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Corporate Japan out to recruit more global talent

TOKYO — Japanese companies are gearing up for an extensive international student recruitment campaign — a human resource strategy supporting a larger game plan to deploy their businesses more globally.

TOKYO — Japanese companies are gearing up for an extensive international student recruitment campaign — a human resource strategy supporting a larger game plan to deploy their businesses more globally.

Mr Isao Ogake, director of global career and education at Disco, a job fair organiser that hosted an international job bazaar in Tokyo, said corporate Japan’s appetite to engage more non-Japanese has been soaring, reflecting a growing desire to go global and to add diversity to the workforce.

Of more than 800 mid-size to large companies surveyed by Disco, “48 per cent of them say they plan to recruit non-Japanese college graduates,” Mr Ogake said.

“That is up from 35 per cent last year.” The number was just over 20 per cent a few years back, he added. At many large corporations now “it is common to have a 10 per cent target quota for internationals,” he said.

Yet for all the stated goal of fostering diversity, foreign job-seekers are still expected to fit the Japanese mould. Mr Tomoyuki Ichikawa, executive officer in the global business department at Pasona, another job fair host, said he encouraged internationals to embrace Japanese manners, even if they were not required to do so by corporations, strictly speaking.

“We want international students to be on the same playing field as Japanese students,” he said. “It would be sad if they are rejected on the basis of etiquette.”

The dress code for men may be informal, but it is clear: Black suit, bleached white shirt and a nondescript necktie. Women are advised to wear a skirt, especially for tradition-bound financial institutions.

Employers also administer examinations for job hunters, with a battery of questions that test their knowledge of world affairs and general professional aptitudes.

The fixation on form has much to do with the fact that Japanese corporations recruit a large number of new graduates each year, often numbering in the hundreds. Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, one of the world’s largest banks, hired 1,550 employees last year, for example. With such large numbers to sort through, companies need some form of triage process, Mr Ogake said.

“The whole process needs to be efficient and systematised,” he said, with the dress code acting as a useful starting point, indicating a candidate’s readiness to conform to expected corporate behaviour.

The Japanese hiring approach has its advantages for entry-level candidates. Rather than recruiting to fill specific openings and vacancies, Japanese corporations hire a large number of fresh graduates annually and train them into a productive workforce.

Since most international students do not have proven experiences on their resumes, “that must work out well for internationals”, said Mr Yoshihiro Taguchi, a representative of NAP, a volunteer organisation that helps international students find jobs in Japan. Another advantage is that companies are willing to hire employees without skills and invest in building their capabilities, hoping to reap the benefits over time.

“Corporations don’t think universities prepare students for a job,” Mr Taguchi said, “so they have comprehensive in-house training systems.” The Japanese approach has several consequences for career development. One is that mid-career hiring is relatively rare — there is an expectation that young recruits will rise into management positions through in-house training and experience.

Another is that promotion often comes slowly in the early years; five to seven years is the minimum to reach the lowest rung in a managerial hierarchy, said Mr Ichikawa.

That can lead to defections: Foreign companies operating in Japan often hire internationals away with attractive salaries and positions, Mr Ichikawa said.

“People who worked for Japanese companies for a few years are well trained and are a prime target for poaching.” THE NEW YORK TIMES

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