Tips for Recruiting in Japan

Despite a large, highly educated workforce, hiring in Japan can prove very challenging. How challenging? According to the 2018 Manpower Global Talent Shortage survey, Japan was the most difficult country to hire in out of the 43 countries surveyed. A somewhat notorious title that Japan has held for many years running. In addition, Japan has one of the lowest Jobs to Applications ratio of approximately 1.06 as of Janurary 2021.

Why? The two main reasons appear to be that the overall labour force is not growing significantly, and that there is a lack of fluidity in the job changing market. However, there are millions of professionals changing jobs every year in Japan. Rather than exploring the demographic or socioeconomic issues that have resulted in this situation, we’ll share some practical advice and tactics that that will help you fill your positions in Japan.

Give your candidates a try

In many markets in the world, it would be exhausting and simply impossible to meet every applicant who applies to your open positions. In Japan, this is not necessarily the case. Currently in Japan there are 160 positions for every 100 job seekers: a 44-year high in Japan. This means your shortlist of applicants can prove to be a very short list indeed.

For many roles, it can take weeks or even months before meeting an applicant. The more specialized the required skillset and the smaller the candidate pool available, the more laborious the hiring process will be. If you have experience recruiting in other markets and are accustomed to having 10 to 20 applicants for each position, this may be frustrating. However, we advise you not to make hasty decisions and easily dismiss applicants that may on one glance, seem unfit or irrelevant. By being more open-minded towards applicants, it not only maximizes your chances of finding the right candidate, but it allows you to get a better gauge of the Japan market.

Let English ability take a back seat

Only a very small portion of the Japanese population, including the professional population, speak English fluently. English language classes are compulsory in Japanese schools, but there is little focus on conversational skills and many Japanese professionals struggle with English language interviews. As a benchmark of how this compares internationally, in 2013, Japanese test takers of the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) examination ranked 40 out of 48 countries.

If you usually have a certain minimal English level that applicants are restricted to, we recommend you consider lowering it for Japan. English ability is just one facet of the overall professional ability of an applicant, and Japanese professionals’ English skills improve considerably when put in an environment where it is used regularly.

Another strategy may be not to require English ability for all roles, but to instead include a few English speakers in each team, to facilitate smooth communications with the head office.

A final question to ask yourself is, would it be better to leave this role unfilled or to fill this role with someone with limited or no English? If you choose the latter, you can arrange for an interpreter to assist you with interviewing applicants.

Sell your brand

Japan is a country with 3,000 years of history. Not surprisingly that has given it plenty of time for companies and brands to grow and develop, with one survey claiming that there are 21,000 companies in Japan that have been in business for more than 100 years.

For Japanese people, the nation’s brands are well-known, stable and familiar. In an annual survey of top companies new graduates would like to work for, only eight foreign companies managed to make it into the top 100. As a foreign company in Japan, whether new or established, it is therefore essential that you leverage the brand power that your company has overseas and create a compelling story that will motivate job seekers to work for you. Asking the applicant to check the website or sliding them over a company brochure is not enough. Throughout the interview process be sure to sell your company, the role and all its benefits. This means moving away from a “why should we hire you” mentality to “what can I do to hire you.” Once you have gained their trust, they will proudly work for your company and contribute much more.  

Understanding the candidate’s situation

A strong Japanese candidate will receive multiple offers during their job search and simultaneously receive a counteroffer from their current company. Loyalty to one’s existing employer is perceived as virtuous in Japan, so it is important to be understanding of the fact that your applicant may be experiencing mixed emotions about their job change. To overcome this self-doubt, we recommend that on average you offer the candidate 10% more than they are currently earning. If you need to benchmark average salaries, please take a look at our salary benchmark tool.

Changing jobs frequently in Japan is looked down upon by some hiring managers, and a job seeker runs the risk of being labeled as a ‘job hopper’ if they do so too often. Your applicant is typically not only assessing your role and company: they are also considering how many more job changes they can make before it potentially negatively impacts their career. So be sure to stress the long-term career path and future of the role and the company so that they can feel reassured about what is to them a big move.

In order to beat out the competition, your company will need to act quickly and decisively with a competitive, if not a better offer. Job changing in Japan can be a long process with two to four interviews taking place over a number of weeks. If that process can be slightly reduced, or interviews held quickly and flexibly, you may enjoy an advantage over your competitors without incurring any extra costs. Japanese people tend to dislike negotiating, so do make sure that the very best offer is presented from the start.

There is no doubt that hiring in Japan can be demanding, but if you stay humble, remain inquisitive, and adapt to the market, you will be able to hire the right people who will help your business grow and prosper.


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  • Japan is the most difficult market in the world for hiring
  • There are several tactics that you can employ to hire successfully in Japan
  • Be open-minded towards candidates
  • Do not judge candidates solely by their English ability
  • Selling your company and the role is a must
  • Be competitive and supportive during the hiring process
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