I've been in Tokyo's HR field for a long time, and I've done my share of hiring. Now I'd like to tell you about my experience on the other side of the table, as a recruited individual. My hope is that this will help you be better prepared for using one of these agencies to find your best job.
This story may not help everyone, for two reasons. First, it's Japan-specific. Second, I was being recruited for middle and senior-level management positions, not entry level. I had eight years of HR, recruitment, and training experience in Japan, which not everyone can rightfully claim.
However, I hope this article is useful and provides you with information to make your career path more clear.
My Recruited Life
My recruited life all started in 2015, when I was contacted out of the blue by someone in the Robert Walters Tokyo branch. I had never met that recruiter before, and I had no idea how they got my contact information. I had one coworker from a previous job who had joined the firm; he was my first suspect, and I appreciated being courted for my work skills.
The first thing that got my attention about the job opportunity was the salary. I worked as an HR manager in the English industry, in which Japan is (in)famous for underpaying their management staff. The salary for this new opportunity was almost double for doing the same work. I even had the required N1 level Japanese proficiency!
I was starting my current company, One Coin English, at the time. I was happy with how things were going, so I thanked the recruiter and asked them to consider me in the future.
Three months later, the same thing happened again. Another job offer, but this time from a different recruiter with an envious salary offer and the same, good ol' generic response from me. I continued to receive job opportunity notices, but it was once or twice a year at most. I figured they realized that I was not actively looking for work and moved on to the next hungry mid-level employee in Tokyo.
BFF Tokyo and Greg the Recruiter
Fast forward four years, and my good friend Greg contacted me about producing a series of content on the recruitment industry in Japan. Greg is an excellent recruiter in Tokyo with great results and principles. He's passionate about helping foreigners understand the industry in Tokyo and, more importantly, how to use a recruiter. I was interested because I wasn't impressed with the informational content out there, and I wanted to reduce the information gap between recruiters and job seekers.
Seriously ... of all times to get contacted by a recruiter ...
As we were outlining the vision and idea for the articles on recruitment, I was contacted from someone at Robert Walters for a position in the HR realm. The offered salary was an eye-gouging amount of money, but the job was a senior-level position which I was a bit self-conscious about. Doing all the things that I do in English is easy. Doing all those things in Japanese as the person responsible made me second-guess myself.
I had turned down every request because I was happy with where I was, building a seven figure business. This time was different because there were no in-depth guides or articles on the recruitment industry, except a few written by a recruitment firm.
What better way to start my third business, BFF Tokyo, than by doing some investigative journalism and creating the best article on the recruitment industry anywhere, and with my buddy?
Public Service Announcement
In addition to creating great content at BFF Tokyo, I have a second business: a Japanese language school in Gotanda and Shinjuku called Japan Switch. Over 140 students and counting have enrolled in less than one year.
Side note: we have written the best article on how to make Japanese friends, which is now ranking number one on Google search. We appreciate your good taste, Google!
We have also created a comprehensive list of guides on finding a job in Tokyo and covered everything you need to know about what jobs are available for foreigners, where to find them, and how to get them.
My first meeting with a recruiter
Now that I've scratched that self-promotional itch, let's get back to my story.
Rather than reverting to my standard "I'm not looking but thank you and keep me in mind," I sent a message to the recruiter that I was interested and would like to know more about the position.
The recruiter responded within several hours (as they should), and we arranged a time to meet in person at a standard Tokyo Starbucks near my workplace. If you have the experience and meet the requirements of a higher-level position, a recruiter will go out of their way to meet at a place and time convenient for you. No need to worry about taking time off work or meeting a recruiter on your day off.
I have the silly habit of always paying for things myself, so when I arrived before the recruiter, I went and bought myself a drink. Recruiters do have a business budget and are willing to purchase your drink, and it's a bit insulting to deny them the privilege. Make sure to not go too wild, though, and be considerate.
I expected the recruiter to jump straight into business and talk about the position; however, we started talking about what brought me to Japan and my thoughts about Japan in general. I asked him about his story and how he became a recruiter, and then we dove into my previous work experiences and talked briefly about my ability to meet their minimum requirements.
What is your job seeking temperature?
I realized later that this first meeting was a kind of interview, just not in the traditional sense of sitting on opposite sides of a table with a serious tone and manner. This chat was informal and relaxed. We talked about what I'm doing now, where I want to be career-wise, and what I wanted to do for work.
The recruiter needed to take my "temperature" for wanting to change positions. He didn't blurt this out, of course, but my spider sense from five years of doing recruitment told me what he was after. This initial chat is a time for me (and you) to be friendly, honest, and communicate clearly what your expectations are for salary, rank and level, timeline for changing jobs, commute times and locations, and what work you would like to do. The recruiter will definitely ask you these questions, so I recommend knowing all this before your first meeting.
My words of wisdom to job seekers is that even though you may not have all the skills required for the job in question, go meet the recruiter anyway. They may have additional opportunities that match your capabilities and desired income or level. The recruiter wants to get a feel for you as a person, not just an application, so the first chat is actually for more than only the opportunity they contacted you about.
If you are interested in learning more about recruiters, don't miss out our guide to recruiters in Tokyo in which we provide all kinds of information you need to know about recruiters in Japan.
Creating and sending over my job resume
The next step the Robert Walters recruiter wanted was for me to submit a resume, so I hashed one out from scratch and sent it on over. The worst news ever came next: they needed my resume in Japanese as well as English. Not only would I have to translate everything, but I had to provide two separate forms! One is the resume (rirekisho) and one is a work history (shokumukeirekisho). At the risk of being Captain Obvious now, I'm telling you you'll need to make a Japanese resume if you're job hunting in Tokyo. A nice gentleman over at GaijinPot produced a good article on how to make a Japanese resume, and here is a good sample resume from Franchir Japan. We also provide some helpful tips for creating a resume and cover letter in our guide to full-time jobs in Tokyo.
They also wanted me to fill in a profile form, which covered some of the things we talked about in the meeting but then goes much deeper. My belief is that once they've got your qualifications on record, you'll continue to receive job opportunities because you're recorded as an active job seeker. I recommend that you make the profile as soon as you can to get yourself on the job-seeking roster. A bigger agency has a better ability to filter and search for candidates, so expect more opportunities to come your way.
After you send your resume in, they will forward it to their clients. You'll have to wait and see if you're chosen for the first stages of real interviews.
Final Thoughts for Part 1
Here are some other things to keep in mind when working with a recruiter:
1. Any information you receive about positions from the recruiter is not a job offer. It's simply a job opportunity that you can apply for.
2. The job opportunity notification also contains the job description, requirements, and the skills and experience needed for the position and the duties they're expecting you to complete if you get hired. Always read it carefully to be sure you're up to the task.
Thanks for reading, and we will continue with part 2 later.
If you are looking for more advice on how to find a job in Tokyo, our job website provides other helpful articles on guiding you through every single step of finding an ideal job in Japan.
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