If you’re looking to hire people in Japan, finding and identifying specific names of people isn’t that tough — you can scour LinkedIn, pick up a phone book, go on Bizreach, or use other local job boards. It’s convincing them, engaging them, and actually getting them to take an offer that’s the really tough part.
I’ve heard a lot of interesting reasons for declining an offer in Japan. As a recruiter for foreign tech firms in Japan, sometimes I could convince the job seeker otherwise — that their concerns were not really warranted and through lots of teeth-pulling, long phone and emails exchanges, and perhaps a few Moscow Mules, eventually change their minds. Other times, it was a losing battle from the start.
While I wouldn’t say these are 100% uniquely Japanese, as the following situations could play out anywhere, I did find some tendencies among Japanese candidates that kept popping up in the recruitment process. I often had to learn how to deal with these the hard way.
“My wife said no. “
Happens all the time. Usually the wife isn’t happy with the salary, brand name or stability of the company. While she might not be the bread winner, obviously her opinion counts, and she often controls the finances of the house. Or, they’re in the middle of buying a house, so the bank loan would get screwed if he were to switch jobs.
The problem isn’t so much that the mysterious Japanese wife is any more critical than the typical wife — it’s that I found that usually the husband doesn’t talk to the wife about the details of the job until much later in the interview process — perhaps out of fear, over-confidence, or simply clueless mismanaging of expectations. So when he does get an offer, the wife is surprised and critical, making the conversation much harder, and leaving you in a tight corner. It’s a communication issue that you have to facilitate.
How I would address this: No, don’t take the wife out. The simple solution is including the family in conversation, from the start. After the first interview you need to be very direct and actually meet the job-seeker in person to discuss this. It’s a big deal. Actually ask Did you speak to your wife? What does your wife think? What are her concerns? Does location matter? What are her priorities, etc. etc. Repeat this process after every interview.
If you can, figure out what she likes (French wine etc.) and on your next “trip” out of the city make sure to bring back something that the both of them can enjoy. Or just get them front row seats to a baseball game.
“My boss said no.”
Unfortunately, I’m not joking. This is illegal but happens all the time. When a candidate tries to resign, the boss flat out says “no, you can’t leave the company and I won’t let you” and the conversation ends there. Of course, anywhere else in the world the employee would tell them to screw off, but in Japan, many times the employee feels pressured to actually remain at the company.
While this may seem to defy logic and come off as extremely weak, remember that pride, shame and reputation play complex and important roles in Japanese society, particularly if they are moving within industries. I find that when the job seeker is young and it’s their first job change, the resignation is particularly hard. For the older generation, they tend to not give a damn and can handle it.
How I would address this: The education has to start early-on in the interview process with a straightforward talk about resignation. You have to explain the law (your boss can’t make you stay and you have 2 weeks notice by law) and even role-play a resignation scenario. Ask them questions like “what if you get a counter-offer, how will you respond?” Remind them why they want to change jobs in the first place. Also, almost 100% of employees who decide to “stay” after resigning end up leaving in a few months anyways.
“They are a new company and not stable” … (talking about Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Twitter).
Company size, capital and brand name are all important, much more so than for most Western job seekers. Even though Airbnb and Twitter are well-known abroad, if there are only 5 employees in the Tokyo office, you’ve got some selling to do. Foreign firms have a poor success rate in Japan as most of them pull out, burning through cash or underestimating the difficulty of the market. So, this fear is not unwarranted. Actually its a very reasonable one. The onus is thus on the employer to convince the employee otherwise, no matter how big their brand name and budget is in their home country.
How I would address this: Numbers, data, and articles. Have a huge PDF or powerpoint ready lining out your business plan, growth strategy, capital investment, etc etc. Reinforcing this with hard facts is important. Just remember the iPod vs Sony Walkman commercial and how different they were — iPod’s slogan was “1000 songs in your pocket” and Walkman was a bunch of technical specs and details listed out.
Second, get them to talk to someone at the company casually, where they can just blast questions (prepared ahead of time). If they can hear it from someone else (other than you) that preferably speaks Japanese (this is important), then they’re much more likely to warm up to the idea. Don’t forget to take them to lunches and dinners. Remember, there’s also going to be a language gap so you want to have someone local dot the i’s and cross the t’s so you don’t miss anything.
What to do?
The key to all of these, then, is to isolate the concerns and nip them in the bud before they can grow into something unmanageable. In other words, having the conversation about the wife’s opinion, resignation process and quelling any concerns systematically at the very, very start of the interview process and double-checking throughout will set you for a much higher chance of success.