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4 examples to demonstrate how different companies in Japan are looking for different kinds of hires

There is a common theme in quite a few of my previous articles that it is important to evaluate each company that you apply to and not apply over generalizations when you are looking for your first (or next job). This is because really, each company is looking at foreign applicants from a different angle. Fully understanding why a company may be interested in you is key if you are trying to increase your chances of being hired as well as avoiding wasting companies which are unlikely to be interested in you.

I have already explained many of the general trends in other articles but if you have not read them, you may want to take a look in particular at this one – which talks about what the research says about what companies in general are looking for. This article also assumes that you know that “potential based hiring” is what most Japanese companies apply for fresh graduates.

This article is however more of practice. Below I wanted to give 4 anonymized companies (based of real life examples that I know of) – I will firstly give a description of the company and leave you to think a bit about what kinds of people they may look for. Only after will I reveal the probable types of people they’d be looking for. I’ll add some commentary also about some key points of each case study.

Hopefully this allows you to think a bit more concretely about company wants and needs.

Case 1: Startup A

Startup A is an around 3 year-old company – practically a baby in company terms. From a founding team of 3, they’ve grown to around 30 members. They produce an online service for other companies to streamline their HR processes which has received some traction in Japan. Their current plans are to speed up the speed of development of their product – based on similarities in terms of working culture they are thinking of exploring expanding into Mandarin-speaking regions in the next 2 years. Their product manager speaks professional-level English.

What kinds of people do you think they’d want to hire?

Answer

Likely to hire:

  • Engineers with at least one year of coding experience. Japanese not necessary
  • Native Mandarin speakers with business Japanese
  • People with experience in corporate sales / corporate marketing and maybe finance people for fundraising
  • Long term interns who have proven that they can contribute

Unlikely to hire:

  • Fresh graduates without intern experience EXCEPT for above Mandarin speakers

Commentary

I wanted to throw out this example first as an example of a company which would not practice fresh-graduate potential based hiring. The fact is that small companies generally don’t have the resources to give you a structured training plan. The company is in a sink-or-swim mode – the same will be expected of employees and hires.

Therefore the focus is on hires who can contribute as quickly as possible after entering the company. This excludes potential engineers with zero experience but does include engineers who can’t speak Japanese due to the product manager being English-fluent. This also excludes most fresh graduates except for long-term interns who have “proven themselves” and the Mandarin speaker above since in this case language skills are in themselves a way of contributing.

See this article also if you want to see my thoughts on working in an SME / Startup as your first career.

Case 2: Consulting Firm B

Consulting Firm B is a top-tier brand in Japan – but only Japan. Its payroll is above 1000 employees but seeing the limits of Japan’s shrinking population and market, it wants to expand overseas and also expand consulting for other companies seeking to expand overseas. Overseas operations at this point of time however, are only in their budding phase.

What kinds of people would they want to hire?

Answer

Likely to hire:

  • “High potential hires” – in particular multilinguals and good school name graduates
  • High priority for foreigners with strong Japanese
  • Field experts (probably with at least 5 years experience and possibly even without Japanese)

Unlikey to hire

  • Fresh graduates without good school names or without Japanese

Commentary

Consulting is a field where I have observed a strong preference for good school names – from the perspective of consulting HR, because you don’t know what kinds of projects that will come in, the best bet is to hire people who will have the highest chance of being able to problem-solve, make powerpoints and presentations no matter what kinds of situation or projects they find them in. Ergo, strong school names.

While they are expanding overseas, most of their business right now is still in Japanese. Therefore unless you are a field expert in a certain industry or a certain region, them hiring someone without business Japanese is unlikely. Remember that hiring someone without Japanese means that they’d probably have to attach a junior staff member in order to aid you – therefore your work would have to pull the weight of two people.

However, due to plans to explore overseas ventures bilinguals are heavily preferred. And because it is harder to hire English (or other language) natives with strong Japanese than Japanese natives with strong English,  therefore candidates with native languages other than Japanese who have strong Japanese receive a strong advantage.

International FMCG Company C

Company C is one of those companies which produce many of the brands that you see on your supermarket shelves. FMCGs stands sfor Fast Moving Customer Goods – the soap, shampoo, pet food and stuff.

Japan is one of their major markets given the population and affluence of the population and therefore their workforce in Japan is quite large. However, most of their products are manufactured overseas – the Japan office handles mainly logistics, sales and marketing.

What kind of talent do you think this company would be looking for?

Answer

Likely hires

  • Japanese natives with strong English skills
  • Mid-career foreigners with strong Japanese skills

Unlikely hires

  • Fresh graduate non-native Japanese speakers

Commentary

The story which I want to state here – and which I fully explain in this article – is that foreign companies do not necessarily want to hire non-native Japanese speakers. You really have to look at their business presence in Japan. In this case the company is doing sales and marketing within Japan so native speakers have a huge advantage. Foreigners already with working experience in Japan too will have an advantage given that many times these companies are looking out for foreigners who, on top of their skills and different perspective, also get Japanese business. But not really the foreign fresh graduate.

Japanese Electronics Manufacturer D

Japanese electronics manufacturer D is another household name. They make things like fridges and microwaves and stuff that you probably have in your own apartment now. While their main base is in Japan, they also have factories in Vietnam and Thailand. With a shortage of technical talent in Japan, their R&D has been bilingual since a few years ago.

So what kinds of people would this company hire?

Answer

Likely hires

  • “High potential hires” for general positions – business Japanese necessary
  • High priority for Vietnamese / Thai speakers with strong Japanese
  • Aside from the above, technically skilled graduates – Japanese not needed

Unlikely hires

  • Arts and humanities students without business Japanese
  • Students from lower ranked universities (based on “potential hiring”)

Commentary

This should be relatively simple to piece toggether. Because this is a large Japanese company most likely “potential based hiring” – where concrete job roles are only for technical staff – is at play here. This means that Japanese is almost always necessary for arts/humanities graduates. However do note the particular circumstances – where a company has overseas offices and whether they have bilingual departments can open up opportunities if you are a speaker of a language which they would demand.

So there you have it

These are just 4 examples which I wrote to serve as an exercise for you to think about. Remember – each company’s position will influence the kinds of people which they hope to hire. Whether you can accurately pinpoint this can be a very important part of whether you are effectively using your time when you are job hunting.

If you are specifically thinking about how this applies for foreign students though – I’d recommend reading this article as a follow up. Thanks for reading and good luck!

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