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How to Recruit in Japan


Recently, Morunda has been contacted by a number of companies looking to enter the Japanese market. Recruiting isn’t always straightforward for new entrants into Japan, and while the decisions involved are certainly not easy, they present challenges that must be carefully considered. Having a solid strategy is a must!

5 Challenges of Recruiting in Japan

  1. Start early. Recruiting in Japan takes time, and although 30 days’ notice is common business practice for candidates who are resigning, it often takes 60 days to start at a new company.
  2. Be a good fisherperson. Don’t make an offer to the candidate that you’ve fallen in love with too quickly. Reel candidates in slowly to keep them interested and excited, but don’t move too quickly, or they may get nervous and swim away. I was speaking recently to a pharmaceutical executive who said he had recently been offered a country manager role but decided not to proceed because the offer came too quickly and gave him the impression that the company was desperate. On reflection, the candidate said that if the company had taken its time and paced out the meetings, he probably would have accepted the offer.
  3. It takes a village to recruit your star.Japanese and Western employees see the decision-making process differently. From a Western perspective, decisions are made by individuals. The paradigm here is that the individuals have the power to choose. More choice equals more freedom, and we are masters of our destiny. From the Japanese perspective, choice takes on a different meaning.

In Japan, the stakeholders in a candidate’s decisions come from all areas of their lives. Receiving consensus from their group is important, and the group’s role is to protect the individual from making an error in judgment.

  1. Bilingual candidates are limited in supply.Recruiting English and Japanese bilingual talent in Japan is similar to recruiting Spanish and English bilingual talent in the United States. Great bilingual candidates are out there, but their number is finite.
  2. You may be flying blind. Usually, companies have an informal internal reference checking system when hiring candidates. For the first hire, you may not have that luxury. Do your own reference checks or pay a third party. Asking a search firm to do reference checks may be like having the fox guard the henhouse.

6 Winning Strategies of Recruiting in Japan

  1. Write a compelling job description. Most job descriptions are depressingly generic. A great job outline emphasizes opportunities and challenges—not just the skills and qualifications required. You’re selling an opportunity, so tap into your inner creative director (think Don Draper from the show Madmen) and come up with an advertising campaign for your company and the position that you want to fill.
  1. Where will the candidate be in five years?Communicate candidates’ career paths to them. Great candidates have a five-year horizon and expect to excel. What is the dream at the end of the rainbow? How will the position change others’ lives, internally or externally? What is the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG—see James Collins and Jerry Porras’ 1994 book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies)?
  1. Get connected. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) provides foreign investors with abundant information on all aspects of doing business in Japan and also offers expert consultation services and even free temporary office space throughout the country.
  1. Choose the right recruiting partner. Your recruiting partner is your voice in the market. Your partner should match your company’s culture, passion, and values. A limited pool of candidates means that you may only get one shot at the best and brightest in the market. It’s far easier to hold one firm accountable than several.
  1. The right hire can be a golden recruiting goose.Top talent follows top talent.
  1. The offer!When making an offer to a candidate, remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears.The offer should not be too soft or too hard but just right. If you underpay or overpay your first hire, you risk salary inequity problems down the road.

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