get it?
The purpose of this is to ensure that you are not leaving the company because of a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding regarding the above points, and to be sure you are leaving with no stone unturned. This can also create more amicable relations with your former colleagues and bosses as your reasoning for leaving is clear and open.
Have I gained all possible experiences/achievements from my current company and is the timing right for a change
If you are considering leaving during a large ongoing project or without a major success in an organization, consider if the timing is right to do so. The Japanese market highly values work ethic, responsibility, and commitment to the cause, so leaving midway during a major project may not reflect favourably upon you.
No major successes or achievements at your current company reduces your ability to show value to future employees, and convince them that you are someone worth bringing on.
Remember, client and hiring managers will base your potential market value on what you have achieved in the past.
Is my personal situation stable enough for a change?
Changing your job is one of the five major decisions people will have to make in their lives, and the decision-making process will always involve other people and conditions that need to be considered beforehand.
Some common examples are as follows:
- Spousal relationships: Is your significant other willing to support you through the job change process? Do they have conditions you need to consider as well?
- Family and kids: Is the timing right for the children? Will their education and lifestyle needs be affected if you change jobs? This is a common problem if the job you are looking at may affect your work-life balance.
- Major financial decisions: If you are trying to take out a bank loan or purchase property, some banks will have concerns if you are looking to change jobs during this time. Also, major life events like holding a wedding, which can be very expensive and time-consuming, may also influence your ability to change jobs.
What are other options outside using a recruiter?
As we have mentioned above, the market is shifting and job application methods are changing. Here we have listed some other ways to apply without using a recruiting agency. Consider trying these options along with using recruiters.
- Friend/Network referrals:
- If you know people in certain industries or already working for your target company, perhaps they can introduce you to someone internally.
- A lot of companies also have employee referral systems, so your friend may be able to introduce you without sticking their neck out and dealing with the pressure that may cause.
- Perhaps you might meet someone at a networking or social event, and it may lead to future employment or business opportunities.
- We have a guide here about finding great jobs by using networking events in Tokyo here.
- Contact an in-house recruiter: Many in-house recruiters also do their own candidate hunting and may approach you (or vice versa) through online channels such as LinkedIn.
- Direct applications: Many companies still advertise on job boards or on their own websites. Some companies are fine with receiving direct applications for roles and positions open on their site.
When is the best time to establish a relationship with a recruiter?
Much like any relationship, timing is everything and developing connections with a recruiter is no different.
In recruiter terms, I feel there are three stages that most candidates fall within.
Which stage are you?
- Not active: I am not open to changing jobs.
- Passive: I am happy where I am, although I’m open to hearing market information about opportunities from time to time.
- Open to making a change: I need to make a career change, ASAP!
Not active/passive in the market
Most people fall into categories 1 or 2, which is fine and normal. During this time you are not really considering a change or looking for other opportunities in the market. You may be open to hearing about companies from time to time, but are not really interested in changing jobs in the next 6-12 months or even 1-2 years. As a general trend, about 85% of the market is in a position like this.
Open to making a change
Many people do not want to engage with recruiters or start job hunting activities until they are at the point where they are actively seeking to make a move in the job market. This is the moment where you start to ramp up your efforts and for whatever reason are looking to make a change.
Building a long-term relationship: Timing is everything
Timing is everything and, like many things in life, changing your job and career can often come through a variety of uncontrollable circumstances, such as market changes, economic conditions or internal organizational changes. Unfortunately, these events are often unforeseen and will catch you off guard when you are least expecting them.
Even if you are not considering a job change any time soon, there are still many positives to having two or three supportive agencies and recruiters who you trust, and know can support you in the long term. Good recruiters can then build a timeline around your situation and give you opportunities for ideal roles, positions or companies so you understand the current market needs, and then support you when the timing is right and you need to change careers.
This will save you a lot of trouble when you need a quick career change, as you won’t have to go through the research process of working out which agencies are best, contacting 20 different recruiters at once, working out who is who and completing a long job application process within a very short time period.
Even I, personally, am in touch with several people at other recruiting agencies. This helps me to understand their long-term plans, goals, and culture to see if they would be a step in the right direction for my career. Also, if anything unforeseen happens, it means I am already aware of some potential companies’ business styles and if they are a good fit for me.
What are the Distinct types of Recruiting Agencies in Tokyo
Let’s look at some traditional business models of recruiting firms in Japan.
There are three kinds of recruitment firms in Japan:
- Globally or Japanese branded recruiting agencies
- Niche or Boutique recruiting agencies
- Executive & Retained recruiting agencies
Each type has its own benefits and advantages, depending on your needs and the stage of your career goals.
Globally or Japanese branded recruiting agencies
These recruitment firms have the largest number of recruiting staff in their organizations. Many of them are global, branded companies with overseas branches, covering a wide variety of functions, industries, and levels of positions. These may include Japanese firms with a global reputation, too.
They have the largest client network and the ability to develop local clients quickly due to high recognition in the market. You will often see these companies advertising in public places, such as on the train, tv & youtube advertisements and online SNS platforms.
Most of these companies have Japanese and bilingual teams, with connections to both multinational corporations and Japanese companies.
As many of them cover a variety of industries and clientele, you may consider the same role across multiple industries more easily than with a smaller niche or boutique firm.
Niche or Boutique recruiting agencies
Long-term Tokyo recruiters are generally the founders of these companies. They are often smaller organizations and focus on one or two industries and particular functions.
They have a greater specialization in their chosen industry and a high understanding of the domestic market conditions. This gives them a deep network with many connections, and experience with the people who work at each organisation.
Recruiters in this space depend heavily on their networks and knowledge. Most of them work directly with their clients too, which allows them to develop a strong understanding of the organisational needs and expectations of each company.
Executive & Retained recruiting agencies
These firms provide retained searches, 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 work with companies that want to hire for senior roles and positions, new companies looking to become established in Japan, or companies that need a deeper connection to the market to fulfil their hiring needs. They also conduct sensitive searches such as replacements for senior-level staff (e.g. the replacement of an under-performing department head).
How to decide the best recruiter agency or recruiter for me?
Much like searching for an apartment in Tokyo, reaching out to the right recruiting agency from the begging can make your job changing or hunting process much smoother, quicker and save you from being faced with too many dead ends. It can mean receiving faster results, too.
The best recruiting agency or recruiter is the one that works for your specific needs, expectations, and desired career. They support you by matching your expectations and career goals to the most suitable job openings in their clients.
This means you need to do some basic self-analysis regarding where you are currently and also where you want to end up in life.
The FILL test
To help work this out, a simple test we use in recruiting is called ‘FILL’, or ‘Function, Industry, Level and Location’.
For example, if you are a brand manager in an IT software company looking to shift into another company in the same field, your FILL will look like this.
Brand manager, IT Software
Senior Brand Manager, IT Software
Manager (3-5 years experience)
Manager (3-5 years experience in IT Software marketing)
Tokyo, within 23 wards
Tokyo, within 23 wards
You then compare to see if your own FILL is a match for your ideal position.
- Function: Is your target goal realistic? Are you able to target a career change that is workable and within your previous skills and responsibilities?
- Industry: Does your industry of interest share transferable skills with your current job? Do you need to gain new skills to make a change?
- Level: Is the level of the position you are aiming for within the level of your skills and experiences
- Location: Are you able to travel or are you happy to move to the location?
Knowing your FILL is a great litmus test to see if you have the current skill set required to achieve your current career goal.
It is also a great way to know if a shift in position or even industry is possible, and can help you see the feasibility of the career choice you are trying to make. If it doesn’t match with your targets, it can let you see if you need to take alternative steps in order to achieve your goals, or possibly ask yourself the more difficult question of whether the role is right for you.
Using the FILL Test as a guide for the right direction
Keeping these four points in mind will help guide you in finding the recruiting agencies or recruiters that have the specific networks, jobs and roles that you want to get into.
For example, if you want to get into IT software marketing, you should target and work with recruiters in the specific FILL of IT companies and marketing positions in Japan, likewise with consumer goods, fashion, healthcare or digital marketing.
Let’s have a look at one more example here of how the FILL can help you work out if an agency or recruiter is right for you.
Brand manager, IT Software
Sales & Marketing positions
IT, digital solutions sales
Manager (3-5 years experience)
Tokyo, within 23 wards
Tokyo, within 23 wards
This is also helpful as you can make your conditions within these four points more and more specific as you come to further understand your interests and career drive.
If you are only interested in, say, working for startups or in Japanese industries, you can use this test and discuss to see if your recruiter and their firm can deliver on those needs.
Nowadays, there are many agencies that are specifically designed to help people across all levels and backgrounds, in specific industries or roles, which will be able to better guide you to the right client network and your ideal position.
How to get noticed more by recruiters?
Recruiters normally work within 4 channels to get information on candidates. Below, I summarized how you can get attention from recruiters on both online and offline platforms.
- Online: Creating an online career profile on LinkedIn, Daijobs or Wantedly is normally a brilliant way to get recruiters to contact you. They are normally spending time sourcing and reaching out to people on these platforms. You can also reach out directly to both internal and external recruiting agents as they become your contacts and you connect with them.
- Coming soon: How to use LinkedIn for job hunting in Japan
- Direct application: Many of the larger firms like Recruit, En japan or Robert Walters will have registration pages where you can fill in your information and the relevant agent in their company will contact you. An agent will follow up directly based on your profile.
- Job networking events: You might meet a recruiter at a networking event or out on the town sometime. Often once you share your business card/contact details with them, this will then go on a central database.
- Referrals from others: Perhaps your buddy or friend knows a recruiter and introduced you to someone or anonymously referred you to them
How to deal with constant communication from Tokyo recruiters?
Recruiters get evaluated and receive incentives based on two things.
- Meeting as many candidates as possible in their FILL to further grow and develop their network.
- Supporting the right candidates to interview with their clients and hopefully receive a job offer.
The market conditions in Japan are highly competitive for companies wishing to hire top talent, because of the lack of candidates and lucrative financial rewards for recruiters.
For example, high-end executive positions that recruiters work on could be worth upwards of tens of millions of yen to their company, and a huge bonus to the recruiter.
This creates a highly competitive, high-risk, high-reward environment that drives recruiters to do everything they can to stay ahead of the pack. It is common for junior recruiters to make upwards of 100-200 phone calls a day and persistently reach out via all channels. Ultimately, recruiters are incentivised and rewarded for contacting people in their market and getting them to meet and interview with their clients.
Recruiters are taught how to deal with resistance and rebuttals, and some can be very persistent in their approach. They may call multiple times and contact you through a variety of channels, too.
It’s OK to say no:
Recruiters are just doing their job after all, so if you are not interested in making a change or receiving market information, just say you are not interested right now and state when might be a good time in the future to contact you.
This will be better for both parties, saving time and hassle, and the sooner you say ‘no’, the faster the recruiter can move on.
However, you may end up working with that agent or their agency one day, so it pays to keep things cordial and polite.
How to judge a recruiter on his cold calling or communication abilities?
Interesting, through these ongoing and constant recruiter communications & small interactions, are brilliant ways to quickly work out which are the recruiters with the ability and potential to help you.
If someone is paid to get in contact with you regularly yet isn’t able to get your attention or handle a little pushback on the phone, what faith should you have in them being able to represent you and your needs to a client?
To give you an idea of recruiters skills over the phone or email, why not try some of the following questions and pattern breakers?
Ask them any pattern disrupting question
Any pattern-disrupting questions or approaches will definitely test how a recruiter reacts under pressure.
Engage with them about their own experiences and abilities.
Questions like “how long have you been doing this job?”, or “have you successfully introduced someone at my level?” Get the recruiter to think quickly, as well as share their experiences and how they relate to you.
Ask what are the strengths of their company, compared to company A or B.
Put the recruiter on the spot and see if they know the strengths of their company as compared to others.
Say you have a preferred recruiter.
This is a nice, simple way to say I already have someone else who I trust about market information. See how the recruiter responds.
The purpose of these questions is not for cheap laughs or for taking the mickey. From the initial call or contact, you can work out who is worth your time by pushing back a bit and seeing how they handle your rebuttal.
You can then work out pretty quickly who are the agencies or recruiters that can help you with your needs and support your career development, as opposed to those who will treat your profile and background as just another number on their system.
How to prepare documents like resumes and cover letters?
For information on setting up and preparing a resume for a recruiter or job application please see here.
Meeting a recruiter: What to expect
The goal of candidate and recruiter meetings:
Whether you are meeting with a recruiter for the first time or they are one of many in your network, the general goal of any meeting is as below.
- Share your career achievements, goals and preferred job hunting timeline to get a recruiter to invest interest in you and want to present you to their client network.
- Gain information about the market and potential companies you can apply to.
- Evaluate the recruiter’s network, ability and skills to see if you would like to work with this person.
- Understand the candidate’s wants and needs, as well as their timeline for changing jobs.
- Discuss which potential clients may match the experience and needs of the candidate
- Filter candidates to ensure they only take on ones they can work with and support. E.g. Does this candidate have the right level of Japanese ability, skills or experience.
- Make the candidate feel comfortable that they are working with someone they can trust.
How to present yourself to a recruiter
Meeting a recruiter is not the same as a job interview. There are no expectations about your next steps or actions. The goal is to have an open discussion about your career, background and how the recruiter can support your needs.
Here are some tips regarding industry standards I have personally noticed.
This may vary from agency to agency, and also your career, too. Some companies prefer talking on the phone, some prefer meeting at their office location, and some may meet at a cafe. Should you go to a cafe or restaurant, my general rule is that the recruiter pays the bill.
I would recommend dressing appropriately for your industry standard. After all, especially in a country like Japan, first impressions count.
The exchanging of business cards is also common, as with any other meeting.
You should know that they will probably place this information into the recruiting company’s database, so only give them any personal contact details that you wish to be contacted through.
The recruiter may ask you to prepare this in advance so they can see your career background, and it is also an indicator of your seriousness to move jobs. If you are not actively looking, there is no need to provide one.
Like a first date, the initial meeting should be a way for you to get to know the recruiter’s network and see what initial opportunities they can offer. Likewise, you have the chance to share your career goals, and also decide if this is the recruiter you want to work with and to represent you to potential clients.
A quick personal anecdote to emphasise this; One of my clients told me during a recruiter agency review that they were deciding on their preferred agency list of who to work with. I asked them how many they had under review and they replied up to 100 contracted agencies.
If one recruiter does not match your style and expectations, it should not be hard to find another recruiter or agency to work with instead.
Our recruiter translation guide
A recruiter will ask you questions across a wide variety of areas, including your personal goals, experiences and personal conditions.
As standard as they may seem, they are designed to dig up deeper information on your profile and they allow the recruiter to gain further insight into your career, skills and goals.
Here is our translation guide to some of the questions they might ask you.
Skills and Experiences
What is your current role and situation?
Meaning: What are your key skills in which industry, and at what level are you capable of working (i.e. Entry-level, manager or director).
What are some of your key responsibilities?
Meaning: To what level and scale are you able to perform?
Are you someone who completes the whole operational process end to end? Or are you only responsible for parts of it within a team environment? Was the project just for your team, for your whole division or for the entire company across 20 nations?
This question allows the recruiter to gauge your level of responsibility and see to what degree you are contributing both daily and within the larger framework of your company's operations.
What are some of your key achievements?
Meaning: What are some tangible accomplishments or results that you have achieved in your current role and position? Furthermore, in what way do you communicate them to the recruiter and how do you recognise your own successes?
Do you use clear numbers and data to describe them, or is your answer vague or more feelings-based?
Are you managing people?
Meaning: Does this person have people management experience, and to what level?
For example, managing a team of 1-2 people vs 10 people vs 50 people, and so on.
Do you have the potential to manage large groups of people?
What is the size of your company and what are you comfortable with?
Meaning: What kind of culture within the company would best suit the candidate?
Are you capable of performing in both smaller and larger firms, and do you have a preference?
What are you looking for as the next step?
Meaning: Do you have an idea about your next step and are you aware of how to get there?
Do you have a specific career goal and realistic expectations, or will you need further guidance and education in your career direction? How realistic is it for you to achieve your goals?
What is your motivation for a job change?
Meaning: What are the key reasons that you are looking to change jobs? Everyone has their own reasons for changing jobs, however each answer may increase or reduce interest from the recruiters accordingly.
Much like a job interview, the more positive and logical the answer, the better it will come across and allow the recruiter to be more successful in promoting your candidacy to potential clients.
Let’s look at some examples of how wording can affect the impression you give others.
Motivation for change
My boss won’t give me a promotion, I have a bad relationship and/or communication issues with my superiors and the greater organisation.
I am unable to achieve promotion internally due to organization structural issues and I am looking for a new organization with greater opportunity for career growth.
I have nothing new to achieve in my current role or my role is boring now.
I have achieved everything in my current role and I feel the company is in a stronger position than when I started. I am looking for a new challenge to which I can contribute my skills and background.
My company doesn’t pay me enough and I feel that it’s unfair
I am unsure of my market value and wanted to see if I was getting paid at the market rate or not.
What is your timeline, or how actively are you looking to change?
Meaning: Are you looking to change your job now or six months later?
Being able to change jobs now vs in six months is huge in the mindset of a recruiter.
The next steps and actions change drastically based on your answer, so make this as clear as possible to help you and the recruiter in your long-term relationship.
Should the recruiter know when to follow up with you, this avoids all the awkward conversations about jobs you are not interested in, and it allows you to build more trust with the recruiter as they will work with your timeline and situation.
Are you open to relocation? Any areas you prefer?
Meaning: Can this person be flexible in location or are they willing to travel?
Even within Tokyo alone, your location can add thirty minutes to one hour of commuting time.
What is your visa status?
Meaning: Can this person work long term in Japan or will they need visa support? Will I need to find a client that can sponsor a visa?
What is your family status and situation?
Meaning: Is this person working for themselves and flexible, or are they supporting a family? How much of a part will family play in a person’s decision making?
What are your salary expectations?
Meaning: Does this person know their market value? Does their skill set match their expectations?
How to evaluate the recruiter and how to ensure the recruiter is interested in me?
Within this time, you should be able to tell whether the recruiter is worth your time. Here are some tips on how you can evaluate the recruiter.
As a general rule, age or time in the industry is not the be-all or end-all in deciding a possible recruiting agency or recruiter to work with.
People new to the industry can catch up quickly with industry norms (it is a sales business, after all), and just because they are long-term recruiters does not mean they have the right skills, background or character to work with you either.
Here is a list of questions you can ask to help evaluate the background knowledge and skills of a potential recruiter.
What tangible results and record with proposed clients can they share with you, both personal and firm-wide?
This will help you understand their level of performance and general capabilities as a recruiter.
What is the FILL that they specialize in?
Does their target FILL (Function, Industry Level and Language) match your (FILL)? Will they have contacts and companies that you are interested in working with? If this is already something that seems off track, I recommend you move on to other recruiters.
How long have they worked with your target companies and who do they know?
What is their relationship with the proposed company? Do they know anyone higher up that can give you an edge?
Can they explain to you the base conditions of the client: salary, location, commute, company culture and environment, diversity of staff backgrounds and job stability?
Do they understand the company they’re trying to match you with? How is their market knowledge?
How well they can convey these facts shows the professionalism, preparedness and passion the recruiter has for the client they represent.
If the recruiter is trying to introduce a company without any of the necessary knowledge or background facts, you may be better off finding another recruiter.
Have they had any experience with people with a similar background to you?
What is their history with people like you? Do they have a track record in helping people like you out?
Why do they feel you are right for the position they brought up?
Does their explanation fully align with my career goals? Is this something that matches your career interests?
Can I trust this person?
This is a business decision. Can you work with this person to support your career?
What happens after you meet a recruiter?
After your meeting with your recruiter, one of the following four things will probably happen.
- The recruiter will follow up with you at a more appropriate time or you part ways amicably.
- The recruiter will get back to you about opportunities after internal discussion.
- The recruiter will give you some opportunities to consider, and you can decide whether to apply
- The recruiter will keep contacting you with the wrong opportunities and may get on your nerves
Within each option, distinct steps and actions will occur, so here are some common scenario examples showing what might happen in each.
The recruiter will follow up with you in a more appropriate time or you part ways amicably.
Maybe the timing is not right for you and you are not interested in making a move now. Tell the recruiter your timeline and what information you are OK with receiving.
Good recruiters who are aiming to build a long-term relationship with you will aim to respect your relationship and career goals, and support you along the way.
Should a recruiter state they can not support you or provide the right client network to share with you, ask if they can suggest or even introduce you to a more relevant recruiting agency.
The recruiter will get back to you about opportunities after internal discussion
This is a standard scenario where the recruiter will review your profile first and then get back to you regarding new roles and opportunities.
This is common if you are dealing with a younger recruiter who may not have firm market knowledge, if you have not shared information beforehand, or if you are looking for a unique and rare position that has limited market opportunities.
What if the recruiter does not get back to me?
After meeting with a recruiter, if they never contact you again, you may feel like they have ghosted you or completely forgotten about you despite their promise to get back in touch.
Please do not take this personally, as there are a number of scenarios or logical reasons why this may happen.
- Your FILL is not able to be supported by the recruiter.
- The recruiter does not have any active opportunities to introduce to you.
- The recruiter has not made it clear how they will support you.
- The recruiter is waiting to contact you regarding the right position.
The best advice is to directly contact the recruiter and give them a call. Talk to them regarding your situation to get on the same page about how you can support each other and align expectations.
The recruiter will give you some opportunities to consider, and I am thinking to apply.
So the recruiter presents a splendid opportunity, and you send over your resume to apply for it. The recruiter will then monitor the process and get back to you regarding your application.
Hopefully, you will hear back within a reasonable time frame, between 1-2 weeks at the latest.
This could take longer depending on the speed of the company and who the recruiter is working within the organization.
What if a recruiter has a position but I don’t want to apply through them?
There is no rule or law that if Recruiter A offers you an opportunity, you have to work with that recruiter directly to apply.
If you know Recruiter B or C who can also introduce you to the same company, you are fully free to choose them as your recruiter to represent the introduction.
Clients are happy either way as long as you apply and can fulfil a hiring need.
What if the recruiter never gets back to me about my application? What should I do?
The worst-case scenario is that the recruiter sends your profile out to various companies, but then you never hear back from the recruiter. In this situation, it is easy to become frustrated, annoyed and lose trust in the recruiting company’s process.
The recruiter is not the main decision-maker regarding whether you get an interview or not. It is their responsibility to keep you in the loop about your application though.
Some common reasons for no response could be:
- The client has yet to provide feedback to the recruiting agency.
- The client may have slowed down their internal hiring processes and not told their recruiting partners.
- The client is moving forward with another candidate and your application is on hold.
The best solution is to call your recruiter directly and ask them to update you about the situation.
Can I apply to the same company through another recruiting agency if the first one does not get back to me?
The answer is no.
The reason is that most clients have an agreement with all recruiting agencies called candidate ownership, which means the recruiter is designated to represent your profile for a set time period - usually between six months to one year.
It is designed to stop candidates from applying to the same company from multiple recruiting firms, as well as allowing fair incentivisation for the agency that introduced the profile.
The recruiter keeps contacting me with the wrong opportunities and is getting on my nerves
Perhaps you got a friendly, kind but persistent recruiter who constantly gives you the wrong information, opportunities, doesn’t understand your needs and may call you in the small hours of the night.
Naturally, this kind of recruiter may not find the position what you are looking for and you may want to look elsewhere.
Some strategies to stop contact from happening are:
- Politely tell them you will work directly with other firms and do not need their support.
- Ask to be taken off the mailing list and get them to remove your number from their database.
- For more extreme cases, ask to speak to their manager or someone more senior in their organization.
- Ask to be contacted via another recruiter in their organization.
Things recruiters would like you to avoid doing
On the other side of the spectrum is a list of actions that recruiters would prefer you not do, and which may even get you blacklisted or otherwise damage your relations with recruiting firms.
- Not knowing where you have applied to.
- Trying to apply for the same position via multiple agencies by saying you never applied to a client.
- Disappearing or not replying to a recruiter when they offer you an interview with a client.
- Falsifying information on your documentation or not sharing your career history honestly on your resume.
How can a recruiter help prepare you for the interview?
So your recruiter has helped set up an interview between you and one of their clients. What are the things you need to consider before going to the interview?
We have a brilliant guide here for preparing for an interview in Tokyo, aimed at both bilingual and Japanese-speaking roles.
The recruiter can help by giving you the ins and out of the position, and providing information about the role, responsibilities, and company status. Here is a good checklist which can help you prepare for meeting with the client.
Interview preparation checklist
Use this checklist to help you understand the company’s background, the reason for hire, and other key information that can help you ace the interview.
Company background: Japanese or foreign-owned? Total headcount and sales volume?
Role and responsibility of the position: What will you be doing on a day-to-day basis?
The goal of the hire: What will you need to achieve if you join the company?
Reason for hiring necessity: Why are they looking for people? Is there a specific skill you can bring to join their team? Is the position newly created or did someone leave? Was there a reason why they left such as relationship issues or lack of experience?
Company culture: What does the company expect from its employees? What is the office environment like?
Hiring manager: What is the background of the hiring manager? What are their likes and dislikes, and what are things that they will focus on?
Team size: How many people will you be working with?
Hiring steps/timeline: How long will this take? How many people will you need to meet with? Are they hiring for three months down the line or for next year?
Location: Where is the office? Will it be easy for you to travel to?
Budget expectations: Ensure what you want is in alignment with what you can expect and possibly negotiate on.
Interview scheduling & Feedback sessions
Recruiters are the ones who handle the scheduling process between yourself and the client; they will set up the meetings, arranging the location and time. In most cases you will also contact the recruiter if you need to change and/or reschedule the meeting.
Interview feedback sessions
They will also provide advice before and feedback after your interview to help you through the interview process via phone call, email or face-to-face discussions.
These sessions are great for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the role, the company and your meeting, along with getting some further insight from the client via the recruiter on how you can prepare up for upcoming interviews.
It’s also an excellent time to openly discuss your expectations and start soft negotiations regarding your timeline, salary conditions or other expectations before leaving your current company.
How to manage your job changing activities and schedule
Interviewing and preparing to meet companies can be a time-consuming, emotional and tough period for anybody, regardless of whether it’s for their first job or going for a Fortune 500 CEO role.
Adding to this, you still have to continue with your day job, familial and social commitments, all at the same time. Like many major life decisions, there is always a large level of uncertainty around each corner as you wait on results, each with a different possible outcome, to see how your future will go. All of this adds more stress to the situation.
To help keep on top of your activities and reduce stress, here are some tips on how to manage your communications with recruiters, and also the job change process.
Use your diary or make an Excel file of all the companies you have applied to and agencies you contacted.
With so many calls, emails, and other exchanges with recruiters, meetings with potential companies, and also sending in your resume to various organisations, I highly recommend that you make an Excel file or use your diary to track all of the activities you are undertaking.
Some reasons are as follows:
- You can manage and keep on track of your application process with different agencies/companies.
- You know when to follow up with certain agencies if you do not get any feedback or updates.
- You know where you have already applied or heard information about.
- You can work out which agencies are good at supporting you and which are not.
A document like the following will help keep you on track and help you manage your time, as well as being a good reference.
Date of application
Michael Page recruiter: John Smith
Robert Half recruiter: Jun Saito
Set clear communication expectations with your recruiter.
Have a preferred time for contact? It’s good to let your recruiter know these things in advance, so as to avoid those awkward phone calls in the office or discussions during your personal time.
If you often travel overseas, it’s good to let your recruiter know your business/travel/holiday plans so they know not to call you in strange hours of the morning.
Check your holiday leave
When interviewing and meeting companies you may need to take time off unexpectedly from work to meet with potential organisations. Interviews can happen anytime, and sometimes the interviewer may ask to meet you during your daily office hours or early in the morning.
Knowing in advance how many days of holiday leave you have left can help in planning out your schedule as interviews start rolling in at different times.
Prioritizing your job applications
Many people often go in with the strategy of applying to 10-20 companies at once, and then eventually they will find an offer that suits them.
This is the approach that new graduates use when trying to find a job here in Japan.
However, a mid-career change is different in that you are applying for a position that requires a certain set of defined skills and has a limited number of available positions.
Available positions for employment are also affected by economic or global conditions. Your skillset will need to interest the client and be relevant to their industry too.
Rather than applying to 20 places at once, it is often a good idea to take your time to research and prioritize your top 3-5 companies of interest and then work down your list accordingly.
This will allow you to ensure you are applying to a company that matches your interests, as well as that your skillset is what the company is looking for, and which a good recruiter can support you to achieve.
Interviewing is a very time-consuming process, so it’s better to prioritize your time on the companies that interest you and you want to join first, rather than spend hours and hours talking and meeting companies that may not even meet your minimum expectations.
Set clear communication schedules with your recruiter
Have a preferred time to contact? Prefer a set time before discussing in details? It’s good to let your recruiter know these in advance so to avoid those awkward phone calls in the office or discussions during your personal time.
If you often travel overseas, it’s good to let your recruiter know your business/travel/holiday plans so they know not to call you in strange hours of the morning.
Check your holiday leave
When interviewing and meeting companies you may need to take off unexpectedly from work to meet with potential clients. Interviews can happen anytime, and sometimes the interviewer may ask you to meet during your daily office hours or early morning.
Knowing how many days you have left in advance can help in planning out your schedule as interviews start rolling in at different times.
Prioritizing your job applications
Many people often go into the mindset that they will apply to 10-20 companies at once, and then eventually they will find an offer that suits them.
This is the strategy and approach that new graduates do when trying to find a job here in Japan.
However, a mid-career change is different in that you are applying for a position that requires a certain set of defined skills and a limited headcount need too.
The job market situation can also severely affect a company situation such as global pandemics. Your skill set will also need to interest the client and relevant to their industry too.
I always recommend that rather than applying to 20 places at once, take your time to research and prioritize your top 3-5 companies of interest and then work down your list accordingly.
This will allow you to prepare yourself to make sure you are applying to a company that is matching your interest and make sure that your skill set is a match for the company which a good recruiter can support you to achieve
Interviewing is a very time-consuming process, it’s better to prioritize your time on the companies that interest you and you want to join first rather than spend hours and days talking and meeting companies that may not meet your initial interest.
Should I leave my position before I search for a new job?
Where possible, I do not recommend leaving your current position before searching for another. There are so many variables that you cannot control and which may delay or slow down your new job-hunting process.
The entire process from resume application to interview and offer could take up to 2-3 months at an average company in Japan. In addition, there is no guarantee you will get an offer until you get one.
A lot of companies will also question why you could not perform your current duties and search for a new position at the same time.
How can I negotiate the best offer?
Splendid news, you have received an offer! This means that a company will negotiate terms and conditions with you for employment.
This period of the process is where a recruiter can shine or fail depending on their communication skills and negotiation abilities.
First, the recruiter will work with you to get your ideal conditions and best salary package and most negotiation points will come from the following.
- Expected salary: What are the base and bonus conditions that you are expecting?
- This is calculated on your current package and yearly income. It is common for companies to ask for your yearly salary statement or ‘gensen chōshū-hyo’ (源泉徴収票) and may require other financial documents too.
- Start date: When will you have to leave your current company and join the new one? Most companies have a minimum of a 30 day notice period for resignation.
- Allowances: Are there any allowances you are getting at my current firm that you want to keep? This could include housing costs, expense accounts, or other fringe benefits.
- Working conditions: Are the hours and terms acceptable compared to what you were expecting?
- Another offer: How does this offer compare to any other companies that are making an offer as well?
Ideally, these conditions have been openly discussed during your initial conversations with the recruiter and also during your feedback sessions and ongoing discussions too.
This is both to help to gain mutual understanding of your expectations and to help the recruiter make sure there is nothing that has not yet been discussed.
How can I find out about the salary ranges based on my experience?
There are several ways to ensure that you will get a fair package and be paid what you are worth.
- Talk to your recruiter about their thoughts on the offer. Confirm this with another recruiter for a third-party opinion.
- Contact some friends who have changed jobs recently to hear their thoughts.
- Ask the HR of the company that made the offer what is standard and expected for their company.
- Do some online research and review salary surveys provided by consulting firms or global recruiting firms. Here is an example below.
Remember, salary is a very personalized process and will vary from company to company, as well as depending on your own abilities and skills.
Use the above as a guide to help see how your potential offer fits in with the market rate, and take into consideration the other criteria that make you interested in the company, role and position.
What is key to a successful offer negotiation?
The recruiter’s job in this situation is to manage the expectations of both parties and get them to agree on the best terms possible for both sides.
Expect some back and forth here, with a lot of quid pro quo-style questions and sometimes some give-and-take on both sides.
For example, a company may offer a later start date should you accept condition XYZ, or they may pay higher depending on a competing offer you are holding on to.
It is important to share your expectations in three ways with the recruiter so they can help you get the ideal offer.
- What you will 100% say yes to! This is the magic number, or the conditions that will make you quit tomorrow and sign the dotted line.
- What is your bottom line: What would be the minimum that you would accept and be ok with signing?
- What you will not accept: What are the conditions that you would not accept and instead reject the offer.
The recruiter will also be the one to share what is realistic under both the conditions of the market and for the client.
When should I ask for the offer letter?
An offer letter is a final agreement of the negotiations between the client and yourself. It will normally state all the compensation components, start date and also require you to sign in order to accept the offer and join the company.
First, my advice is don’t ask the recruiter to produce an official offer letter until you are 100% in understanding and comfortable with the offer conditions. Once the final offer gets published and approved, it is hard to go back and renegotiate the conditions.
How long do I have to decide?
The timeline is fluid, although most companies expect an answer within one week of an offer letter being prepared and presented to you.
What if I am also interviewing with another company?
- If you are also in offer negotiations with one or more other companies, I would recommend that you work with your recruiters to manage the timeline expectations of each client.
This is common and should be manageable by your recruiters and their clients.
- The ideal situation is that you want to consider both offers, so try to work with both parties accordingly to ensure you can do this.
I am still interviewing at another company but want to continue. How can I do that?
This case is more tricky as we have what we call a mismatch in the timeline. Unless the other company can bring you to the same position of offer negotiation in a short space of time, you have two choices:
- Take the offer and withdrawal from the interview process
- Reject the offer and continue the interview process.
The risk here is that an offer in hand is always more valuable than any interview as it guarantees your potential employment at the company. Continuing the interview process may not lead to future employment.
What if I reject the offer from a client? Can I reconsider or apply again in the near future?
It may depend from company to company, but the short answer is no.
For example, if you were to reject Company A only to come back to them two weeks later and ask them to reconsider, this would be frowned upon highly and you may not be given a second chance to renegotiate. Think of it from the perspective of your future boss or team members; Would they want to work with you once you initially rejected them?
Second, if you rejected a company to join a different one and things didn't work out, this would most likely be considered a red flag that you had difficulty adapting to an unfamiliar environment. You may find the first company unwilling to consider making you an offer when you reapply.
I hope this article can help you as a guide to navigate your job hunting activities and how you can build stronger relationships with recruiters in Tokyo for short- and long-term relationships.
For those who are still studying or looking to self improve in areas to increase your career potential, BFF Tokyo has guides written by industry professional and good people who want to help you succeed in your career, life choices and relationships here in Tokyo.
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