Will a Headhunter Help You Get a Job in Japan?

You’re not Japanese, you’re a foreigner.

You want to live and work in Japan because:

  1. You have friends, or know someone, who lived in Japan and told you how wonderful it is
  2. You’re a big manga fan and working in Japan would be so cool
  3. You took a semester or two of Japanese in school so you should be able to get by
  4. You’re bored where you are now and working overseas, especially in Japan, sounds interesting
  5. You’re a techie and Japan has the coolest, most up do date technology (so you’ve heard)

Or, any of a dozen or more other reasons you can come up with to justify to yourself and family that you should go abroad and make your way to, and in, Japan.

Next step, you go online and find a few Japan based headhunting firms and send them a quick email and/or your resume. Now, obviously, all you have to do is sit back and wait for the interviews and job offers to come rolling in.

Well, it’s a nice dream Bippie, but the reality is – it just ain’t gonna happen that way.

Let’s see if we can help you understand why.

First of all, headhunters don’t for the most part, work that way. Sure, we appreciate receiving resumes, but most of us spend our hours searching for the right candidates for our clients’ mandates. In other words, “We don’t find jobs for people, we find people for jobs.”

Now, that’s not 100% true. There are times when we hear from a person we might consider a star candidate and if they have experience, and qualifications in the field we work in, then we may spend some of our time marketing them to our clients or to potential clients. But, that is rare and most headhunters can count the number of times they do that every year on one hand and probably have a few fingers left over.

Further, most headhunters in Japan – be they foreign owned firms or Japanese firms – are looking for very specific candidate qualifications. First and foremost among this is likely to be native level Japanese or darned close to it. A Level N4 qualification isn’t going to do you much good when you’re working in a near total Japanese environment. We even see Level 1 people get turned down because their Japanese isn’t really native (read that as the Japanese sounds right, but hey, it’s coming out of a foreign looking face so it can’t really be right).

Let’s look at some of those “I want to work in Japan” reasons listed above again.

  1. That’s great. So, talk to those friends and find out what they did here and how they got into it. Maybe you can follow in their footsteps or at least learn how they got started (oh, and don’t forget to learn about visa requirements – you cannot work on a tourist visa).
  2. Uh-huh. So you can read manga, in English (maybe in Japanese). Not much call for manga readers in the job market here.
  3. Level N4. See above.
  4. You think you’re bored now? Wait till you get here and the shiny new part wears off and you find out your only friends are the people you share space with in a shared house or the guys who spend their weekends out trolling for the girls who want to practice their English or want a cool gaijin boyfriend (you are that cool person, right?). Note this isn’t meant to be gender specific, but I’m writing from the male perspective. Someone else can do the female part.
  5. Really? Where’d you hear that? Oh, you’ve heard about Akihabara where you can buy the latest electronic gadgets. Guess what, that’s not high tech. If you’re looking to advance your high tech skills go to Silicon Valley, or Austin, or Dallas – just like many of the Japanese tech firms and start-ups are doing. There’s a reason they are going there, you know.

Okay, so this was written while firmly biting my tongue, but the reality is, this can be the reality, and in most case it is the reality. Sure, there are jobs for foreigners here in Japan. Yep, a lot of them are in the language training arena, some are in the service and hospitality industry, some are even in the IT / Technology fields. But landing on these golden shores and expecting to become employed in a fun and exciting job soon after wading through the immigration waves at the airport? Probably ain’t gonna happen, Bippie.

Don’t let that discourage you, by all means. After all, what’ve you got to lose? Besides your life savings perhaps, that you’ll have to spend to live and survive for a while until you can get work and visa sponsorship? Set yourself a budget and a time limit and stick to it. And sure, go ahead and send your resume to headhunting firms, just don’t expect many answers.

Oh, and in case you’re still hot-to-trot on that Japan life/work experience here are some helpful URLs to get you pointed in the right direction for information and assistance you’ll need while living here:

Interac; currently the largest Employer of Foreign English Teachers from outside Japan
Internship Japan; on a mission to establish and support a new and better system of internships in Japan
The official Japan Language Proficiency Test and everything you need to know about it
Immigration Information; one of the most up to date, but depends on when you’re reading this – if in doubt, check with your local Japanese embassy or an up to date lawyer
GaijinPot – The no.1 site for Foreigners to find English teaching work (and sometimes other work)
Jobs In Japan – The no. 2 site for Foreigners to find English teaching work (and sometimes other work)
CareerCross – Jobs in Japan for Bilingual Professionals
Daijob – is Japan’s other, big website of jobs in Japan for bilinguals

By: H. Hunter – your friendly Recruitment Professional