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4 Biggest Challenges (and Solutions) Associated with Sourcing in Japan

sourcing in japan

At Social Talent, we teach recruiters from around the globe how to find, attract and engage with more high quality candidates, faster than anyone else. That means, that on a daily basis, we hear about the challenges recruiters have in different industries and locations.  I recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of two of our Tokyo-based customers, one being a corporate recruiter and the other, an agency recruiter.

Both experience tough challenges recruiting in Japan that are specific to the Japanese market. Challenges which I hope to highlight today and provide some solutions for how to tackle them. Let the games begin!

1. Finding/Sourcing Candidates

The Challenge

The Japanese market is one of the most unique and challenging markets for recruiters to source talent. In Europe and North America candidates are easily found online through sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, GitHub, StackOverflow etc. We can cross reference profiles across different social sites to build up an informed picture of the candidate, before deciding what the best medium for engagement is. Simple, right?

sourcing in japanWell, in Japan things aren’t that simple! LinkedIn boasts just 1 million users in Japan, which represents less than 1% of the total population. Other social sites like Twitter fare a little better, but it is mostly among the youth in Japan that we see high levels of engagement on social sites. The reason behind this is rooted in Japanese culture. The Japanese are an inherently private people, in fact Japan has some of the most stringent privacy laws on the planet, and in Japanese society, who you are in the workplace directly corresponds to your social status outside the workplace. This explains why active users on social sites tend to be between the ages of 15-24, or those who have yet to start their career in earnest.

But, in general, sites like Twitter and YouTube have seen more success than the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn in Japan, purely because it allows users to sign up with a username rather than a real name. It is this anonymity that encourages users to sign up and stay active on sites like YouTube and Twitter. But with anonymity, comes big issues for recruiters. How do you go about finding the contact details for a candidate who doesn’t use their real name to identify themselves online? It’s practically impossible.

sourcing in japanSo, if social sites don’t have the candidate pool for the skillset you are looking for and you can’t identify who your potential candidates are, where do you look? Obviously, step one in any search is to consult your own database for any low-hanging fruit that may be available, so why not start there? Search your available CV’s and give those interesting profiles a call. Oh wait, it’s still not that easy

In Japan, most offices have an open environment, with large numbers of people working on the same floor sharing the same space. So, as a potential candidate, you don’t want your colleagues listening to your conversations. Again, we go back to privacy – it’s nobody’s business who calls you and why – but at the same time there is a stigma associated with being disloyal and dishonest to your employer. Individual ambition is discouraged, and you are expected to be extremely loyal to the company you work for. Even today, there are many Japanese workers that will go through their entire career only working for one or two companies.

The Solution

sourcing in japanJapan has a population of 120 million, so it is safe to say that people do hang out online, it’s just a question of where. If direct sourcing of LinkedIn profiles isn’t returning enough results get creative! Use tools like Followerwonk to search Twitter for profiles in both Japanese and English. If you’re not fluent in Japanese, get comfortable with at least some key terms relative to what you’re looking for. Are dating sites big in Japan? They’re worth checking out, people are selling their skills, attributes and personalities to get dates!

Get active on Twitter as a recruiter. Try Twitter’s new promoted video feature to get your video job ad seen by the right people. Post video job ads linking to sites like YouTube, where they can be viewed anonymously. Give potential candidates ways to contact you that will soothe their privacy/confidentiality worries, and use your track record and experience as proof you are a trusted recruiter.

2. Attracting Talent

The Challenge

From a corporate perspective, attracting talent is not as simple as posting a job ad and collecting applicants in your database before deciding who to call. Firstly, job advertisements in Japan have exceptionally low engagement/response rates, again due to the nature of Japanese culture. Secondly, potential candidates will have to be thoroughly convinced your opportunity is worth the hassle inherent in making a job change in Japan. So the challenge for corporate recruiters is to first effectively inform potential candidates that your company is hiring, and second is to convince them that they should be working there!

For corporate recruiters, the best tool you can use is definitely referrals. Corporate recruiters in Japan list referrals as their main source of qualified candidates for their open roles. The strong company culture in Japan (much more so than in the West), explains the success of referrals. Employees are happy to refer friends or acquaintances who have the skills to succeed in the job as it benefits the company as a whole to do so. Similarly, a candidate will be more responsive to your company’s courting attempts if they already know people working there. But it is dangerous to rely purely on referrals. Corporate recruiters need to be proactive in their candidate attraction techniques also in case a referral does not come down the line.

The Solution

Vend Visual Job Spec MarketingCorporate recruiters shouldn’t place all of their eggs in the referrals basket. At Social Talent we’ve seen huge increases in candidate engagement from visual, targeted job ads. Identify your target market and create visual, infographic-style job ads that will entice those of a certain skill set. Be strategic, don’t just post on LinkedIn and hope for the best! Find out the best place to reach your target market and go forth!

Also, never underestimate the power of a strong employer brand. Candidates are attracted to great brands, so spend the time and budget building your company’s brand. For some creative inspiration check out Deloitte New Zealand’s Into Deloitte’ graduate recruitment video series, showcasing life at Deloitte for new graduate hires.

Finally, when you are interviewing candidates, remember that candidate experience is directly linked to the perception of your company! Even if a candidate couldn’t be a worse fit for your position, they may know the perfect fit, so ensure everyone walks out of the interview thinking the experience was great, regardless of whether an offer is made or not! Use the meeting to build trust with your candidate, and if they aren’t a match ask for referrals!

3. Engaging Talent

The Challenge

Engaging Talent is arguably the toughest aspect of recruiting in Japan. While it is perfectly acceptable to call a potential candidate at work elsewhere in the world, in Japan it’s a big no-no. Especially when you consider that many of the larger agencies in Japan are US/European subsidiaries and they tend to employ English speaking consultants. When your Japanese colleague receives a call at his/her desk and answers in English, it’s pretty obvious what they’re doing and who they’re taking a call from. Like I said, that’s a big no-no in Japan’s loyalty-centric culture.

The Solution

sourcing in japanMeet them face to face. Forget about the urgency of the role, or any other time constraints. To recruit in Japan you must meet your candidates face to face and establish credibility and trust. They need to know you are competent, you have a great track record with similar candidates and you are an expert in your area. Changing career in Japan is a big deal, so the candidate must be 100% satisfied that you are the consultant to help them achieve this. If the candidate is not a great fit for your opportunity, you are still in a perfect position to ask for referrals!

4. A Final Note – Closing/Offer Acceptance

sourcing in japanSince making a career change in Japan is such a big deal, many candidates will speak with their families (often extended families) before making a decision as to take a position. This can be frustrating for you as a recruiter, having put the work in to get to this stage, just to see things hit a bump in the road.

But the best way to help a candidate get the backing of their family (and make your life a bit easier as a recruiter) is to be up-front, honest and always available throughout your working relationship with the candidate. Giving the candidate every last piece of information about the role will in turn give them the tools to convert some potentially more conservative and traditional family members to see the benefits in taking your offer.


So there you have it, 4 of the biggest challenges associated with sourcing in Japan, somewhat deconstructed and hopefully made slightly easier to face. If you have experience recruiting candidates in the Japanese market, please leave us your suggestions for tackling these challenges in the comments below. Or, if you’d like to share any case studies with us, please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]

And for more information on how to crack any regional recruiting market and find 4 times more exceptional candidates than you do now, invest in our online recruitment training, aptly named The Black Belt in Internet Recruiting, and start your journey to becoming a bona fide Sourcing Ninja today.

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