When it comes to salary negotiations in Japan’s tech industry, I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve worked as a recruiter sourcing candidates from around the world for a Japanese autonomous driving tech company, and have helped hundreds of English-speaking expats in secure tech jobs as the Career Support Lead at a coding bootcamp in Tokyo.
Through this I’ve seen how many individuals can be unaware of the cultural differences between salary negotiation in Japan and elsewhere, and end up doing something that’s perceived as unusual or even offensive. This article seeks to prevent such cultural misunderstandings, and will give you the tools necessary to negotiate your salary in Japan.
When do I negotiate my salary in Japan?
In Japan, it’s common to be asked what your desired salary is during the initial HR screening. It might seem like this is the time to negotiate, convincing your interviewer to offer you your desired salary. This is a mistake though, as the purpose of asking is largely for the company to make sure time is not wasted on candidates that they cannot afford to hire. Trying to convince the interviewer to commit to your salary expectations at this stage will only sour the conversation - I’ve seen first hand how it can make a conversation go from great to terrible.
Instead, the best moment to negotiate your salary is at the final stage, once you have received your job offer. If you have received a verbal offer, wait to receive a written one (or request one from the company). Having written proof of your offer increases your chances of success in the negotiation. With tangible materials to support your case, you can make a stronger argument, as information conveyed verbally can sometimes be misinterpreted, especially when communicating with non-native speakers.
Should I even tell the company my current or desired salary?
You may have seen negotiating advice to “never give your number first”. While omitting your current or desired salary may work when speaking to large multinationals, it becomes more difficult with Japanese companies, who may require this information to move forward.
To prepare for this, I recommend checking the salary range specified in the job description before your interview. I then suggest you initially apply the approach of not disclosing your number and observing the response. For instance, I would say something like “I’m genuinely excited about the opportunity, and I’m eager to learn more about the position and the team. If it’s alright, I would appreciate the chance to discuss this topic further at a later stage in the process.”
If the company persists though, you may want to share your salary expectations to move the process forward. When doing so, it’s important that the number you provide is not your absolute minimum desired salary, as this will allow you to stay close to your goal, even if the company negotiates for something lower. A tactful response could be, “I’m looking for about [Number] Yen, but I’m open to discussing this further once I’ve had the opportunity to meet the team and learn more about the role.”
Preparing for the final negotiations
Now that you have received a written job offer, it’s time to prepare for the next steps. You may wonder, “What exactly am I preparing for?” In Japan, it is customary to have an offer meeting,known as naitei mendan (内定面談) or offer mendan (オファー面談), following the receipt of a job offer. While in other countries, negotiations may be done over email or by phone, I’ve noticed that in the tech industry in Japan companies that interview only in English tend to be open to negotiating by email, while Japanese-only may not be. The best option would be to simply send an email to ask, “I have some questions about the job offer including the compensation. Could I ask them by email or shall we set up a meeting?”
One similarity I have noticed among successful negotiators is that they don’t make money the main subject of discussion. Rather, when the candidate asks for an increase in salary, they keep the focus on the level of impact they are going to make in the company. This helps as Japanese people tend to be less direct when it comes to speaking about money.
Having this in mind, the next step I recommend is to gather evidence that answer the following:
- Why has the company decided to give you this particular offer? Why this compensation?
- What is your role? What is your level of seniority? And why?
- What problems do they want you to solve in the first few months of being there? What skills and knowledge do you have that help them do this?
After you have gathered evidence from your interview process, the next step is to do market research. Fortunately, there is an increasing amount of information about salaries in Japan’s tech industry, such as the following:
Recruiters don’t necessarily want to maximize your salary
If you are working with an agent from a recruitment agency, they may do the final salary negotiation on your behalf. How effectively they represent you though will depend on the agent and the relationship you’ve built up with them.
When I was working in HR, I would have recruiters ask if we could increase the offer of a candidate they were representing. When we declined, many would simply say, “I understand. I’ll negotiate with the candidate so please hold on.” Keep in mind that with recruiters, the company is the one paying them, so if you would like them to effectively negotiate your compensation, you need to give them a good reason to do so.
Negotiating with Wa
Once you have gathered evidence and done your market research, it’s finally time to negotiate. You will most likely do this over email or during an offer meeting. If you are going to have an offer meeting, it is typically conducted by the HR or someone who understands your role. The best approach is to find out in advance who they will be.
As mentioned above, an important principle when negotiating your compensation is to not become adversarial, where you are ‘fighting’ to get what you want. It’s vital to remember concepts like harmony (wa), hospitality with the ability to anticipate concerns (omotenashi), and continuous improvement (kaizen) which lie at the foundation of Japanese society. I recommend you adjust your language to reflect these 3 elements. For example, instead of saying “I deserve [Number] JPY because I have the proven experience and knowledge in ….”, adjust to something like,
“I understand the team is aiming to [goal], which I feel confident I can contribute to with my knowledge of [something]. From what I’ve learned during the interview process, my experience in [detail] can also help solve the problem of [detail]. I’m committed to your company’s cause and would appreciate it if you could increase the offered salary to [Number].”
In addition to your compensation, there are also other things that you can negotiate on:
- Start date
- Job title
- Your responsibilities (For example, how much development you will do vs. management)
- Stock options
It’s not common in Japan to negotiate on your paid leave, as companies normally have a standardized system for all employees. Additionally, some job seekers in the past have asked me about the possibility of negotiating the health insurance package, but this is uniformly set for all employees hence is not negotiable.
Here are additional tips:
- The act of negotiating will help you become a better professional, so don’t judge your success just on the immediate outcome.
- Show excitement and passion about joining the team. Logic is not the only thing that moves people.
- Be thankful. Begin the conversation or email with, “Thank you for your time and support throughout this interview process”. You’d be surprised how few candidates show gratitude.
- This isn’t the last time you will get a chance to negotiate. If now is not the time, shift focus to setting grounds for future negotiation opportunities.
The waiting game
After completing your negotiation, the next step is to embrace the waiting game. Typically, the company will get back to you within a few days to share if they can meet your requests. If you’re still juggling interviews with other companies, you might be able to speed up their decision-making process by leveraging the offer you have while you wait.
Leveraging another job offer
Should you receive another offer from a different company, it’s wise to notify the first company right away. If the salary offered from another job opportunity aligns more closely with your desired goal, it could potentially be used as leverage to negotiate a higher salary in the initial offer. So, how do you do it? To begin with, ideally, you would have already mentioned during the interview stage that you’ve been interviewing with other companies. If you haven’t, or if you’ve kept it a secret, there are implications to think about. Abruptly using another offer to achieve your desired outcome may come across as exploitative, dishonest, and could sour your relationship with the prospective employer. While it’s rare for a company to retract their offer, your communication during this stage will establish the foundation for your future working relationship with them so decide wisely. If you decide to use the other offer, send an email to the first company to let them know about your situation. Here’s an example,
“Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with your team. I’m letting you know I’ve just received another offer from a company with an offer of [Number]. However, I am still very much interested in working at [Company Name] and being part of the team. If there is any chance to match this offer, I would be thrilled to accept it immediately.”
If the company can revise the offer, you’ll receive an updated version of it, typically within a couple of days. Take a moment to review the revised offer and make sure that you are in agreement with its terms. Although it’s uncommon for candidates to negotiate multiple times with a company, this is a crucial phase to decide what your next chapter in your career is going to look like. If there is something you’re not sure about or you’re not 100% confident on, ask immediately.
Negotiating your salary as an English speaker in the tech industry in Japan may feel understandably challenging as you’re trying to figure out the best tone of voice in a cultural context that may be different from what you’re used to.
- Understand the appropriate timing: Avoid negotiating salary during the initial HR screening. Wait until you receive a written job offer to begin negotiations.
- Tactful salary disclosure: Focus on expressing enthusiasm and eagerness to learn more, and consider sharing salary expectations if necessary.
- Shift your mindset: View negotiation as an opportunity for the company to invest in you and focus on showcasing the value you can bring to the team.
- Gather evidence: Collect evidence supporting why the company made the offer, their expectations for your role, and the problems they want you to solve. Do market research so you know what the industry standard is.
- Maintain a positive and harmonious approach: Reflect concepts like “wa” (harmony), “omotenashi” (hospitality), and “kaizen” (continuous improvement) during negotiations.
- Be thankful and look ahead: Express gratitude for the opportunity and remember that negotiation is not the last chance. Set the groundwork for future negotiation opportunities and be open to future discussions.
My grandmother often shared a quote by Uesugi Yozan, saying, “為せば成る、為さねば成らぬ、何事も、成らぬは人の為さぬなりけり,” which translates to, “If you do, it will be done; if you don’t do it, it won’t be done; whatever you don’t do, it is because you didn’t do it.” This quote holds a powerful truth: if you don’t ask for what you want, you will never know if it could have been yours. Remember, taking action is the crucial first step towards achieving your goals. Best of luck on your journey!