As the IT business has spread to every corner of the globe it is tempting to imagine that industry workers share a common outlook, along with the acronyms and relaxed dress code. In reality of course, local habits and customs are still a powerful influence. Japan is no exception and recruiters and employees prepared to do some homework can expect big rewards.
Breaking with tradition
In the first place, any company wanting to draw on Japan’s small pool of local bi-lingual employees needs to try to see the world through their eyes. The traditional company and team ethos, with its aversion to overt signs of disloyalty, is still very much in evidence. Japanese workers also tend to want to avoid risk. The security of corporate pensions and a predictable career path, for example, are seen as important so moving companies can be a really big decision. Which means, inevitably, that you need to appeal to them almost as much as they do to you.
Start-ups, similarly, can be seen in unexpected ways. While an IPO or ‘exit’ is much of the attraction for Western players, for Japanese executives it can often be a source of concern. Why should they take the plunge only to find themselves starting over in as little as two years?
There is, however, a lot that companies, especially Western ones, can do to make themselves attractive. What candidates want to see, from newer companies in particular, is commitment to the Japan market. This means rented buildings – as opposed to serviced office space – and partnerships with reputable local resellers and distributors such as NEC, Fujitsu or Hitachi. The local reputation you build will be the main context in which your candidates make their decision - which, incidentally, will likely be taken with friends and family - so the louder your reputation speaks for you in advance, the easier their decision will be.
Reputation also extends to what you do and with cutting edge technology jobs being relatively scarce, the more advanced your business, the more attractive your offer. It will likely represent an accelerated, more meritocratic career path compared to most local opportunities.
Create valuable networks
Would-be employers also need to develop plenty of patience. Most positions are filled not by job ads and contact online - although these methods are starting to take off - but by referral to people already in work. This networking approach demands either that your company builds up its own web of local contacts or that you use an agency, like ours, that has had the time to do this. Experience shows that it can sometimes be up to two years before someone on our books is willing to move and once that process is started they can easily be put off if the offer is wrong or they are not getting the information and reassurance they need.
Meet in the middle
It is also very important to be flexible in your outlook. While in Europe or the US it is highly unusual, as an employer, to commit to a future career path in an acceptance letter, in Japan, recruits are looking for clear signals about where they will be as many as five years ahead. Often both sides will need to meet in the middle with some kind of compromise. Moreover, the way local staff are managed and reviewed may need to be tailored to get the best people. We would also recommend flexibility when it comes to language skills. The best qualified candidate may not be the most fluent, so seek local help with interviews and be prepared to offer language lessons and support.
Identify the in-demand skill sets: Saas, PaaS and digital marketing
Meanwhile, for those looking for work in Japan, it’s worth knowing that, currently, there is only a small talent pool in emerging areas like advanced data analytics, SaaS, PaaS and digital marketing platforms, for example, while at the same time local demand, even among traditional industries, is growing rapidly. Even for expat workers with limited Japanese language skills, Swift/IOS positions are increasingly available with multi-nationals and Japanese companies alike and as contract or permanent.
Life outside your work space
Besides, there are many advantages beyond the competitive salary levels. Despite some uncertainty in the local and global economies, the technology-sector recruitment market is buoyant and Japan has a fascinating, complex history and culture. Despite its startling modernity, it still remains a safe, family-focussed country. The food is great as well.