Recruitment Agencies in Japan: How To Get Them To Work For You

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Sayana Takagi

Client Representative at TokyoDev
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Image: Amanda Narumi Fujii

You may have considered using recruiters when looking for a job in Japan. This article aims to help you understand the structure of recruiting in Japan and assist you in your job search. I hope this will be beneficial, especially for those who want to work as engineers in Japan.

This article is based on my own experience as a recruiter. I have worked as an engineering recruiter for five years, three of which have been dedicated specifically to supporting the career transitions of international engineers. I have written this article in the hope that my experience will be of some help to you all.

An Overview of the Recruiting Industry in Japan

The recruiting industry has existed since the Edo period

The recruiting industry is quite prevalent in Japan and can actually be traced back through Japanese history.

In fact, recruiting through agents has been conducted since the Edo period. At that time, recruiting had a dual nature of both providing employment relief for the destitute, but also engaging in human trafficking. The industry gradually grew, and after the Meiji Restoration, when Western culture entered the country, Japan entered a tumultuous high-growth period. As the economy rapidly expanded, it became common for workers to stay with the same company for a long time.

During the 1970s, when lifetime employment was common, the recruiting industry remained stagnant. However, it gradually started to grow and, after legal reform in 1999, it grew rapidly.

The legal reform in 1999 significantly deregulated the recruiting industry, allowing private companies to conduct paid job placement services, which resulted in a proliferation of new recruitment companies. It is said that this market has grown to a 300 billion yen market in Japan.

It might be that the recruiting industry became prevalent as a reaction to the once-common practice of lifetime employment.

Business model

In simple terms, the role of a recruiter is to act as an intermediary between companies and candidates and match them.

In Japan, there are various terms, but personnel introduction companies (人材紹介, jinzai shoukai) and career change agents (転職エージェント, tenshoku e-jento) mean the same thing. Headhunters (ヘッドハンター) are another type of recruiter that often target senior positions and may use a prepayment system, which is a system where client companies pay a deposit to the recruiters in advance. The term “recruiter” can refer to both agents and in-house recruitment staff.

A typical personnel introduction company operates on a completely performance-based system rather than a prepayment system, where the recruiter is paid a percentage based on the matched candidate’s salary. Recently, due to the increasing demand for engineer recruitment, the percentage has risen from its past standard of 30%; it is now usual for the recruiting company to pay the personnel introduction company 35-40% of the recruited person’s salary.

This fee is not taken from the candidate’s salary, but is paid by the company to the recruiting firm. Therefore, candidates should never be paying any money to recruiters.

Most recruiting companies have a refund policy stating that if the matched candidate leaves the company within a certain period of time, they must refund the client. Common terms are: within one month, 80% of the fee, and if within three months, 50% of the fee. This means that recruiters will want candidates to work at the matched company for at least three months.

Who are the recruiters you will talk to?

There are two systems in recruiting agencies: single-sided (片面, katamen) and double-sided (両面, ryoumen).

The single-sided system means that one person deals with the candidates, and a different person deals with companies. In this case, the person supporting the candidates is generally called a “career advisor,” (CA/キャリアアドバイザー, kyaria adobaiza-) and the person supporting the companies is generally called a “recruiting advisor” (RA/リクルーティングアドバイザー, rikuru-tingu adobaiza-).

On the other hand, the double-sided system means that the same person handles both the candidates and companies, processing the entire process consistently for individual positions. This person is often called a “consultant” or “recruiter.”

The advantage of the single-sided model is that candidates always deal with the same person, making it easier to build trust. However, that advisor may not know much about the specific companies or jobs that they are introducing to the candidate.

The advantage of the double-sided model is that one person handles both the candidate and the company, which can reduce communication errors and allow them to provide more detailed information about the position or company. However, if the candidate is looking at multiple positions, they may need to talk to many different recruiters, one for each position.

Actual Process

After first contacting a recruiter, it is common to have an hour-long interview. Before Covid, face-to-face interviews were common, but online interviews have now become the norm in many companies.

During this interview, the recruiter will listen to the candidate’s preferences and introduce various positions. If the candidate is interested in a job, they can apply, and the recruiter will submit their resume on their behalf. If the candidate passes the initial resume review and document screening, the next step is an interview with the company. The recruiter may also provide interview preparation at this stage.

Based on my experience, interview preparation usually starts with the recruiter providing more detailed information about the company and the job opening. They also inform you of the questions likely to be asked during the interview. In some cases, they may even give you hints on how to answer these questions.

However, if you have a recruiter who doesn’t help with interview preparation, there may be times when you receive no information at all.

Once the candidate receives a job offer, they should convey their intention to accept the offer through the recruiter. At the offer stage, the recruiter may also negotiate the salary on the behalf of the candidate if necessary, and will continue to support the candidate until they join the company. TokyoDev has an article with more information about negotiating salaries in Japan.

Thus, recruiters can provide a lot of support for candidates.

Benefits of Using Recruiters

Now that we have looked at the system, let me also explain the specific benefits of using recruiters.

Introduction to companies that suit you

For international engineers living abroad (or even in Japan), finding a Japanese company can be difficult. Finding a company that fits you is especially challenging, but by telling the recruiter about your past experience and preferences, they can introduce you to companies that match your preferences.

If your recruiter is smart, they will not introduce positions where you’ll have no chance of being hired, as that will be a waste of everyone’s time. So the jobs introduced will mainly be those where your past experience can be utilized. How many companies the recruiter is able to introduce you to will depend on your experience and how many connections they have with companies.

Document checks and interview preparation

Some recruiters provide advice on your resume or help you prepare for interviews. When I worked at an agency helping international engineers get jobs in Japan, I often provided advice on Japanese resumes, which are several pages long and have a unique format. Generally speaking, Japanese companies particularly care about your team development experience and your achievements, such as how you contributed to projects.

Also, interviews can be uniquely Japanese. For example, Japanese companies often care about why you are interested in their company specifically, and not another company. While this trend of asking specific questions has weakened somewhat recently, I used to provide interview preparation about these types of cultural differences.

Salary negotiation

One of the things you might be most concerned about is your salary. In Japan, it is generally not common to negotiate your salary, but it becomes easier to do so through a recruiter. This is because recruiters know the expectations of both the company and the candidate and understand how to find a compromise between the two.

However, you cannot always negotiate. The best strategy is to have offers from multiple companies so that you can compare them. By comparing each offer, you can choose the better offer or use other companies’ offers to improve the conditions. Having multiple options ensures a favorable position during negotiations.

Also, as Japanese law makes it nearly impossible to lower the base salary, companies hesitate to offer a high base salary when hiring a new employee. One method around this is a signing bonus, which a competent recruiter might propose to the company.

Support in English and other languages

If the recruiter targets international engineers, they will almost certainly provide support in English. Some recruiters may even offer support in more languages. At the agency where I previously worked, members could speak Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Norwegian.

Consulting on long-term career paths

Experienced recruiters can provide advice not only on the next job, but also on medium- to long-term career paths. Building a career in Japan may differ from that in your country. It will be a good opportunity to learn various things about engineers’ careers in Japan.

Things to Be Aware of When Using Recruiters

So far, we have looked at the benefits, but of course, there are also some things to be careful of.

First, it is essential to choose a recruiter who caters to international engineers. Additionally, since each recruiter has different companies they can introduce you to, if you want to apply to many companies, you should be prepared to contact multiple recruiters.

Some recruiters may ask you to use only their services and not those of other recruiters. However, while this may benefit the recruiter, it is not particularly advantageous for you. I recommend not worrying too much about this and considering using multiple recruiters. However, one important thing to be careful about is that once you have applied to a company, you cannot apply to the same company again through a different recruiter, even if the position is different. Therefore, be aware that you may need to inform your recruiters which companies you have already applied to.

While recruiters provide support, the quality of that support often depends on the individual recruiter’s skills. Some recruiting companies have well-defined support policies that they implement company-wide, but often the quality of support can depend more on the individual rather than the company.

Additionally, it’s good to keep in mind that there may be times when recruiters stop contacting you. Common scenarios include recruiters saying they will contact you if a good position comes up but then not following up, or if you apply to a company through the recruiter, but receive no response. If you don’t hear from a recruiter for a while, it may mean that the recruiter doesn’t have many suitable companies to introduce to you.

When you don’t get a response after applying, it could be the recruiter’s neglect, or it might genuinely be that there is no feedback from the company—which does happen frequently. So, it’s a common occurrence, and you shouldn’t be disappointed or worried if there is no further contact.

Considering these factors, it is wise to engage multiple recruiters. Since compatibility is essential, it’s a good idea to talk to several to find some who match your preferences.

When talking to them, actively communicate your preferences and seek advice. Recruiters are human too. When they hear your preferences and are relied upon, they are more likely to work hard for you.

However, it is crucial to remember that you should lead your job search. Recruiters may support you in various ways, but ultimately, you are responsible for deciding on your next job. Work takes up most of your waking hours, so it’s a significant life decision. Ensure you make the decision yourself, and do not delegate it to someone else.

How to Find a Good Recruiter

First, make contact with a recruiter

If you haven’t properly set up your LinkedIn profile yet, it’s a good idea to set up one that clearly states that you want to work in Japan. Many recruiters use LinkedIn, so if you do that, you might receive messages from recruiters. You can also search for recruiters yourself on LinkedIn. Later, I’ll introduce some specific agencies that you can search for.

If someone around you has successfully transferred to Japan, it’s also a good idea to ask them for a referral. It might be more reassuring to be introduced to an excellent individual recruiter rather than just a company.

Determine your compatibility with the recruiter

Once you’ve made contact, they will likely arrange an initial interview. However, you don’t want to waste time, so here are some points to determine whether the recruiter is suitable for you:

Do they understand engineering?

Recruiters are often not engineers. Therefore, you need to understand that they may not be able to talk about engineering on equal terms with you. However, if they lack knowledge about engineering, it might be challenging to proceed smoothly, so be cautious.

How well do they understand the companies they introduce?

The more a recruiter understands about the company they introduce, the higher your chances of being hired. This is because understanding the company means they know what kind of person the company is looking for and can advise you on interview points. Large agencies have many job opportunities, but their recruiters may not always be well-versed in each one. This is a trade-off, so you might select recruiters differently based on the situation.

Do they listen to your preferences and make new suggestions?

Some recruiters introduce companies with hiring potential regardless of the engineer’s preferences to increase their possibility of earning a placement fee. A trustworthy recruiter is one who listens to your preferences and introduces companies that match those preferences as much as possible. Additionally, an excellent recruiter can present new options and insights you hadn’t considered.

Is the support thorough?

Some recruiters do not provide document checks or interview preparation, as explained earlier. On the other hand, some do offer extensive interview preparation. This can vary significantly between individual recruiters.

Recruiting Agencies Specializing in International Engineers

Here are some specific agencies that focus on helping international software engineers get jobs in Japan.

JELLYFISH

JELLYFISH is a company that provides career change support for international engineers with the mission “Expand your Horizon.” It is the company where I previously worked, and I believe they offer very thorough support, including detailed hearings and interview preparation.

Recruiter Room

Recruiter Room bills itself as “Japan’s first dedicated Artificial Intelligence recruitment company.” Most of their recruiters are international residents of Japan, including their founder.

Wahl+Case

Wahl+Case is an agency focused on tech in Japan, both on the business side and product side of things.

Talisman

Talisman is an agency focused on internationally minded companies and startups in Japan.

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts has been working as a tech recruiter in Japan since 1999, and maintains a blog that includes profiles of the Japan tech community.

Active Connector

Active Connector is a company that primarily introduces global talent to Japanese startup companies.

Bizmates

Bizmates provides business-focused online English conversation lessons and offers a service called G Talent for international IT engineers looking to change jobs.

Inbound Technology

Inbound Technology offers a foreign talent introduction service called World in Pro, connecting global talent with domestic companies. One of its features is having a multicultural staff in-house, capable of supporting more than nine languages.

How to Be a Good Candidate for Recruiters

Next, let’s look at recruiting from the recruiter’s perspective. What makes a good candidate?

Experience and skills

Companies pay recruiters a considerable amount of money (millions of yen) to hire you, so you need to have skills and experience that match this investment. Companies are especially concerned when hiring engineers who have never lived in Japan. Companies and recruiters tend to prefer working with experienced engineers.

Japanese Proficiency

If you can work in Japanese, a significantly higher number of companies will be willing to consider you. Recruiters will be happy to know that you have Japanese proficiency, as that will enable them to introduce many cases leading to employment.

Clear communication about your preferences, values, and strengths

While it may be challenging to articulate your preferences, values, and strengths, recruiters need to be able to understand these to introduce you to the job opportunities you desire. While skilled recruiters may ask the right questions to uncover your strengths, in the case of less skilled recruiters, being able to communicate your strengths yourself can significantly increase your chances of being hired.

Understand your market value

If your desired salary is higher than your market value, recruiters will not have companies to introduce you to. While a higher salary is better, it’s essential to balance your skills with the salary. If you have little work experience, understand that not all your preferences may be met. Especially remember that markets and industries in Japan may be vastly different from those you are used to.

Make efforts to build relationships

Recruiters have seen many engineers with similar careers to yours and are professionals in assisting with job transitions. It can also be beneficial for you to understand the criteria similar engineers use to select companies and positions, and the kinds of careers they aim to build.

Sometimes, it’s important to humbly accept the professional’s opinion, as opposed to arguing with them about why things are different. Furthermore, if you come across a good recruiter, they might not only help you with this job transition but could also assist with future transitions and opportunities as well.

Should You Use a Recruiter?

Having explained the recruiting industry, I’d like to conclude with my thoughts on whether you should use a recruiter.

If you match any of the following criteria, consider using a recruiter:

  • Have about three years or more experience as a software engineer or have business-level Japanese proficiency.
  • Find it challenging to search for companies on your own.
  • Need help with document preparation and interview preparation.
  • Want to know a realistic salary range for your experience and skills.

I sincerely hope this article helps you understand the recruiting business in Japan. Best wishes on your job transition to Japan!

More about the author

Photo of Sayana Takagi

Sayana Takagi

Client Representative at TokyoDev

Since 2019, Sayana has been working in the recruiting industry, with a focus on helping international software engineers get jobs in Japan.

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