Recruiting In Japan: Ask Your Client These 6 Questions

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Jan 20, 2015

The changing face of recruitment is a global issue, yet international recruitment is presented with the added challenge of cultural nuances and labor regulations that are country-specific.

When a client seeks to enter a new market, in the case of this article, in Japan, the role of a top recruiter is not only to provide recruiting-related candidate information and evaluation, but also advice about the market to determine the feasibility of a future business.

When you consider recruitment in Japan, new market entrants, regardless of industry sector, can benefit greatly by asking them the following six questions to determine if they are taking the right approach to the Japanese market.

1. Will we be targeting new Japanese accounts or leveraging global contracts to penetrate further into our existing accounts operating in Japan?

If you are working new accounts, bear in mind that Japan is more relationship- than solution-driven, and therefore the young, go-getter sales type, so desired in the West, often fails. With limited seniority, business-development employees often cannot gain access to the decision-makers in your target accounts. A young Japanese national is often more suitable for account management.

2. Do we expect to be selling direct or through channels?

Western HQs generally expect that business development with key accounts will be performed directly rather than through channels. While this expectation is not unrealistic in some circumstances, it is an excellent idea here to examine a channel-sales strategy, particularly for offices with fewer than five employees. Japanese clients are incredibly demanding, and a solid channel partner can help resolve issues needing immediate response.

Key point: Virtually all inquiries coming from Japanese customers require immediate response.

3. What on-target salary do we envision?

A key issue to successful hiring is the right budget. Hiring a person with the background to be successful in Japan will likely be more expensive than anywhere else in the world. Additionally, the aggressive base vs. bonus splits that occur in the West, often 50/50, are less common in Japan, often 75/25 or even 90/10. The paramount value of loyalty in Japan influences this ratio; if Japanese employees commit to you, they expect reciprocation.

4. Are we flexible on title?

A higher title means that your new hire gets access to the equivalent person on the client side. The more senior your new employee’s title, the more likely he or she is to access the decision makers within your target accounts. Also, never underestimate the power of ego to entice Japanese into a role. Ego is an unsung recruiting sales point, often trumping salary.

5. Are we planning to establish an LLC in Japan (known as KK there) or will our new office be sales only?

Corporate structure greatly affects the quality of person you can hire. For example, if you want to hire someone as an employee of the U.S. headquarters for an office based in Japan, you would have the equivalent of a contractor. Contract employment is generally not considered attractive and is treated differently under Japanese labor law than full-time employee status. Full-time employees enjoy job security and welfare allowances unavailable to contract employees who, in addition, must pay out of pocket for coverage in government programs.

The difficulty of motivating a full-time employee to increase risk by becoming a contractor, especially with a foreign company new to Japan, cannot be ignored. While more expensive, establishing a KK in Japan is the best first step to show commitment to the Japanese market. It will also have a positive effect on your recruiting efforts. If you would like a one-person office with a new hire as legal head of the business in Japan, recruiters can appeal to a candidate’s ego, making it far easier to motivate a candidate for the role.

6. Have we done any other recruiting in Asia? How has that gone?

Recruiting in Asia, especially Japan, is tough for the uninitiated. The adage for Japan is, “The only thing you do quickly in Japan is fail.” A balanced approach with a consistency of tone is important. Chances of success are greatly augmented by working with an experienced recruiter who crystallizes that approach and understands the challenges you will face here.

In the end, a recruiter’s main concern for any client entering the Japanese market is to be sure that they have a feasible business model and realistic expectations. We need to be able to convey to A-player candidates that you are committed to Japan through a balanced approach. There is no greater sales point for a recruiter than to be able to say, “Our client is doing things right in Japan.”

Image: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /
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