There’s a lovely scene at the beginning of the Jo Nesbo novel (now film) “Headhunters” that I often think about. The setting is in an Executive Search Consultant’s office and our narrator is informing a candidate of why he should only apply to one particular job opportunity and should only go through one search firm when choosing to do so. As to why, our lead character points to a picture on his office wall (a generic piece of “corporate art”) and says (to paraphrase) “This picture is a worth a quarter of a million kroner and it consists of a few lines, some circle’s and the coloring is plain and lacks texture. Do you want to know why it’s worth so much? Because it’s unique and the artist is well known. Why is it worth so much? In a word… Reputation”.The rest of the novel is a great read (though nothing to do with Exec Search but rather the more violent, real life Head-hunting) and I often think about that opening sequence and see the applications this has on the pharmaceutical job market here in Japan.Are companies, and individuals, focused enough on their reputation? Could they put a value on it? Do they protect it or are they unknowingly harming it? Does a glossy Corporate brochure or an impeccable CV really separate the best and the worst in our market?

The first step when assessing one’s own corporate reputation is to recognize that whilst our actions can lead to a favorable impression, ultimately, our reputation is owned by others (i.e. they can control your reputation – you can’t). This is the contention put forward by my former University Professor, Rupert Younger (founding Partner of Finsbury Financial Communications and one of the world’s great “Spin Doctors) and I believe it holds true in the Japanese war for talent in the Pharmaceutical Industry.

A candidate may have a flawless list of accomplishments on their CV and seem a perfect fit for our client. Yet a negative comment from a former colleague, perhaps now working at the new company, can quickly turn an attractive opportunity into a swift rejection notice. Similarly, a company with an incredible pipeline can miss out on top talent when the market believes that they have a high turnover, or power harassing senior management (even if this is not the case).

The good news is that, by and large, the Japanese pharmaceutical industry has a great understanding of how companies and individual actions can lead to reputation enhancement or harm and this has fostered a broadly congenial culture amongst the two parties. Having worked in Pharmaceutical Executive Search in both Japan and in Europe, I really can say that companies and candidates have broadly got it right here in Japan.

The bad news (well not really bad, but a complicating factor) is that in the Japanese pharmaceutical job market there is usually a third party involved in any successful senior hire and that is the Recruiter and I don’t think this relationship is managed quite as well. If every colleague you work with, or every employee you have, is a potential positive or negative contributor to your Corporate or Individual Reputation, isn’t the agent who represents you another major stakeholder? Are they representing you or your company in the manner that will enhance your reputation?

Take the example of Company A which has a fabulous pipeline, growth potential and a number of open roles they need filling. The company decides they should work with a range of companies to ensure all roles are filled but the company then decides to issue a blanket announcement to 30+ recruitment firms (presumably waiting for the candidate resumes to fly in). If 30 firms = 30 x the available candidates on spec than this would be a terrific strategy. Unfortunately, the truth is that 30 firms = 30 unique holders of your Corporate Reputation and 30 opportunities to misrepresent you to the market. If the candidate you want (that one perfect candidate in the market) is being told about the same position by 3 or 4 or 8 different search firms, what will their impression of your company be?

Similarly, take the example of Candidate B who one day decides he wants to change his job and spreads the word to every recruiter he’s ever spoken with (let’s say 5 or 6  – possibly more). Whilst no search firm can cover the whole market, this candidate’s resume is now spinning around corporate HR departments like a pin ball and multiple agents = multiple opportunities to be misrepresented in the market? If the company receives your CV from an agent they don’t really know, or if the role is not quite right for you but your CV is sent anyway, what will this do to your individual reputation?

In order to help both candidates and companies better manage this important 3rd player in corporate reputation, remember the following 3 points;

* Knowledge: Does the agent really understand your background or your company and would you trust them to represent you? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and test their understanding of your career / the role you need filling. Discard the agents that don’t have that depth of understanding.

* Relationships: Has the agent operated in the market for a long time and have a real network that can add value to you (as a candidate or employer)? The financial crisis has meant a lot of new recruiters have moved to healthcare as a “safe from recession” option so be sure to do your homework before working with them.

* Review: Is the agent consistently supplying quality candidates or presenting quality opportunities to you? Or do you get the sense that they don’t care? Don’t be afraid to cut relationships and only work with the ones that want to work with you.

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Morunda should be your choice of recruiting partner in Japan and Asia Pacific. Why? Because we live and breathe the pharmaceutical industry in Asia and the Pacific—we’re specialists!

  • Morunda has completed over 400 managers to director-level placements since 2001.
  • A cultural understanding of what it takes to secure top talent
    Over one hundred thought leadership articles published.
  • We hold regular seminars for candidates and clients alike with industry experts.
  • We understand the market, not only today, but where it is heading in the next 12 to 18 months